Roshi used this week’s talk to reflect on the Thanksgiving holiday and the Paramita of Dana. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude and generosity. What does this mean from a Buddhist point of view? In the past, Roshi has talked about the six Paramitas or “Wisdom Practices,” and as a nod to Thanksgiving, he used this week to explore the topic of Dana again.
There are many similarities between the concept of generosity in the west and Dana in Buddhism. The Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) look at generosity in 4 layers, with each layer being more virtuous than the one before it. The first level is where the giver and receiver know each other. The next level is where the giver is anonymous, but knows of the recipient. The next level is where giver is known, but they do not know who they are giving to. The last, and highest form of generosity, is where the giver and receiver are both anonymous. We can look at this construction from a Buddhist point of view and realize that each higher level takes more of the personal ego out of the equation. In the highest form, nobody knows that the giver has given and nobody knows the receiver has received. It is the purest act of generosity.
Roshi noted, however, that we can go much deeper in our construction of generosity from a Buddhist point of view. The first thing to note is that in the above construction, we can never completely eliminate dualism because there are always two separate parties (e.g., giver and receiver) and something being exchanged. In the Buddhist conception of generosity, this exchange of physical goods definitely has merit, but it is only the first level of giving.
Roshi asked the group whether we need to practice generosity to become virtuous or do we already need to be virtuous in order to practice generosity. In other words, do we do the act of giving to become generous or must I already be a generous person in order to be a giving person. Roshi stopped and smiled and stated that both are true at the same time. We need to get out of our own way and simply do the right thing without becoming tied up in ego games of labeling ourselves as generous or not.
Roshi next stated that a higher level of generosity in Buddhism is sharing the Dharma. He was very careful to note that this does not simply mean teaching the sutras and histories. Any book can do that! It means striving to improve the quality of others’ state of being. How does someone do this? Roshi stated by specifically embodying the Dharma yourself. We are to become the essence of loving kindness and this kindness lightly lands on everyone around us like nourishing Dharma Rain. Note, that nothing physical was exchanged and the gift of our practice may land on someone we do not even recognize or see.
The last and highest form of Dana is giving the gift of “Fearlessness” to another. In Buddhism, fearlessness is the root of liberation. Our ego holds back on everything in order to stay safe. Fear, more than anything else, blocks our deeper enlightenment. Our mission, in everything we do, is to remove the obstacle of fear holding everyone back. This is why we make the Bodhisattva vow to save all beings.
Roshi next noted that there is no dualism in generosity. The more you practice, the more you realize this. There is no giver and receiver. There is simply and fearlessly embodying the Dharma in each moment. In this way, generosity and love is the natural flow of the universe. As we embody the Dharma, fear drops away and we realize that there are really no limits to our life. As we realize this, we shine this realization out in the ten thousand directions for all to receive. Roshi exhorted the group to stop calculating and measuring generosity. This breaks every action into small dualistic pieces destroying its power.
Roshi wrapped up by recounting a story about when he was a monk in Japan. His teacher, Ban Roshi, assigned Tesshin Roshi the supervision of a rural temple located in the mountains. The first reaction to this was fear. What about the logistics? This is a new temple, with no budget and no followers. How will the most basic expenses be met? He asked Ban Roshi all of these questions – to which Ban Roshi responded by “bonking” Tesshin Roshi on the head. If you ask stupid questions, you get a stupid answer! When you wake up each morning, do you worry about how you will pay the phone bill? No! you move throughout you day accomplishing your mission of being useful to others. If you do this, everything else will take care of itself. Basically, do not let fear paralyze your mission. Tesshin Roshi noted that he spent 14 years in the mountain retreat and the bills were never a problem. The moral of the story is be fearless and generous in everything you do.