A Buddhist audio archive proves that a little dana—and a lot of faith—can go a long way
"How many people go to work every day with the goal of contributing to the ending of suffering in the world?" asks Judy Phillips, the director of the Dharma Seed Archival Center. "We're just a little place, but that's what we're doing."
Dharma Seed began in 1983 when a volunteer at Insight Meditation Center (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, began taping the dharma talks and meditation instructions offered there. His small project soon grew into a separate nonprofit organization, and Dharma Seed Tape Library began to spread the seeds of the dharma to the world by selling audiotapes of teachings. The original mission was simply to "preserve and share the dharma," which Dharma Seed continues to do today—with one critical change: The teachings are now offered based on the principle of dana, or the Buddhist practice of generosity.
As Phillips explains, Dharma Seed's exclusive focus on the oral (rather than written) Buddhist tradition pays tribute to the way the Buddha taught. "There's another energy that's present in oral transmission, in the combination of hearing teachings externally and experiencing them inwardly. I think sound actually facilitates a sense of penetration, or knowing, into the body. A good example is when the idea came up at a board meeting to offer the teachings freely, the way the Buddha had. There was something about the voicing of that idea—and the knowing that came along with it. And from that time, I have never wavered."
Dharma Seed initiated a "Millennium of Dana," offering all recordings from January 1, 2000 onward on a dana basis.
This leap of faith proved surprisingly easy to make, grounded as it was in the Buddha's teachings on generosity. "It was wondrous," Phillips affirms. "No matter what people said: 'Oh, how will you survive' Oh, it can't work in this world.' Yes, we've had some difficult times, bur we've experienced such a groundswell of support. If people only knew the benefit of generosity in terms of their lives, they would give everything away. And what we do is give people the opportunity to practice generosity. It's a whole different model than having a price on things."
Miraculously, Dharma Seed is now averaging more per tape than when they were charging for the teachings, and nonmonetary support has rained in as well. The not-for-profit outfit recently received a donation of equipment to make the teachings available over the Internet, which led to the development of dharmastream.org, a streaming audio website from which some of the teachings can be downloaded. They have also started a subscription program, which provides members with four selected talks per year, also on a dana basis. And Dharma Seed's basic catalog continues to offer selections from over six thousand recorded talks by seventy-four teachers, including Sylvia Boorstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Ajahn Sumedho, and Ven. U Pandita. Four hundred new talks are added each year.
"The dana system is spectacularly confirming," avows Phillips. "As long as we're working in the teachings, and a long as we're expressing those teaching in our actions, things work. The Buddha teaches that the dharma provides for those who provide for the dharma."
For more information on the Dharma Seed Archival Center, visit www.dharmaseed.org. ▼