From Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s book (transcribed from talks), Dhamma Everywhere:
There are so many opportunities to practice generosity (dāna) out in daily life. For example, you give way to a person who wants to get past you while you’re driving. Isn’t that dāna? Is it dāna only when you offer money? What about giving someone space? Moving over and giving the spot you were going to take for yourself is dāna. We are practicing dāna whenever we are giving.
When I was practicing in the market, I noticed that people didn’t really pay attention to where they were going because they were absorbed in their thoughts or counting money as they walked. We had a lot of people walking around anxious or lost in thoughts. They kept bumping into me so many times that I got upset! (Laughs) I had to keep moving out of their way. There was awareness present as I just gently moved over for them. As I kept moving out of people’s way, I found myself starting to enjoy giving over that space.
When you start to have awareness, you’ll see these things. What about smiling? Doesn’t that make the other person happy to see that? What’s easier on the eyes: a scowling face or a smiling face? So dāna is not just about money. Giving space is dāna too. Give what you can, if you can. Of course all of this depends on the quality of mind. If the mental state is negative, there’s nothing you’ll want to give. When mental qualities are wholesome, then it’s easier to give whenever someone needs or asks for something.
This developmental report from a Burmese meditation master shows that practicing generosity is not an occasional thing; it can be practiced at any time, anywhere. We can have an attitude of giving even before we get out of bed in the morning. Imagine the subtle but pervasive difference this could make! It represents a shift away from focusing on “my wants and needs, likes and dislikes” towards imagining ourselves making a positive difference for someone else, for anyone else we might encounter. We could re-set our radar in this direction and enjoy a significant improvement in our own happiness.
Another principle promoted by Sayadaw U Tejaniya is “watch and wait”. Often, the best way we can give to others is to check our reactivity; really look to see what is happening for other people instead of registering only our own knee-jerk likes and dislikes. Often, the kindest thing to do is observe sympathetically and keep quiet. Think on this. How sensitive are we to others’ needs relative to our own? Balancing this equation can bring peace, both within ourselves and in the world.