Dāna (Pāli, Sanskrit: दान dāna) refers to generosity or giving. In Buddhism, it is also the practice of cultivating generosity, which is one of the perfections (pāramitā): the perfection of giving (dāna-pāramitā). This is understood and undertaken as an unattached and unconditional generosity, ie. letting go and giving without reservation or expectation. From a Buddhist perspective this is believed to have the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.[1]

It is also believed that generosity developed through giving leads to greater spiritual wealth and being reborn in happy states and the availability of material wealth.[2] Moreover, it reduces the acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering.[3] Conversely, lack of giving leads to unhappy states, conflict and poverty.

Regardless of whether one subscribes to the notion of rebirth, the positive benefits of authentic generosity as a character trait are observable in this life, in psychological, social and even economic terms.  Furthermore, Buddhism is only one of the many traditions that recognizes the essential value of cultivating this way of being. In Islam, the free gift of alms is a religious requirement, which contributes to the social foundations that are an important part of Muslim communities.[17] In Judaism, according to the Hebrew Bible, tzedakah is a religious obligation that must be performed regardless of financial standing. It is considered as one of the three main acts that can annul a less than favorable heavenly decree. In Christianity charity has long been recognized as one of the virtues and in both Christianity and Judaism the practice of tithing has been accepted as a religious requirement throughout history.

In the social sciences, a gift economy (or gift culture) is a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists).[1] Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community. The organization of a gift economy stands in contrast to a barter economy or a market economy. Informal custom governs exchanges, rather than an explicit exchange of goods or services for money or some other commodity.[2] Numerous examples of this kind of economy exist today like traditions in indigenous societies like Native Americans who lived in the Pacific Northwest (primarily the Kwakiutl), practiced the potlatch ritual, where leaders give away large amounts of goods to their followers, strengthening group relations. By sacrificing accumulated wealth, a leader gained a position of honor. More familiar is the tradition of a potluck gathering of friends where everybody brings what they can and everyone enjoys what is there regardless of what they were able to contribute. In place of a market, anarcho-communists, such as those who inhabited some Spanish villages in the 1930s, support a currency-less gift economy where goods and services are produced by workers and distributed in community stores where everyone (including the workers who produced them) is essentially entitled to consume whatever they need as "payment" for their production of goods and services. [15]

There are many ways of being generous and a skillful practical application of the principle radiates in wonderfully generative ways throughout the realm of human behavior from the simple acts of holding open a door for a stranger to giving a lonely person a few minutes of time to giving to charitable organizations or donating time to community projects.  It can even be a way to improve your business by forgetting about the sale for the moment and simply seeing the customer as another human being that you may be able to help in some way. In conflict resolution adopting a generous approach can lead to resolution of conflict by accepting the idea of giving an adversary at least some of what they want and thus increasing the possibility of compromise.  Generosity is a simple but profound change in perspective and attitude that is applicable and appropriate in a multitude of situations.

This is an hypothesis and it is testable,  reasonable skepticism is not only appropriate but useful.  It is not necessary or useful to accept on blind faith the idea that both individuals and society can benefit from the practice of cultivating kindness and generosity – you can conduct the experiment and decide for yourself if the data supports the hypothesis.  There are many ways to be generous: you can be kind with your thoughts, your intentions, your behavior with others, or your time. Giving money or gifts is only one expression of generosity,  simple acts of kindness like letting someone go before you in line at the store or opening a door for someone or spending a few minutes with a lonely person or a kind thank you to the cashier in a store can change someone's day and the benefits are immediate and obvious.  Small acts of generosity like this are natural and if you allow them to occur authentically with no expectation of return there is an immediate psychological result even if you are not a spiritually or religiously inclined person.  Your own sense of self-esteem and security will be immediately enhanced and your connection with society will be better, an invaluable result in even mundane terms. Moreover, the goodwill generated from these kind of small acts can radiate quickly through a community and improve the general mood and frequency of similar acts.  This can lead quickly to more harmony and general friendliness in the community as well as in your own personal relationships. But don't take my word for it, its testable - give it a try for a week or so!  Be careful to observe the results and you will be able to confirm the validity of this hypothesis for yourself.

It is increasingly clear to many that the current approaches to economics, psychology and social relations are of limited usefulness and provide limited solutions and satisfaction. The limits of the self-centered (one might even say selfish) and individualistic approaches that are predominant express themselves in the various psychological, economic, social and political disorders and conflicts with which we are all by now quite familiar. From the perspective of the considerations above the root cause of these maladies is as clear as is the remedy: dana, unconditional charity or generosity.  It is time we face the reality, accept the diagnosis and take the medicine – it might taste a little bitter at first but the healing will be as sweet as ambrosia.