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.”
Like waves, all the activities of this life have rolled endlessly on, one after the other, yet they have left us feeling empty-handed. Myriads of thoughts have run through our mind, each one giving birth to many more, but what they have done is to increase our confusion and dissatisfaction. When we closely examine the ordinary habits that underlie whatever we do and try to discover where they come from, we find that their very source is our failure to investigate them properly.
We operate under the deluded assumption that everything has some sort of true, substantial reality. But when we look more carefully, we find that the phenomenal world is like a rainbow—vivid and colourful, but without any tangible existence.
When a rainbow appears in the sky we see many beautiful colours—yet a rainbow is not something we can clothe ourselves with, or wear as an ornament. There is nothing we can take hold of; it is simply something that appears to us through the conjunction of various conditions. Thoughts arise in the mind in just the same way. They have no tangible reality or intrinsic existence at all.
There is therefore no logical reason why thoughts should have so much power over us, nor any reason why we should be enslaved by them. Mind is what creates both samsara and nirvana. Yet there is nothing much to it—it is just thoughts. Once we recognize that thoughts are empty, the mind will no longer have the power to deceive us. But as long as we take our deluded thoughts as real, they will continue to torment us mercilessly, as they have been doing throughout countless past lives.
To gain control over the mind, we need to be aware of what to do and what to avoid, and we also need to be alert and vigilant, constantly examining all our thoughts, words and actions. To cut through the mind’s clinging, it is important to understand that all appearances are void, like the appearance of water in a mirage. Beautiful forms are of no benefit to the mind, nor can ugly forms harm it in any way.
Sever the ties of hope and fear, attraction and repulsion, and remain in equanimity in the understanding that all phenomena are nothing more than projections of your own mind. Once you have realized absolute truth, then you will see the whole, infinite display of relative phenomena that appears within it as no more than an illusion or a dream.
To realize that appearance and voidness are one is what is called simplicity, or freedom from conceptual limitations. Self and others As you wish to be happy, so you should wish others to be happy too. As you wish to be free from suffering, so you should wish that all beings may also be free from suffering.
You should think, “May all living creatures find happiness and the cause of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. May they always have perfect happiness free from suffering. May they live in equanimity, without attachment or hatred but with love towards all without any discrimination.” To feel overflowing love and almost unbearable compassion for all living creatures is the best way to fulfil the wishes of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Even if for the moment you cannot actually help anyone in an external way, meditate on love and compassion constantly over the months and years until compassion is knit inseparably into the very fabric of your mind. As you try to practise and progress on the path, it is essential to remember that your efforts are for the sake of others.
Be humble and remember that all your exertions are child’s play compared to the vast and infinite activity of the Bodhisattvas. Like parents providing for the children they love so much, never think that you have done too much for others—or even enough. Even if you finally manage to establish all living creatures in perfect Buddhahood, simply think that all your wishes have been fulfilled.
There must never be so much as a trace of hope for any benefit for oneself in return. The essence of the Bodhisattva practice is to go beyond self-clinging and dedicate yourself to serving others. The Bodhisattva’s activity hinges on the mind, not on how your actions might appear externally. True generosity is the absence of clinging, ultimate discipline is the absence of desire, and authentic patience is the absence of hatred.
Bodhisattvas are able to give away their kingdom, their body, their dearest possessions, because they have completely overcome any inner impoverishment and are unconditionally ready to fulfil the needs of others. Practice The teachings we need most are those that will actually strengthen and inspire our practice. It is all very well to receive teachings as high as the sky, but the sky is not that easy to grasp.
Start with practices which you can truly assimilate—developing determination to be free of ordinary concerns, nurturing love and compassion—and as you gain stability in your practice you will eventually be able to master all the higher teachings. The only way to achieve liberation from samsara and attain the omniscience of enlightenment is to rely on an authentic spiritual teacher. An authentic spiritual teacher is like the sail that enables a boat to cross the ocean swiftly.
The sun and moon are reflected in clear, still water instantly. Similarly, the blessings of the Three Jewels are always present for those who have complete confidence in them. The sun’s rays fall everywhere uniformly, but only where they are focused through a magnifying glass can they set dry grass on fire. When the all-pervading rays of the Buddhas’ compassion are focused through the magnifying glass of your faith and devotion, the flame of blessings blazes up in your being.
Obstacles can arise from good as well as bad circumstances, but they should never deter or overpower you. Be like the earth, which supports all living creatures indiscriminately, without distinguishing good from bad. The earth is simply there. Your practice should be strengthened by the difficult situations you encounter, just as a bonfire in a strong wind is not blown out, but blazes even brighter.
When someone harms you, see him as a kind teacher who is showing you the path to liberation and merits your respect. Pray that you may be able to help him as much as you can, and whatever happens, never hope for an opportunity for vengeance. It is particularly admirable to bear patiently the harm and scorn of people who have less education, strength or skill than you. Look right into it, and you will see that the person who is harmed, the person who does the harm, and the harm itself are all totally devoid of any inherent reality.
Who, then, is going to get angry at mere delusions? Faced with these empty appearances, is there anything to be lost or gained? Is there anything to be liked or disliked? It is all like an empty sky. Recognize that! Once you control the anger within, you will discover that there is not a single adversary left outside. But as long as you pay heed to your hatred and attempt to overcome your external opponents, even if you succeed, more will inevitably rise up in their place.
Even if you managed to overpower everyone in the whole world, your anger would only grow stronger; to follow it will never make it subside. The only really intolerable enemy is hatred itself. To defeat the enemy of hatred it is necessary to meditate one-pointedly on patience and love until they truly take root in your being. Then there can be no outer adversaries. Ask yourself how many of the billions of inhabitants of this planet have any idea of how rare it is to have been born as a human being.
How many of those who understand the rarity of human birth ever think of using that chance to practise the Dharma? How many of those who think of starting to practise actually do so? How many of those who start continue to practise? How many of those who continue attain ultimate realization? Indeed, those who attain ultimate realization, compared to those who do not, are as few as the stars you can see at daybreak compared to the myriad stars you can see in the clear night sky.
As long as you, like most people, fail to recognize the true value of human existence you will just fritter your life away in futile activity and distraction. When life comes all too soon to its inevitable end, you will not have achieved anything worthwhile at all. But once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will definitely direct all your energy into reaping its true worth by putting the Dharma into practice.
If you make use of your human birth in the right way, you can achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime. All the great Siddhas of the past were born as ordinary people. But by entering the Dharma, following a realized teacher and devoting their whole lives to practising the instructions they received, they were able to manifest the enlightened activities of great Bodhisattvas.
Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group From Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Editions Padmakara