People are surprised to hear that we don’t have any prices on our menu. As a spiritual retreat, we have elected instead to serve lunch to our guests and make our retreat facilities available based on the time-honoured practice of “dana”.
Dana (pronounced “dah-na”) is a Pali word meaning generosity and an ancient practice in Indian and especially Buddhist traditions. The practice of giving is recognised as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. According to the Buddha, generosity, or sharing what we have, is one of the central pillars of a spiritual life. In the act of giving we develop our ability to let go, cultivate a spirit of caring, and acknowledge the inter-connectedness that we all share. The Buddha created a system to develop this quality of open-handedness whereby those who share the teachings are dependent on those who receive them. Monks and nuns go on daily alms rounds with a begging bowl, relying on the generosity of lay people for support in continuing their teaching and spiritual life.
I have long been struck by the focus of local and international development initiatives on “reducing poverty” via engaging with the financially poorer people in the absence of a parallel focus on addressing greed among the financially richer. In this world, we have ample resources for everyone, but are all complicit in their inequitable distribution. When we look closely at how we use our purchasing power, we often find that we support structures and practices that we cannot condone. When we truly look at our own giving (money, time, energy), we probably find it fairly small in comparison to what we spend on maintaining our own lifestyles.
The practice of dana gives us an opportunity to give whole-heartedly – critically, and perhaps most challenging – without expecting anything in return. It is the practice of unconditional giving.
From the start, developing The Garden has been an act of service. When we left our jobs, we looked forward to our new lifestyle, not realising that we were facing even more work just this time for no pay! No matter how many times I ran the numbers, the investment never made any business sense – but it wasn’t about that. We developed the retreat lovingly and slowly – it has taken 5 years – in line with one of our core principles to build it without debt – in order to maintain the freedom to make choices from our integrity rather than the need to pay back the bank. We have simplified our own life, an ongoing process, again to allow us more freedom to invest in The Garden and run it from our values first (as well as for the innate freedom more space and simplicity offer).
We haven’t always managed to do all this joyfully! …. But we are now in a position to offer The Garden as our gift, with donations covering costs and going back into further developing The Garden and The Garden Community …. Giving breeds giving, and perhaps this small centre of giving will have a ripple effect into our broader community … So much of today’s culture and society is focused on getting; with a little more focus on giving we could really change the world.