Sentient beings are numberless We vow to liberate them Delusions are inexhaustible We vow to transcend them Dharma teachings are boundless We vow to master them The Buddha's enlightenment is unsurpassable We vow to embody it.
So I went on a retreat at Aryaloka a few weeks ago on the 6 paramitas, and we reflected on what we think was generous in others and what we had done that was generous.
I got Endless Path in the mail the other day and have enjoyed the introduction. I could tell I would like this student, friend and editor of Philip Kapleau. Full disclosure, I haven't finished his classic text The Three Pillars of Zen.
I like Zen, but sometimes I feel like it's too ethnic and sometimes it can be a kind of willfully aped style, that just isn't natural to me. I am meaning to go to the local Ch'an center just to learn about another sangha and to supplement things when my fledgling sangha doesn't have any program and I want something. My home sangha is the TBC, and I've explored outside it very little, but I want to being out more in the world of Buddhism. If I lived in England I could live in the heart of the TBC. In many places you can really get involved. San Fransisco has a booming TBC center. They might be starting a retreat center too, soon, I think they just bought a place outside SF. (And of course Manjuvajra founded Boston, Aryaloka and SF in his time in America, check out his deep video.)
Anyway, back to Dana, or generosity. In the first chapter of the Endless Path by Rafe Martin, he talks about generosity, and the example is sacrificing oneself to a tiger so the tiger can feed herself and their cubs. It's a pretty steep expectation.
I have blown myself out for my boys, for family, friends and patients, and in a way I get the feel of this. I was thinking about the stress parenting causes, and how it feels to literally shorten one's life due to stress, and to not be bitter about that or complain. You know the parents who blame their children for heart attacks or their own problems with life (literally true, I have a patient who's father blames her for a heart attack he had). Open handed generosity is a gift without strings. So much of what we give is in the hopes of return or because we can't get out of it. But to be really generous and not expect anything from it, that is even more generous.
To give, and allow people to be themselves, not to give to try to modify someone. A woman on retreat said she gave a single mother money to buy her children clothes and the woman went off to California for a week. She shrugged her shoulders, and said, "that's probably what she needed more than clothes for her children." To trust other people in their own autonomy and self determination. It's so easy to think we know better. I had a patient who was very upset talking about a friend who was a high powered business woman, and gave it all up to be a clown. She did not trust her friend to follow her heart, she could not imagine that being a clown could in any way be being true to oneself.
The desire to have other people not be other than who they are, is a kind of generosity. I struggle with someone who I want to have different thoughts and feelings, because they impinge on me.
There's also the question of idiot compassion. Sometimes help can be enabling, or not even useful. I can't tell you how many times people have given me things I don't actually want, that is a burden to take, not just an inconvenience. So we have to be in tune with people, though to be sure, mistakes in trying to be generous are probably less worse than mistakes in selfishness, we probably make those more often.
One of the reasons I'm so burnt out after a day of work is that I give myself, give who and what I am. But mostly it's about my patients, so I really have to be careful when I'm talking about myself, I have some narcissism, and I really want the sessions to be about my patients. Giving my attention, really trying to listen deeply and compassionately takes a lot of energy. I sometimes feel like I'm just an energy philanthropist. I give my energy to my kids, to my clients, to my friends and family. When I do things for myself, it's so that I can give some more. Compensatory indulgences are just emotional soothing, trying to repair myself to get back into the game, even if some of them are not as nourishing as I think they are.
When we break down the barriers between self an other, we can give more openhandedly. When the container is bigger, it's just a natural thing. I think in Manjuvajra's video, in my previous post, he's grown up, renunciation for him isn't a painful giving up. Similarly generosity is a kind of growing up that sees our inter-being and just does what mindfulness makes obvious when you are closer to reality and not all up in your mind.
So I want to bang out a wonderful review of this book, but I'm finding that it's so rich that I like to linger over it. So many interesting tidbits, food for thought. It's the kind of book I read after meditation, camping or on retreat. I have to be ready for it.
(I once had to read a book 3 times to review it.)
I wonder at why the 6 element practice is so challenging for me, I freaked out once when I was doing it a lot, after a profound meditative experience of it on retreat. In the TBC it's mostly used up in the run to joining the order, but it's also taught early so you are familiar with it, and just because you can get close to your experience in any meditation and this is just another one. Anyway, I keep asking myself why is tearing the self apart so threatening?
But the book is more intellectual, so it's not really a meditation book, in a way. I think it has larger appeal, and it really is opening up my ideas about the self.