40 Days Dakshina Practice
Namaskar all, in the past few days we at the ashram have been contemplating the spiritual practice of dakshina. Dakshina is the tradition that a student who receives instruction, always gives something back in return for the knowledge that the teacher imparts. You know that any true Master gives freely and asks for nothing in return, but you will see how students will never come empty-handed when they visit a Master. They will always bring something, whether it is fruit, some material offering or money.
We have been encouraging you to make donations for these 40 Days and the principles behind dakshina are a great motivation to contribute. The meter below shows our current status in terms of collected donations and we are almost at our target, for which we are very grateful! In this article we will give you a short summary of some of the things that we have been talking about, and you too might feel inspired to contribute!
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:
In the 11th century a Tibetan map called Marpa grew up as a farmer. He was an ambituous man and wanted to become a priest, the highest of the highest at that time and a challenging goal for a farmer. But Marpa studied, became a scholar, worked and earned money. When he had collected a bag of gold, he set out on the long and dangerous journey through India to find the highest teacher, and he had heard about this one teacher, Naropa.
When Marpa found Naropa, he presented him his bag of gold. Naropa welcomed him and offered him his teachings. Marpa was very happy and left. On the way back he suffered some more hardships, including having to get some more teachings from another teacher who lived in a very challenging place and a jealous companion, and he ended up losing all of the teachings he had written down and which he wanted to use to teach others and make profit. But as life would have it, Marpa went back to his home and after a few years realized that all these teachings would have been worthless as only the teachings that he had imbibed in his being were the ones that counted. With this realization he then gave up all longing for making profit out of the teachings and decided to return to Naropa to receive the highest teaching.
He collected all the gold dust he could and set out on another long and challenging journey. When he finally arrived at Naropa, Naropa wasn’t as welcoming now. In fact, he was cold and distant and rude. Naropa asked him: “What gold did you bring for me?” Marpa gave him some of the gold dust, but also kept some for his own expenses and journey back. But Naropa said, “This is not enough for my teachings, I need more!” Marpa gave him a bit more. Naropa became angrier and said, “Why are you not giving me more?” And Marpa gave again some. Finally, Naropa shouted, “Why do you think you can deceive me with this gold?” And Marpa caved in and gave all of his gold.
At that moment Naropa threw all the gold dust in the air. Marpa was shocked. His hard-earned gold, thrown away, when he was promised he would get teachings? Then Naropa slammed his hand on the ground and said, “I don’t need your gold. The whole world is gold to me!” At that moment Marpa had become so ready that in a flash of insight, he understood what Naropa meant and he received the highest teaching right then and there!
What is the moral of this story? Naropa threw away the gold to show he didn’t need it, but that Marpa needed to give it. Marpa had been holding back not just physically but also emotionally. He had to face his insecurities and posessiveness, and evaluate the true depth of his spiritual longing. By full surrender and making his offering, he became ready for the teachings. So too, we in dakshina have a chance to reflect on our deepest longings and attachments and become ready for receiving these special teachings.
Sudama was a childhood friend of Lord Krishna. Together they studied at the Guru school in Vrindivan. Sudama came from a very poor family and Krishna was from royal descent, but this did not hinder their friendship. In fact, they were inseparable. After finishing their studies, however, they lost touch. Krishna married, move to Dwaraka where he became the King. Sudama also married and stayed very, very poor.
Sudama and his wife nearly always starved and did not have money for decent clothes. Sudama’s wife never complained. But one day, she did ask Sudama: “Why don’t you go and meet Krishna, the King and tell him about your suffering. If he is your true friend, he will surely help you.” Sudama did not like asking Krishna for help but he was looking forward to seeing his friend again so he went. He wanted to take some gift for Krishna, but of course he had basically nothing. So his wife gave him a little bit of parched rice that she packed carefully in a cloth and she asked Sudama to give it to Krishna. So with the bundle in his hand, Sudama left.
After along journey Sudama reached Krishna’s palace and of course the guards thought, “Who is this beggar and why does he think he can see Krishna.” And Sudama was so afraid Krishna wouldn’t even recognize him. But when Sudama entered, Krishna ran towards him and hugged him! He put Sudama, dressed in these rags, on his throne and personally washed Sudama’s feet with his own hands. Everyone was astonished!
So Krishna and Sudama reminisced about the old days. And Krishna then asked Sudana, “What gift did you bring for me?” Sudama hesitated giving him the bundle, but Krishna saw this hesitation and pulled the little bundle from Sudama’s hands, “Wow, I love this food!” Krishna quickly started eating it. Sudama grew more and more blissful!
Krishna’s wife however, was warning him with a little shake of her head. With every bite that Krishna took from the gift, more and more blessings would have to be bestowed upon Sudama, so Krishna had to be careful. Krishna understood his wife and put the packet aside. But he gave Sudama a good meal and a place to rest for the night.
The next morning Sudama left the palace. Then he realized he had been in so much bliss that he did not even ask Krishna about his poverty. He was wondering what he should tell his wife! But during the journey home, the blessings had already begun to materialize at his home. When he arrived, Sudama was surprised to see his old hut had become a lovely mansion. His wife was now dressed in fine clothes. The wealth and splendor were all due to Krishna’s blessings!
What is the moral of the story? Even if you give just a little bit, with all your heart, God cannot but give you much, much more in return!
When to give?
Traditionally, dakshina is given either when you go and meet a teacher or after you have received spiritual knowledge from him for example in learning events. As we are nearing the end of the 40 Days, of course now would be a wonderful time to consider making your contribution because of either those practical purposes (read more about our 40 Days needs here), or to be part of the cycle of giving and receiving where you open yourself up to receive, or out of generosity or gratitude.
Will you help us to reach our target by Thursday? And would you share this article with your fellow seekers so we can reach the world? And of course, we are also interested in hearing your take on dakshina. You can let us know via the comments below!