By Kenn Duncan
From a Dharma talk given in December, 2019 in Prescott. (apologies to Kenn for posting this so late!)
“To give is nonattachment, just not to attach to anything is to give.”
— Suzuki Roshi
The essence of generosity is letting go. Feeling greedy or stingy is always a sign that we are holding on to something, usually ourselves. When we feel unhappy, when we feel inadequate, we get "stingy” we hold on tighter. Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can, no matter what it is, we are training in letting go. Giving has the characteristic of relinquishing: its function is to dispel greed for things that can be given away; its manifestation is non-attachment.
By holding onto or being with greed, we can talk ourselves out of being generous. The thought of sending a card or flowers to someone, and then thinking, Oh they'll get lots of cards. A friend who admires a jacket we don’t wear, and we think to ourselves, Well someday I might want to wear that jacket. Sharon Salzberg suggests that we become mindful of this tendency and as soon as the thought to be generous arises, we resolve to follow through.
“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing to hold onto can be liberating. We can relax with impermanence. What can we really possess, after all? Our realization that there is nothing we can hold onto can actually cultivate our generosity, which becomes a circle that constantly feeds itself. The Buddha tells us, “The greatest gift is the act of giving itself.”
There are so many ways to practice generosity. The practice isn’t so much what we give but that we unlock our habit of clinging. So this could be things, or money, food, a place in line, your time, a smile. It can start with being mindful of what you are holding onto and looking for a generous way to let it go.
True generosity is difficult. The Buddha pointed out the many ways we can give with mixed motives: giving out of fear or based on tradition (obligation); giving with the expectation of some sort of return; in hope of gain, or a better reputation or rebirth.
While we are giving, what are our thoughts and feelings? Our motives for giving may not all be pure. We may give with selfish motives. If we only pay attention to the deeds themselves we may not know whether or not we are being sincerely generous. The practice is to know more about what motivates us, if we are giving with mixed motivations we should take that opportunity to explore why.
The Buddha is said to have said:
“...before giving, the mind of the giver is happy; while giving, the mind of the giver is made peaceful; and having given, the mind of the giver is uplifted.”
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Churchill
Toni Bernhard, former professor and author, provides these questions to explore whether we are giving with mindfulness:
• What is happening in my body when I give?
• What is happening in my mind?
• Is there a sense of ease, openness, and compassion in my heart, body, and mind?
• Is there a feeling of depletion, weakness, fear, anger, or confusion—a contraction of my heart, body, and mind?
• Can I go beneath my stories, ideals, and beliefs about how I want the exchange to be or not to be, or how I believe it is “supposed to be” or “not supposed to be”?
• Can I mindfully recognize when I am caught in stories, beliefs, or wishful or aversive thoughts in relation to generosity?
Mindful attention can also help us to know more clearly how much to give in particular situations—or whether or not it’s appropriate to give at all. Here are some questions to consider:
• Am I giving beyond what is appropriate, or giving beyond what may be healthy for myself emotionally and/or physically?
• Are my heart, body, and mind relaxed, open, and joyful when I feel I’ve given “just enough,” or do I experience anguish and contraction of the heart, body, and mind in giving “too much”?
• Am I aware of when the most generous act might be to step back and simply let people take care of themselves, to let go and allow a particular situation to “just be” and work itself out?
Using these questions as guidelines, we can begin to understand the “middle way” of the Buddha’s teaching of dana. Mindfulness is what allows insight to arise in a perfectly natural way and what allows us, in turn, to let go—to recognize ourselves as aspects of the natural flow of life, and in this recognition to give and receive effortlessly in healthy and wise ways.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” —Mother Teresa
By Kenn Duncan
Delivered as a Dharma talk, September 2019
“It is better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring” - Carl Sagan
Delusion is said to be the most dangerous of the 3 poisons, it’s described as confusion, ignorance, illusion, bewilderment, misperception of reality. Believing something which is not true and acting on this belief, one of the problems with delusion is it believes it’s true. Delusion can lead us to ignore the facts and cling to our views and opinions, it creates a loss of connection with reality. It can take us into the illusion of our thoughts and misperceptions and these inevitably motivate unskillful actions.
Further, we start to build stories around these delusions, you’re by yourself one day = I don’t have any friends, see someone on TV = I think that person is cool, or that person is not cool, I will never get old, never go bald, but the reality is we don’t know, is that person cool? Will I go bald? We don’t really have control. Delusion is trying to have control or fool us into thinking that our beliefs are real and true. We also form ideas about ourselves that limit us, by making stories of ourselves, I can do this, I can’t do this, I’m this way… I’m not that way.
Buddhism gives us a great view of delusion and that is that you shouldn’t take it personally or as a failure when it’s recognized or seen, by yourself or by others. It just comes with being a human being, our mind will work towards delusion, maybe as a protection. So rather than being judgmental about it or embarrassed about it, be willing to be transparent with it, talk about it, recognize it, know it.
By Carol Russell
Delivered as a Dharma talk July 9, 2019
There is a well-known saying: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
We admire those who are experts, accomplished in their field, who have spent many years honing a skill or knowledge of their subject, who break new ground in creativity or research or scholarship or athletic ability or spiritual wisdom. And they deserve our admiration. We seek guidance and inspiration from such accomplished people.
Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away. One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was of one used to getting his own way. The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”
Clearly every one of us is pretty good at a few things, maybe even an expert. We began at the beginning, knowing nothing. ‘The steps to maturity are necessarily immature’, says Richard Rohr. And yet sometimes there is a resistance to being a beginner. Maybe resistance comes as we age. We are more willing to be a beginner when we are kids.
Maybe it’s cultural. There is a pressure in our society to know the answer. Stephen Jenkinson, in his book, Die Wise, writes that our culture suffers from an addiction to competence, and that this addiction is “part of the inheritance from our hard-scrabble immigrant beginnings on this continent, rooted in self-reliance, mastery over the environment around us, autonomy. It is the shadow side of our convictions about limitless possibility and ‘be all you can be.’”
Alvin Toffler said, The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
Here is one definition of beginner’s mind, from the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:
The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything.
Such a juicy definition…such an intriguing collection of phrases: Empty, accepting, doubting, open to all the possibilities.
By Jack Kornfield
Originally published at jackkornfield.com, January 27, 2017.
The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.
— Mother Teresa
Many of us wrestle with our response to the sufferings of the country and the world. What can we do in the face of poverty, disease, war, injustice, and environmental devastation? With the torrent of news, it is easy to despair, to become cynical or numb. Our psychologies tend to treat this as a personal problem, but it is not. We are all affected by the suffering of the world and need to find a way to work with it. This is a pressing problem for psychology. The Buddhist approach to this collective suffering is to turn toward it. We understand that genuine happiness and meaning will come through tending to suffering. We overcome our own despair by helping others to overcome theirs.
We might hear this and become afraid of being overwhelmed. Or our response might be confused with guilt, unworthiness, and our need for personal healing. Still, even though our motivation is mixed, we have to respond. And we can. It is simple. Each of us can contribute to the sanity of the world. We can tend to ourself and we can tend to others. In doing so we discover the role of the bodhisattva.
— Jack Kornfield
Dedication and Long-Term Intention
By Jack Kornfield
Originally published at jackkornfield.com, December 28, 2016.
"It is the New Year. We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how short-lived they can be. Consider setting a long-term intention. A long-term intention is also called a vow or dedication. In the forest monastery we would gather before dawn in the candlelit darkness and begin the sonorous morning chanting to dedicate ourselves to loving-kindness and liberation for all. The chants reminded us that awakening is possible whenever we dedicate ourselves to a noble way of life. We would vow to use the support we received as monks for awakening and compassion, for ourselves and for all beings.
Setting a long-term intention is like setting the compass of our heart. No matter how rough the storms, how difficult the terrain, even if we have to backtrack around obstacles, our direction is clear. The fruits of dedication are visible in the best of human endeavors.
As you begin the New Year, take some time to sit and quietly reflect. If today you were to set or reaffirm a long-term intention, a vow, your heart’s direction, what would it be?"
– Jack Kornfield
Now Is the Time to Stand Up:
...to this resource for Prescott's spiritual community. Much gratitude goes out to our entire Sangha – and the numberless causes and conditions – for making this website and blog page possible, and for the joy I have experienced in creating it.
Detail of the Great Hall Mural
Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Used with permission