Give What You Can, Take What You Need
Taking in the sun at Green Man 2011 | Image © Satyadarshin 2011
An Economy of Generosity
Buddhafield operates on the basis of the Buddhist principle of dana — a pali word meaning generosity (or even abundance!). But although this could mean that people just work for free or very little (and Buddhafield succeeds financially because of the gift of people’s time) that’s not really the same as dana.
Dana is the principle of giving what you can and taking what you need. Its entirely different from the commercial relationship of a price, or salary, in exchange for a service. Instead we are collaborators in the transformation of ourselves and our world. To do that, we ask for and offer contributions (including but not limited to financial ones) to make this work possible. It’s a radical idea in a world which is more often about comparison with others, getting paid a certain amount for a certain kind of work, about the equation of money with our value and status. Because of that mind-set, there is often tension around these kinds of issues (around what people are “paid” etc) and that impacts on people’s wellbeing and care for others as well.
It is also counter-cultural in that we need to make public and visible what is more generally considered secret or “confidential”. Every arrangement will look different for each person. It’s therefore a continuous journey to deepen our understanding of what dana means. For example, someone may give a huge amount of time and not ask for anything back financially. This could be because:
- their living costs are subsidised by a well-paid partner, or by savings, and they don’t need the money
- they have a disposition to live in very simple conditions
- they are in circumstances, or have made choices, to keep their needs simple (e.g. they don’t have children) and so have low living costs
- they might earn money elsewhere and have enough time to also work with Buddhafield for free.
Others might be in different circumstances and may need to ask for more money, but it doesn’t mean that they are being any less generous or any less congruent with the ethos of dana.
Many people find it hard to negotiate around money. (Many find it hard to negotiate around time and energy as well!) Within a “dana economy” we are finding our way along a largely untrodden path culturally and are surrounded and conditioned by people doing deals in an entirely different way.
What to offer? What to ask for? What to agree to? Arghh!
People can live a lot of their life in terms of “Well, when I fall over and collapse with exhaustion or when I get too pissed off to carry on, then I know I have given as much as I could have given”. But if we are doing something when we are exhausted, would it be dana when we are giving what we don’t really have? If we are doing something out of guilt, that’s not dana. Neither is it dana to ask for less than we need. Sometimes, dana is offering more than you thought you could, and finding to your surprise you can. All our habits are different, which is what makes it so tricky.
It takes a lot of care and time on all sides to get the dana economy to work, but what a fantastic principle to be exploring — any clarity we can fathom out is gift to the world which is seemingly more and more confused about “value”.
Donations & Buddhafield Retreats
This principle extends to how we charge for certain events, especially our retreats. (Because of the costs involved in running the Festival, tickets are only available at fixed prices.) We are committed to making the Dharma available to anyone who wishes to engage with it and we don’t want to make cost an obstacle to people coming on a retreat. Accordingly, we’ve extended our dana economy as far as making it open to each retreatant to give as much or as little as they can afford (above a modest non-refundable deposit). For most retreats we publish a three-tier guideline for donations, but it really is entirely up to the individual how much they ultimately donate.