Since the time of the Buddha there has been a tradition that those who teach the Dharma are supported directly by their community. They do not ask for this, it is offered freely. In Asia, where it is understood that the practice of generosity (dana) forms the bedrock of spiritual practice, this tradition has evolved into a system where the interdependence of the teachers and their community is implicit. Individuals who devote themselves to teaching are held in great respect, and their communities take seriously the reciprocal responsibility for supporting the teacher and the teachings. In turn, the teacher upholds the responsibility of living an exemplary life, and making the teachings readily available. It is understood that to support the teacher is to support oneself.
In Asia support of the teacher takes the form of preparing food, providing transportation and medical care, constructing and maintaining shelter and providing all the requisites of life for him/her. This allows the teacher to devote him/herself to practice, study and deepen his/her ability to realize and share the Dharma.
The act of intentionally sharing one's energy, material wealth or time is understood to enhance one's capacity of letting go of attachments. This letting go is a central facet of the path of freedom from suffering. As we introduce Buddhism to the West, teacher support is inevitably evolving into different forms. Those who teach are frequently householders who support themselves, and sometimes a family, without a center or monastery. Their community is often geographically dispersed. Teachers participate directly in the cash economy, taking care of their own needs. As householders, their teaching may be particularly relevant to us because they are living lives of the Dharma amidst questions of money, relationships, sexuality, and raising a family.
A "Dana Basket" is provided at lectures and retreats to give the community members the opportunity to practice dana and to support their teacher financially. This basket can be understood as a conduit for the stored energy of money to supply the requisites of the teacher so that he/she can focus on teaching. This system of teacher support is radically different form that of most Western schools of training and personal growth where there is a fixed fee. The fact that there is not fixed fee leaves the responsibility with the individual to decide what amount of support is appropriate for them. It also guarantees that the teachings are available to persons of all economic levels. Dana invites each individual to develop his/her own capacity to be generous in a context that directly assists his/her own spiritual growth. As in Asia, to support one's teacher is to support oneself and to help make the teachings available to others.