Wednesday, February 02, 2011


The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

I got a review copy of a above book where a family starts giving away their wealth and working with poverty issues. They sell their big house and move into a smaller one and then give the money away for poverty problems. Occasional volunteerism wasn't enough for them, and part of the journey is what is the most effective way to give. Philanthropy is not easy. They were leading a yuppy lifestyle, and then decided to address problems. The book has sections with the teenage daughter writing her perspective. The book seems to be sincere--the author talks about losing friends, and admitting he might have gotten a little self righteous at times about what he was doing. But he did it anyway and he provides a honest account of a incredible journey of upper middle class generosity.

I think giving more than money, like energy, time, an ear. To not rush a friend who wants to get something off their chest, and who has called at an inconvenient time, but you decide, what the heck, I'll drop everything and listen with my whole being. You don't have to hit a home run all the time you can bunt the runner over sometimes.

I have a friend who has devoted spare time to doing a prison ministry. Amazing. Another who donated time raising money and fixing up Aryaloka, which used to be a sad building until came along. Another takes photos for the amazing work in India with the ex-Dalits. Another works to build a sangha in New York City. Another is making a retreat center for his sangha, and runs that sangha. Another learned to teach yoga so he could bring it back to the sangha. I know a few people who raise money for the Dalits in India--amazing work.

Giving in general is good, but giving the gift of the Dharma is seen as best. Spending a weekend with the poor is great, but a weekend leading a retreat is great because it deepens people's spiritual practice. I don't think work for others is diminished by saying working for the good for the Dharma is better. If you truly believe in the project of enlightenment, then helping others on the way is the best thing you can do. (OK, so maybe that's a bold statement that I can't justify right now.)

The spiritual life is a balance between going for your own spiritual development and trying to help others. It's no good just working on yourself. And it's no good just throwing yourself into others problems--that can lead to idiot compassion. Everyone has to find their own balance. Some people are better in the world. Some people need more alone time and alone work to build them up to be int he world. Everyone is different.

With children, I'm mostly devoted to my children and working for them, and working to help my patients. I'm a worldling, who often gets swept up in the tide of events, and yet I feel my life is infused with the Dharma. I see my life through the terms of the Dharma. I've not renounced the world yet. But I go on retreat to deepen my practice and I hope some day to turn more towards working for the good of the Dharma more directly.

I find it courageous when someone comes through New York and they've quit their job and they're on a Dharma tour and they don't know what they're going to do when they get back. Amazing. I know a few people who have spent their life in the TBC movement. Amazing. I don't know if you literally have to go forth, like Sangharakshita did, and just have a few possessions, and wonder all over India, begging for his meals. Amazing stuff. But when I challenge the way I see the world, when I challenge myself to walk into scary grounds and challenge myself in other ways, I metaphorically go forth.

There's a great talk a friend gave, I hope they can get it up on FBA some day. Maybe I need to volunteer to go up there and get some talks off the hard drive. Sometimes you can see other's projects, things you wish others would do, but alas, what I do is the most important thing.

So Dana is one of the 6 perfections. I work to cultivate a generous spirit by meditation, noble friendships, reflection and appreciating the exemplification of my fine Dharma brothers and sisters.

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