In yoga, Dana is mentioned as one of the ten niyamas in the Yoga Yajnavalkya (and in subsequent classics, such as the Hatha yoga pradipika, who borrowed from it).
The practice of Dana also has a very important place in the teachings of the Buddha. Along with morality (sila) and meditation practice, Dana is mentioned as one of three ways of gaining merits and in Theravadan Buddhism, it is the first of the ten paramis or perfections (qualities to be cultivated by all practionners).
The Buddha particularly stressed the importance of the attitude with which a gift is given. Dana is giving freely without expecting anything in return. The act of giving is motivated solely by compassion, good will or the desire for someone else’s happiness.
As a practice, Dana helps both the donor and the receiver to overcome greed (one of the three poisons of the mind, alongside hatred and delusion) and to develop wisdom and non-attachment.
In our contemporary world, by turning on its head the capitalist assumption that everything has a price, the practice of Dana is a powerful tool to help build a new economical paradigm in which one takes what they need and gives what they can. Rather than enticing us into provider / consumer relationships, it invites us to explore economic relationships which contribute towards the culture of sharing that we so badly need to overcome the many challenges of the 21st century.