The Urban Dharma Newsletter / March 27, 2007
In This Issue: Wisdom in Action
1. Wisdom in Action: Spiritual Cultivation and Social Engagement
2. Preah Maha Ghosananda
3. Remembering Maha Ghosananda By Diana Chapman Walsh
4. Dharma Words / Generosity Good Medicine
Just got back from the >Wisdom in Action= conference in Berkeley, it was a lot of fun, great talks, good food, and much sharing of ideas. Find below some info on the conference, all the talks were recorded and the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery can help you order them. The second part of the UD Newsletter this month is about Preah Maha Ghosananda, he passed away this month, the earth and humankind will miss him.
1. Wisdom in Action: Spiritual Cultivation and Social Engagement / Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth - Spring Conference - March 24 and 25, 2007
Wisdom wonderful and mysterious, it is found in books, in historical figures and is rumored to be hidden away in remote mountaintops, forests and monasteries. But it is curiously rare in everyday experience. Does it have to be that way? In a world bent on war, overconsumption, grinding injustice and the divisive rhetoric of "us versus them", does wisdom stand a chance?
It does but it needs to be a wisdom that starts in the deepest reaches of our being and is nurtured through compassionately engaging the world around us. It focuses on the causes of suffering, not just its effects. And it does it in a kind and caring fashion not harming, not hating and not blaming.
It works but you must "be the change you want to see". Come and listen to talks by people who have devoted their lives to walking the spiritual path working to educate, create peace and promote justice in the world as well as within themselves.
For more information on the conference and to AOrder Audio Recordings@ please contact the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, see below:
Berkeley Buddhist Monastery
2304 McKinley Ave
"Vegetarianism and Buddhism" Rev. Heng Sure was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1976. For the sake of world peace, he undertook an over six hundred mile pilgrimage from South Pasadena to Ukiah, repeatedly taking three steps and one bow to cover the entire journey. In the entire two years taken to make the pilgrimage, he observed a practice of total silence. Rev. Heng Sure has an M.A. in Oriental Languages from UC Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He serves as the Managing Director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and teaches on the staff at the Institute for World Religions. He is actively involved in interfaith dialogue and in the ongoing conversation between spirituality and technology.
"Out from the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women in the Global Community" Karma Lekshe Tsomo's primary academic interests include women in Buddhism, Buddhism and bioethics, religion and cultural change, and Buddhism in the United States. In addition to her academic work, she is actively involved in interfaith dialogue and in grassroots initiatives for the empowerment of women. She is president of Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women (www.sakyadhita.org) and director of Jamyang Foundation (www.jamyang.org), an initiative to provide educational opportunities for women in the Indian Himalayas, Bangladesh and Laos. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of San Diego and teaches Buddhism and World Religions at the University of San Diego.
"Trials and Tribulations of Public Service / The Reluctant Bodhisattva" Ven. Kusala Bhikshu has been involved in service to community for over a decade. He has been/is a Buddhist volunteer at a State Prison, Juvenile Hall, Police Department, Medical Center and University Campus. His understanding of Buddhism is deeply rooted in the Theravada and the goal of the Arahant. After years of service however, the Bodhisattva ideal manifested as his path to compassion and wisdom.
"WORKING WITH INMATES DURING THEIR POST-RELEASE PROCESS BACK INTO THE COMMUNITY" Ven. Suhita Dharma, known familiarly as ABhante,@ carries forth the teaching of the Buddha in both the Sri Lankan Theravada lineage, Vajrayana, and the Mahayana Vietnamese Zen tradition of the Unified Buddhist Church in Vietnam and America. He is a pastoral social worker who emphasizes service to homeless people, prisoners, and others in need. Bhante has been a monk (Bhikshu) over 40 years and has acted as a bridge between many cultures in the world. He follows in what he calls the Triyana tradition, the way of compassion towards all beings.
"Buddhist Prison Ministry" Dharma Master Heng Yun was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1983. A native Chinese speaker, she lectures frequently on the Shurangama Sutra in Taiwan and the United States at many of the DRBA Way Places. In Taiwan, she regularly visits the prisons to talk to the classmates about finding true happiness and a direction in life. She has had many inspiring stories seeing classmates change despite their difficult
environment. In addition, Dharma Master Heng Yun holds a M.A. from Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU), and is an active member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society. Currently she serves as the managing director at Gold Sage Monastery.
"Education and Social Change" Dharma Master Heng Yin received a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and was subsequently accepted to the Ph.D. program. She first learned about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) in 1990 when the Master and his disciples visited UT and taught meditation and Buddhism. She came to CTTB for a summer Chan session. A few months later, she enrolled at Dharma Realm Buddhist University and moved to CTTB where she soon committed herself to the monastic life. DM Heng Yin has been active in the Buddhist Text Translation Society and is currently the Principal of the Developing Virtue Girls' School at CTTB.
Dharma Master Jin Jr became a monastic in 1998 and was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 2002. Her motivation for studying the Dharma comes from seeking the truth and to find answers for her life. She is originally from Malaysia, but came to the United States to study Buddhism and continue her academic studies. She has a BA in English Literature from San Francisco State University. After receiving her teaching credential and MA in Education from Stanford University, she has been teaching in Developing Virtue Secondary School and Dharma Realm Buddhist University at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. This summer she will be leading a program to prepare new volunteer teachers to teach in the schools.
"Engaged Buddhist Monasticism" Dr. Martin Verhoeven, when training under Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, also undertook the bowing pilgrimage dedicated to world peace with Reverend Heng Sure. Marty graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His areas of interest are the historical teachings of Buddhism and the process of religious acculturation. Marty has studied and lectured extensively throughout Asia, Europe, the United States, and Canada. Currently, he is a professor at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) and Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU). He also teaches
a weekly meditation series at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery.
"Socially Responsible Buddhist Laypeople" Mr. Doug Powers holds an M.A. from GTU and a B.A. and an M.A.T. from the University of Redlands. He is Vice President of Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU) and currently teaches Western Philosophy and Psychology at DRBU. Doug has also been teaching at Berkeley High School for over 30 years. An advocate for introducing Buddhism to high school students, he has been known to hold impromptu meditation sessions at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. Doug is a regular facilitator at Berkeley Student Roundtable discussions and an advisor for Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth.
"Time is Precious" Michael Tsai, President of the Cancer Support Group of Tzu Chi Free Clinic and Chief Information Officer of Tzu Chi Foundation USA. He has been active in Tzu Chi for 7 years. Diagnosed with terminal cancer 8 years ago, Michael outlived his doctor's initial prediction - 6 months. Michael has transformed his life through Buddhism and service. He is remarkably peaceful, and so busy working with cancer patients that you would not realize he is still battling cancer.
"Vegan Monologues" Brian Conroy first encountered Master Hsuan Hua in 1976 at the first Gold Mountain Monastery off Mission Street in San Francisco. He is an avid educator and has taught elementary and middle school for many years. Long involved in the theater arts and public speaking, Brian has a way of captivating audiences with his marvelous stories. Many of his stories are ABuddhist@ featuring titles like, ACaptain Enlightenment!,@ ANick Bodhi: Dharma Investigator,@ and AHunting the Wild Broccoli.@
"A lay Buddhist's Responsibility to the Local Community" Ron Epstein holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. in Chinese language and literature from the University of Washington. He taught Buddhist studies and world religions at San Francisco State University for many years and has recently retired. His research interests include the Mahayana sutras, Yogachara Buddhism and applied Buddhist ethics. Ron took refuge with Venerable Master Hsuan Hua in 1967 and was one of the original translators of the Surangama Sutra from Chinese to English. Together with a team of translators from the Buddhist Text Translation Society, Ron is currently working on the second translation of the Surangama Sutra.
___ ___ ___
Buddhist Prayer for Peace
The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.
From this suffering comes Great Compassion.
Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.
A Peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.
A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Family.
A Peaceful Family makes a Peaceful Community.
A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.
And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.
May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.
Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion by Maha Ghosananda
2. Preah Maha Ghosananda Mar 22nd 2007 / From The Economist
Preah Maha Ghosananda, Athe Gandhi of Cambodia@, died on March 12th, aged 78
ASIA'S great spiritual leaders tend to build shrines round themselves. There they sit, disciples at their feet, handing down instructions for achieving the perfect life. When Preah Maha Ghosananda, in later years, became associated with Buddhist temples in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, his admirers would expect to find him there. He seldom was. He would be far away, walking.
Where he walked was often remote, but it was neither safe nor quiet. He would tread, a little bird like man with hands folded and head bowed, along narrow paths that threaded through the jungle forests of central Cambodia. Care was necessary, for the ground had been sown with landmines up to the edge of the trails. Humidity would mist his glasses and slick his bald head with sweat. His orange monk's robes, hitched up to show stout boots and socks, would tangle in the bushes. Behind him, chanting to the beat of a drum, would stream 200 300 laymen, monks and nuns, walking across Cambodia for peace.
Though Ghosananda led these Dhammayietra, or APilgrimages of Truth@ in the early 1990s, well after the signing of peace accords to end a civil war between the remnants of the murderous Khmers Rouges and the new, Vietnamese backed Cambodian government, he often found war still raging. Shells screamed over the walkers, and firefights broke out round them. Some were killed. The more timid ran home, but Ghosananda had chosen his routes deliberately to pass through areas of conflict. Sometimes the walkers found themselves caught up in long lines of refugees, footsore like them, trudging alongside ox carts and bicycles piled high with mattresses and pans and live chickens. AWe must find the courage to leave our temples@, Ghosananda insisted, Aand enter the suffering filled temples of human experience.@
Many of the villagers they met had not seen a Buddhist monk for years. In the old Cambodia, before the Khmers Rouges in April 1975 had proclaimed a new Utopian era, Aforest monks@ had been a part of rural life, wandering through with staves and bowls, exchanging a handful of rice for a blessing. Now, though the Khmers Rouges had outlawed nostalgia, had razed the monasteries and thrown the mutilated Buddha statues into the rivers, old habits stirred. As they caught Ghosanada's chant, AHate can never be appeased by hate; hate can only be appeased by love@, soldiers laid down their arms and knelt by the side of the road. Villagers brought water to be blessed, and plunged glowing incense sticks into it to signal the end of war.
Ghosananda himself had missed the horrors of the Khmer Rouge years. His family, ordinary peasant folk from the Mekong delta, had been wiped out; monks like him, Asocial parasites@ as they were now branded, were defrocked, forced to labour in the fields, or murdered. Out of 60,000 only 3,000 were left alive, and those had fled. But Ghosananda had gone to Thailand to learn meditation in 1965, staying for years in a hermitage in the forest where only the buzz of insects disturbed him. Not until 1978, when he went to minister to Cambodian refugees in the camps on the Thai border, did he learn that Buddhism had been destroyed in Cambodia, although almost all the people had adhered to it. He decided then that his duty was to restore his country's sacred foundation.
Step by step
He did not believe this could be done through grand temples or enclosed institutions. Certainly he could have gone that way. Like many others he had been a dek wat, a Atemple kid@, washing the monks' dishes and carrying their alms bowls. Unlike others, he became a monk and remained one, getting all his education in temples and eventually gaining a doctorate in Pali, the scriptural language of Theravada Buddhism. He was a polymath and an intellectual. Yet he could not stay out of the world. Rather than devoting himself to monastic scholarship, he built hut temples in the refugee camps and handed out dog eared photocopies of the Buddha's Metta Sutta, or Words of Love:
With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths...
On his walks his message remained the same. It needed no complication. The work, he knew, would be slow: Astep by step@, as he liked to say. It would continue as long as Cambodians felt divided from each other and brutalised by their past.
After 1980 he was made much of. He represented the Cambodian government in exile at the United Nations, and was influential in the peace talks; in 1988, he was made Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia. Several times he was nominated for the Nobel peace prize. He founded more than 50 temples across the world. Some he spoke at; but his first priority lay elsewhere. It was to appear, birdlike, out of the Cambodian forest, to surprise a man digging or a woman washing; to remind them that the power of love was stronger than the forces of history; and then to move on.
For the pure hearted one
Having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
3. Remembering Maha Ghosananda By Diana Chapman Walsh | March 15, 2007
Maha Ghosananda, the leader of Cambodian Buddhism, and one of the world's great religious leaders, died on March 12, 2007. In October of 1998, I had a memorable encounter with this remarkable figure whom Jack Kornfield characterizes as "a forest monk, a father figure for Cambodian children, a translator and scholar of fifteen languages, a meditation master for Western students, a peacemaker at the United Nations, and one of the living treasures of Cambodia, leading the Khmer refugee communities around the world" (Preface, Step by Step, by Maha Ghosananda, 1992).
It was on a very busy Friday Parent and Family Weekend at Wellesley College. I rushed home to the president's house on campus at around 2:00 for a quick errand. I had been out straight all day (indeed all week) and I still had three big obligations. I suddenly realized that I had skipped lunch, so I found a bagel, cut it in half and headed for the front door.
The doorbell rang, and I assumed it was a delivery or a worker someone the housekeeper could handle (I was late) so I opened the door quickly, expecting to dash right by, only to find myself face to face with an odd entourage. I recognized our new Buddhist advisor, who said brightly, "Oh, we're so glad you're home. We've brought you Maha Ghosananda, the Dali Lama of Cambodia. He wanted to meet you."
This was one of those cosmic (and comic) moments that draws you up short. Here I was with half a bagel in each hand, dashing out the door, a bundle of preoccupation and nerves. I had stopped home for just a minute (which I almost never do), was late for my next appointment, and was now confronted with this unexpected delegation of serene mindfulness, assuming that of course I was at home to receive them.
I babbled a few things, feeling very silly to be so frantic and rushed, handed the better half my bagel to the sweetly smiling monk, and dashed off. For the rest of the day I chided myself for the opportunity I had missed. I should have bagged the next appointment, invited the group in, and basked in their aura of peace and calm. I felt even worse that night when I got to the World Wide Web and discovered what an extraordinary spiritual leader Ghosananda is. But then I went on about my business and forgot the incident.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, we had a multi faith service for Family Weekend. Afterward, the dean of religious and spiritual life and I walked back to the president's house, again something we seldom do. We settled on the terrace, with some orange juice, and got to talking about Maha Ghosananda's visit the previous Friday. Suddenly we felt a presence and looked up to see the monk standing on the edge of the terrace. It was an awesome moment.
We ate fruit and bread together, drank orange juice and talked for about 45 minutes. He carried himself with a quiet simplicity and an utter lack of pretense or guile. He was playful, whimsical, warm, and sweet; his smile and laugh were radiant and the easy silences we shared were suffused with spirit. His presence felt like a gift to Victor and me, a generous gift that inspired gratitude and a an impulse to reach out and support his journey in whatever ways we could.
The impact of his teaching came as much from his presence as from the short lessons and parables he offered in a quirky and unstructured way, as if responding to the whim of the moment. He showed us the many pockets in his down vest, and their curious contents: a U.S. passport wrapped in an old warranty notice, the German translation of his book, folded in a scrap of bubble wrap. He laughed at himself for failing to adhere to the Buddhist injunction to travel light.
When he said good bye, he walked down a long series of stone steps from the terrace to the president's lawn, toward a rose garden and to a path by the lake, without once looking back. We sensed that his short visit had given us something we had no way of absorbing fully right away, but something that would stay with us forever.
4. Dharma Words / Generosity Good Medicine
(This discourse is adapted from a Dharma talk given by Marcia Rose at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, during the three month retreat in the Fall of 2002.)
Yesterday afternoon I went to visit Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who is staying at a nearby Cambodian temple. Some of you may know him, or at least know about him. Maha ("Great"), as he=s fondly called, may be best known for the Dhamma YatrasCthe long "step by step" walks for peace that he led during the Vietnam War throughout his native Cambodia. An incredibly glowing human being, Maha Ghosananda ("Sound of Bliss") is 90 years old now and has been a monk since he was 14. He feels like one of the purest and energetically lightest beings I=ve ever encounteredCso simple, so unpretentious, so rare: a being of pure heart.
A year and half ago I had the great honor of teaching a three day retreat with Maha in Crestone, Colorado. During that time a sweet and deep connection arose between us. But we hadn=t known each other very well and hadn=t seen each other for over a year. He=s such an old man, these days there are things that he doesn=t recall, so I asked him if he remembered me. He said, "Oh yes, I remember your nose." I burst out laughing, and said, "It must be quite a nose." He responded, "It=s a good nose."
Yesterday I felt like I was going to see my Dharma grandfatherCwho calls me Mum. During the visit I asked him why, since he=s so much older than me. He replied, "We have all been each other=s mother at some point, and so you are >Mum.=" So yesterday Mum and Grandfather sat and drank tea, laughed a bit, talked a little history about his life, spoke about this retreat and how you are all so diligently practicing, and mostly talked Buddha Dhamma. Being with Venerable Maha Ghosananda is a most precious gift that opens and lightens the mind/heartCa gift he selflessly offers simply through his being, or maybe more accurately, a gift he offers in simply being. I find it amazing and surprising after I=ve been with him how my heart feels like it has filled my whole body, my whole being and beyondC and it goes on and on.
When I left Maha, to my total surprise, monks and a nun who live at the temple filled the back seat of my car with big bags of Thai rice, Jasmine tea, and sugar to bring back for all of you. They are so happy that you are practicing that they want to support you through their generosity.
This evening I would like to explore generosity, the first of the Paramis ("Perfections"), particular qualities of purity within the heart/mind that grow and deepen through our practice, becoming incredibly powerful causes of all spiritual accomplishment. Over 2500 years ago Gotama Buddha, out of a boundless and profound generosity of heart, offered the teachings and practices of liberation from suffering directly out of his own experience. The perfection of the Paramis is the perfection of the qualities of the heart/mind of a Buddha.
Generosity as a practice deepens generosity as a quality of being. Usually we think of it as the practice of offering, but in its fullness it=s really both offering and receivingCa process that helps to purify and transform the contraction of separateness engendered by self centeredness. Cultivating the quality of generosity offers us the possibility of the purification and transformation of greed, hoarding, saving, and clinging and the purification and transformation of the fear that is so closely linked to these energies of attachment.
Generosity is a perfectly natural aspect of our humanness and is universally recognized as a basic human virtue. We cultivate and manifest it in a thousand different ways, no matter our culture, our age, no matter who we are. We offer; we receiveCthe seamless circle. Life continuously presents us with opportunities to practice:
* I=m weeding my garden early one summer morning when my 2 1/2 year old son wanders over with a big, bright smile and thrusts a bunch of dandelions at me. I receive them with delight and heart felt gratitude.
* On my 46th birthday in Shanghai, I learn that the custom in China is to give gifts on one=s birthday. The 20 year old daughter of the family I am staying with admires my favorite bracelet. In the midst of experiencing some degree of attachment, I decide to give my bracelet to this young woman for my birthday, though feeling a bit like a "one handed giver." By the time I actually give the gift, I give it openhandedly with both hands, though the process of getting to this point was very much a practice of generosity.
* A friend has waited some years for all the conditions to come together in order to sit a three month retreat. They finally do. One week before the retreat is to begin she calls to tell me that she=s given up her spot, because a friend who is dying of cancer has asked if she might consider being her caretaker.
* A young cab driver in Thailand and I have an inspiring conversation about Buddhism. Just as I=m getting out of his taxi, he takes the small bronze statue of his beloved Buddhist teacher off the dashboard and gives it to me. I hesitate momentarily, not sure how to or if I can receive this gift. And then my heart simply opens and with ease I=m able to accept this purity of generosity.
* A young Iroquois child sits in the middle of a circle, surrounded by her tribal family. Food, drink, clothing, and blankets are close to the child. After eating and drinking her fill and exploring the clothing and blankets, she hears voices from outside the circle calling, "I=m hungry. I=m thirsty. I=m cold." The child is led out of the circle to share food, drink, and blankets with those in needCa ceremony, a training of the heart toward compassionate generosity.
* I=m attempting to feed my seven month old granddaughter. She picks up a piece of banana and delightedly pushes it into my mouth.
* A few summers ago as forest fires are raging in northern New Mexico, hundreds of people are evacuated from their homes. Almost immediately there is an enormous outpouring of generosity from miles aroundCclothing, food, offers of housingCso much offered freely that at some point we are told that it is time to stop giving. The needs of all those suffering because of the fires had been met with abundance.
* We participate and take note of the incredible expression of generosity on every level after the September 11 tragedy.
* At some point in your life, you decide that you want to sit the three month retreat. All the conditions come together. You give to yourselves and receive this great gift of the Dharma.
Imagine yourselves standing outside your house each morning, holding a bowl of food. A line of saffron robed monks is moving slowly, gracefully down the road, each of them holding a round "begging bowl." As they pass in front of you, you scoop out a portion of the food from your bowl and put it into each of the monks= bowls. Imagine yourselves as a child standing with your mother, father, older sister or brother, seeing this ritual, this offering each morning, taking in the power of the generous heart so clearly present in this daily practice of generosity, taking in the joy and genuine happiness quite apparent in this purity of givingCthe benefits of generosity easily learned each day.
* From the Buddha:
* Just as a hundred peaked,
* lightning garlanded, thundering cloud,
* raining on the fertile earth,
* fills the plateaus and gullies,
* even so, a person of conviction and learningCwise,
* having stored up provisions,
* gives to those in need,
* delighting in giving...
* That is his or her thunder, like a raining cloud=s.
* That shower of merit, abundant,
* rains back on the one who gives.
The Buddha taught: "If you knew what I know about the benefit of generosity, you wouldn=t let one meal go by without sharing it." The Buddha and his nuns and monks all lived in the same simple wayCmaking alms rounds each day for their sustenance. The Buddha taught and lived what is really a way of life. He encouraged us, "Thus you must train yourselves: We will be thankful and grateful. Not even the least thing that is done for us shall be forgotten." Giving and receivingCthe practice of generosity. But most of us in the West don=t have this kind of daily experience, this reminder. We don=t have the monastic training of the begging bowl that is part of the ongoing cultivation and deepening of gratitude and understanding of interdependence through the sustenance that is so generously offered. Nor do we engage from the other sideCoffering food each day to those who depend on us for their sustenanceCcultivating the wholesome, connected, joyous heart of generosity.
Rather, our culture encourages us to yearn for, to acquire, to amass, and then to fixate on and cling to accumulationsCmaterial accumulations and the accumulation of ideas, opinions, and views that support this whole materialistic culture. We are deeply conditioned to identify ourselves outwardly and inwardly through all of our accumulations, material and otherwiseCto think, feel, and project that this hoard is who we are. In light of this pervasive and sticky conditioning, it takes courage to enter into a spiritual path that encourages us to see/know the truth of ourselves and all things underneath and beyond this conditioning of attachment and identification.
Nothing instilled in our culture teaches us to live the truth of interconnectedness and the essential emptiness of all accumulations. In our culture, there is a deep, quite a profound loss because of this absence. The practice that develops the heart of generosity is the seed, the foundation, of spiritual development. Generosity is the ground of compassion. It is a requisite for the realization of liberation. As our practice deepens, we begin to know, more directly and deeply, the ephemeralityCthe changing nature, the impermanenceCof all things. What we think is ours today may be taken away tomorrow or may seemingly belong to someone else next week. What can we really possess, after all? Is there anything that really has any hard and fast owners? Everything changes hands.
Our realization of this truth can be a powerful factor in cultivating our inner wealth of generosity. An inner wealth of generosity is powerful medicine. It=s an antidote to the anguish and confusion that is generated through the conditioning to amass, fixate on, and cling to our accumulations. In turn, generosity is the natural, healthy, awakened response to the understanding that nothing can be held onto any way in this constantly changing world. But our inner wealth of generosity can never be depletedCit=s a gift that can forever be given, a seamless circle that feeds itself. As the Buddha tells us, "The greatest gift is the act of giving itself."
The Buddha spoke of three kinds of giving. There is beggarly giving, which is when we give with only one hand, so to speak, still holding onto what we give: "It=s still mine"Chow I began with giving my young Chinese friend my bracelet. In this kind of giving, we often give the least of what we have and afterward might even wonder if we should have given at all.
The second kind of giving could be called friendly giving. We give openhandedly, with both hands. We take what we have and share it, because it feels appropriate. It is a clear giving.
Then there=s what is called kingly or queenly giving, which means giving the best of what we have instinctively, graciously, even if none remains for ourselves. We know ourselves to be only temporary caretakers of all that is provided, essentially owning nothing. As this understanding takes root in us there is no getting, possessing, or giving. There is just the spaciousness that allows all things to remain in the natural flow of life.
A wonderful metaphor for this flow is the moon shining in the sky while its image is reflected in every drop of water on this earth. The moon doesn=t demand, "If you open to me, I=ll do you a favor and shine on you." The moon just shines. The point is not to want to benefit anyone or to make them happy. There is no audience involved, no one to impress, to please. There=s no "me," no "you," no "them." It=s a matter of an open gift, complete generosity without the relative notions of giving and receivingCjust the natural "empty" flow of life. As we understand the way of things, our heart of generosity quite naturally blossoms.
* From Desmond Tutu:
* Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it obuntu botho. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourselves out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
And needless to say, we don=t always live with the purity and completeness of generosity described in the moon metaphor. This is one of the reasons that we practice.
It is essential throughout our practice to remember to be honest with ourselves, honoring and respecting our capacity of heart at any given point along the way. It is about not pretending anything to others or ourselves via imitating or acting out of some idealized image that we have of a spiritual person. Awakening blossoms when we mindfully come from a genuine place of heart.
At times we may think that we are giving out of generosity, unconditional love, or compassion, when in fact our actions come from fear of loss or judgment or from fear of being hurt. We may give in order to avoid dealing directly with a particular person or situation. Giving in these ways actually perpetuates the suffering in ourselves and othersCcontinuing fear, confusion and delusion, strengthening the closed heart of self centeredness and disconnection, creating what in modern language is called codependency.
We may have an inner sense of need, not feeling whole, not feeling a simple "okayness" about being hereCbeing alive in this life just simply because here we are, alive in this life. We may experience undifferentiated feelings of disconnection, separateness, and a sense of inner and outer lack. Respectful, honest mindful awareness of these feelings is essential, lest we "give ourselves away" or "lose ourselves" in an unhealthy way or metaphorically give with one hand partially open, while the other hand subtly waits palm up for something in return. When we give in these ways, we actually feel less whole, more depleted, and weaker. Awareness is cloudy or just not present, which leads to ignorance of the real needs of others, a given situation, and ourselves.
Cultivating the truth of a healthy, vital connection to others; the unfolding of the wisdom of interconnectedness, "no self" and "emptiness"Call of which generosity naturally springs fromCrequires honesty and respect along the way of our spiritual journey. True generosity and awakened wisdom mature gradually. Our limits continue to change and expand as we practice from a genuine place of heart.
The inclination to feel and deeply know the wholeness that is inherent on the relative level of interconnectedness and the generosity and compassion that naturally spring from it is perfectly normal. The inclination to touch the freedom that is inherent in understanding the "not self," "empty" nature of all things is also perfectly natural. Both of these natural and intuitive inclinations are, for many of us, the deepest reasons that we are drawn to practice.
On American Thanksgiving in 1996 I attended the first six day Bearing Witness Retreat organized by Bernie Glassman Roshi at the ruins of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany. Each evening someone read a portion of a diary written during 1941B43 by a young Dutch Jewish woman named Etty Hillesum, who for a time lived and then died in Auschwitz. These years of great suffering throughout Europe were for Etty a time of enormous personal growth and liberation. In the midst of the scenario of extermination, Etty wrote the counter scenario. Her diaries are an amazing account of our possibility as human beings even in the midst of immense, extreme difficulty.
* From Etty Hillesum:
* I think I=ll do it anyway: I=ll "turn inward" for half an hour each morning before work and listen to my inner voice. Lose myself. You could call it meditation. I am still a bit wary of that word. But anyway, why not? A quiet half hour within yourselfY. But it=s not so simple, that sort of "quiet hour." It has to be learnt. A lot of unimportant inner litter and bits and pieces have to be swept out first. Even a small head can be piled high inside with irrelevant distractionsY. So let this be the aim of the meditation: to turn one=s innermost being into a vast empty plain, with none of that treacherous undergrowth to impede the view. So that something of "God" can enter you, and something of "Love" too. Not the kind of Love de luxe that you revel in deliciously for half an hour, taking pride in how sublime you feel, but the love you can apply to small everyday things.
Etty, with her clear vision, instinctively knew that she wouldn=t return from the camps and asked a friend to keep her diaries. She wanted to leave some trace behind, to share the solutions she had found for life. From the last entry in her diary:
* Ever since last night, I have been lying here trying to assimilate just a little of the terrible suffering that has to be endured all over the world. To accommodate just a little of the great sorrow, the coming of Winter has in store. It could not be done. Today will be a hard day. I shall lie quietly and try to "anticipate" something of all the days that are to come. When I suffer for the vulnerable, is it not for my own vulnerability that I really suffer? Etty ends with, "We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds."
Survivors of the camp have confirmed that Etty was an incredibly generous and luminous personality to the very last. Generosity and compassion are so closely allied.
The Tibetans have a very basic practice to cultivate generosity for miserly, stingy people who have trouble giving even to themselves. They take an ordinary everyday object, such as a potato or a turnip, and hold it one hand, then pass it to the other hand, back and forth, until passing it feels easy. Then they move on to objects of seemingly greater value, such as a mound of precious jewels or rice. This "giving" from hand to hand ultimately develops into a symbolic relinquishment of everythingCour outer material attachments and our inner attachments of habits, preferences, ideas, beliefsCsymbolically letting go of all the ways that we over and over again create a "self."
In our Vipassana practice this is really what we are doing, but without the props. We learn to give and to receive, letting go of control, receiving what is givenCreceiving each moment of our life just as it is, with trust that it is just right, just enough for our spiritual growth to unfold from. We give ourselves the gift of learning to be in the present moment with a clear mindful awareness, receiving each moment with gratitude, appreciation and humility. Practice teaches us to apply this wise attention during any exchange, to any relationship, in any emotional state and sensation that moves through our body. We learn to apply it to any task we might be engaged in, to the experience of a breath from its birth all the way through to its death. We are leaning to receive life fully and to be kind, grateful, and generous, knowing that this very life is the path, our path, to the deepest ease of well being and joy. We are learning that this very life is our path to liberation and that our liberation is itimately and profoundly connected to the liberation of all beings.
Someone once asked Gandhi, "Why do you give so much? Why do you serve all these people?" Surprisingly, Gandhi answered, "I don=t give to anyone. I do it all for myself." The aim and the fruit of our practice of generosity are twofold: we give to help and free others, and we give to help and free ourselves.
In closing this evening=s talk, I will be a conduit for the great gift of a blessing from Venerable Maha Ghosananda. Before I left for our visit yesterday, someone gave me a note requesting me to ask Maha to send a blessing to all the three month practitioners for their efforts. I stuck the note onto an envelope that I gave to Venerable at the beginning of our visit. Every time he caught sight of the note, he would read it again and put his hands together, offering a blessing to all of you. "May all of you who are practicing so diligently reach all the stages of enlightenment. May each one of you become a fully enlightened one, an arahant, a fully Enlightened Buddha."
Mindful awareness is what allows insight to arise in a perfectly natural way and, in turn, what allows us to let goCto recognize what we think of as our "self" as merely aspects of the natural ebb and flow of lifeCand in this recognition to then effortlessly give and receive in healthy and wise ways. This is the fullness, the greatness of heart, the seamless circle of generosity.
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