Giving is Part of Ancient Traditions
Though less visible in our current society, (financial) donations to religious organizations and teachers have been and are part of many ancient traditions and religions. Christianity calls it tithes: the idea of giving one tenth of your income to your church. The jews have it too. In the islam one of their five pillars states to offer part of your income. Buddhists consider it an honour to offer food, clothes and money towards the support of the monastery. And Hindus know dakshina. Why has this tradition of giving always been there?
Cycle of Giving and Receiving
Hindus would say giving is part of the dharma of a student; his or her duty in life. It is part of the natural cycle of giving and receiving that sustains the universe. Why would saints or priests need money when they are so free and detached from it? First of all, of course we need for our teachers, who work so selflessly, to have their material needs fulfilled so they can survive on the material plane and we can learn all we need to know.
But beyond practical reasons, any relationship should be based on mutual exchange. And in a good spiritual relationship, both Guru and disciple should be able to receive what the other has to offer, and also to give fully whatever they have that is most useful to the other. The teacher will of course give spiritual knowledge, guidance and support. The seeker will return the favor with either his service or material support.
They say this offering of the student actually enables him to become established in the knowledge. One could compare it to running water through a pipe. If the pipe is blocked at either end, water cannot flow. If there is no mutual exchange, spiritual transmission cannot take place. Also, our gift makes it clear that we are seekers and not beggars. We do not need to feel dependent or humiliated because we ask for guidance. No, we have something to offer in return!
The Practice of Generosity
There is another idea why it is so beneficial to practice dakshina and that is the idea of generosity. In Buddhism generosity (called dana) is one of the three central practices together with sila (ethical behavior) and bhavana (mental development through meditation). Bhuddists say practicing generosity allows us to find release from attachment by giving freely of what we have that is of value. What we have to give may be material in nature, or it may be our time, energy, or wisdom.
When a priest or Guru asks us to give our time, work or money, he is actually giving us an opportunity to get our priorities straight. We are convinced that we want enlightenment more than anything else, but have we really put this to the test? If we are asked to give and we give less than we could afford, or not at all, then this could be an indication that some other things mean more to us than we thought. It is always interesting to take this inner look!
When we make generosity a habit, it transforms all our work into sadhana or spiritual practice. Of course we must work for money in order to support ourselves and our families, but we can transform our workday activities in selfless service, by doing noble work or by donating some of our earnings.
Of course an important part of the idea of generosity as a spiritual practice is to give with love and without expectations. And as Mother Theresa said: “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”
Finally, one can consider that dakshina is not just about giving, but also about expressing gratitude. We have been fortunate enough to meet our teacher and receive spiritual knowledge because others before provided the necessities that enabled our Guru to establish his mission. In giving this dakshina the Guru’s mission can continue and we are offering a very practical and tangible thanks to our Guru and to all those who have supported him so far. We are now helping to provide the means for the enlightenment of many more of our fellow seekers and we work for the spiritual nourishment of all of humanity.
The scriptures contain many stories about seekers benefiting from dakshina. If you are interested, you can read two of these stories below: