What is our practice when nonduality is not yet realized? When we haven’t shed all those layers? We practice dana as if it were perfected. In this, it is perfected. It’s precisely the way we practice zazen. Not as a means towards something but as the very reality that we’re seeking. Giving up our moods, our neuroses, our roles, we receive this particular meal.

There are four essential aspects of dana—giving of material objects, giving of protection, giving of love, and giving of dharma.

Giving starts with material things. We shouldn’t forget that. Simple details. Simple objects. I remember many years back I was in Hawaii with a friend, and visited a Tibetan temple. There is a tradition there of bringing offerings to the altar—fruit, fish, rocks—there’s a sense of boundlessness. We do the same thing here. There is an offering of things in the zendo. When zazen has ended, each zafu is prepared for the next person. Is it offered to that person? To the zendo? Does it matter, ultimately?

We each realize how important it is to offer material things when we receive something that enables us to discover something new about ourselves, some childlike aspect or tenderness or some other feeling. It could be nothing other than a leaf or a rock or a sketch or a couple of words written with thoughtfulness.

Second, dana is protection. We give no fear. We don’t make anyone afraid. In fear, everything is lost. So offer protection in any way needed. Protection from cold. Protection from hunger. Protection from terror, from the terror of a fear-inducing culture. Create a space for somebody to walk in and not be afraid, not be afraid of greed, not be afraid of rampant anger, of injustice. A space for someone to not be afraid of being objectified or sexualized.


Sara Haussleiter


Third, there is the giving of love. When we love someone completely, we allow them to come completely to rest. We can’t come to rest in ourselves until for a moment we have experienced somebody holding us, loving us. We can’t rest unconditionally and completely until we have been loved unconditionally and completely. This is why the practice of shikantaza—just sitting—can be quite unhinging. Early on we can see how accepting we can be with each other, how there truly is room for all of me to be there. In being that spacious, there is room for the whole universe to come to rest, maybe for the first time. In giving unconditionally of ourselves, we offer the universe to itself.

Finally, there is the gift of the dharma, the gift of truth—not necessarily of the teachings, although that may come along the way. It’s much more basic than that. It’s truly offering reality to each other. As John Lennon sang, “Give me some truth. All I need is some truth.” That is what the gift of the dharma is. That ultimately is what we are giving each other when we engage this practice, when we engage ourselves. The effects of that way of giving are endless. They multiply. In living truthfully and offering ourselves, no matter what it is that’s being given, it communicates. It changes the world. It changes another’s mind.

Dogen says:

Giving is to transform the mind of living beings. One should not calculate the greatness or smallness of the mind, nor the greatness or smallness of the thing given. Nevertheless, there is a time when the mind transforms the thing. And there is giving in which things transform the mind.

This is as basic as life itself. The whole universe is offered to us. We offer ourselves to the whole universe. In a sense, we’ve been deceived by the teachers, by the teachings. But we’ve been deceived because we wanted to be. We came here expecting to realize ourselves, expecting to gain some ultimate wisdom. But in the end, we find ourselves in the midst of a huge circle of fools, passing fallen leaves to each other

Konrad Ryushin Maharaj, Osho is vice-abbot and Director of Operations of Zen Mountain Monastery. He received Denkai (priestly transmission) from Daido Roshi in 2005.