Dharma Talk, March 2001
In honor of my mother who lived a life of generosity.
We have probably all heard the saying, “Give until it hurts.” I can’t agree with this statement at all.
I believe my mother’s saying is more aligned with the truth of giving. She would say matter of factually, “giving always comes back multiplied”. My own experience has found that to be true and also that the source of the return was “Absolute Reality”, the big “Self” the “Unknown”, “God”. I also found that in fact, I am just a vehicle to facilitate the pass through, that fundamentally, whatever I have, is really not mine at all. I think of it as “gifts of the universe”. Maybe Anne Morrow Lindberg would say “gifts from the sea”.
What is Generosity?
Most of us know what generosity is, that is, the quality of being generous (magnanimous); liberal in giving. In my investigation of generosity I have identified several aspects of generosity that appear to fall into two distinct categories, conventional understanding and Buddhist teaching.
Aspects of Generosity
In terms of conventional understanding “form” is the most familiar aspect. When we think of form, we think of material objects, money or other types of personal resources. There also “intangible forms”, such as, time, love, personal attention, advice, a smile, prayers, offerings (moonlight, blooming flowers, light of the universe). I’m sure you can help me build this list.
A second aspect of generosity is “intention”. What is the motive of the giver? Dogen states “giving” needs to be “genuine”. Then there is the aspect of “expectation of a return”. Is it present or not? In giving there’s the element of timing that necessitates an alertness to the moment. The realm of no hesitation. Like saying an immediate “yes” when asked to do something by another.
One aspect that I see in both categories is the “causal relationship of generosity”, cause and effect, the interconnectedness of all life. By this I mean, how generosity extends beyond the giver, the receiver and the gift into the seen and unseen world.
Three aspects from a Buddhist perspective are, “emptiness”, “non-attachment” and “compassion”.
In the Buddhist teaching of “emptiness”, I am referring to “no-Self”. In the context of giver, receiver and gift, all are interdependent and each lacks inherent self existence. An example is the dedication of merit chanted as part of our service. Here the idea is that when chanting the dedication, one is aware of the emptiness of oneself, those whom we dedicate the merit to, and the merit itself.
Zen Master’ Perspective :
Recently, I have been reading Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. One of the talks by Suzuki-Roshi is entitled, “God Giving ” ‘To give is non-attachment,’ that is, just not to attach to anything is to give.”
His view of giving is magnanimous; all encompassing. He goes on to say that “every existence in nature, every existence in the human world, every cultural work that we create, is something which was given, or is being given to us, relatively speaking. But as everything is originally one, we are, in actuality, giving out of everything. Moment after moment we are creating something, and this is the joy of our life.” He calls the source, the “big I”.
One could say when we manifest our true nature, just being ourselves, we are giving. A dharma friend shared with me a teaching from a Zen priest who said, “Giving is giving back to ourselves”. Herein lies “compassion”.
Later in the same text Suzuki Roshi says, “It does not matter what is given. To give a penny…or a piece of leaf.. a one line teaching. If given in the spirit of non-attachment, the material offering and the teaching offering have the same value.
Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value.
In “The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, from Shobogenzo which I believe to be the source document for Suzuki-Roshi’s talk mentioned previously, Dogen says that “when one learns giving well, being born and dying are both giving. All productive labor is fundamentally giving. Entrusting flowers to the wind, birds to the season, also must be meritorious acts of giving.” …He further states, “…great giving… is not only a matter of exerting physical effort; one should not miss the right opportunity.”
In the same essay Dogen says that it is difficult to transform the the mind of living beings and giving can be the beginning of transforming the mind. He says that “one should not calculate the greatness or smallness of the mind, nor the greatness or smallness of the thing. Nevertheless, there is a time when the mind transforms things, and there is giving in which things transform the mind.”
Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind p. 65-71
Shobogenzo, Zen Essays by Dogen, ‘The Four Integrative Methods of Bodhisattvas”, p117-118
Shobogenzo-zuimonki 5-6 p.176
Instructions to monks:
A monk who has left home should never be overjoyed upon receiving offerings from others. Nor, however, should such offerings be refused.
The late Sojo (Eisai) said, “It goes against the precepts of the Buddha to rejoice upon receiving offerings. It also goes against the good will of the donor to be ungrateful.”
What we should bear in mind on this point is that the offerings are not to ourselves, but to the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). So, in acknowledging thanks, you should say, “The Three Treasures will surely accept your offerings.”