The beginning, middle and end.
Generosity is considered the beginning of awakening—in Tibet, a beginner practices passing a potato from one hand to the other, just to get fluid in the act of letting go and receiving.
In meditation, we start to notice: the less we try to catch and “have” our experience and our life and our love, the more we open to receive what keeps emerging.
The more clear and grounded we get, the more we paradoxically find that the nature of life is generosity—fluid, expansive and fresh. As we gradually settle in our beings and our alarm systems relax, we start to trust the possibilities of the moment more than our memories and expectations from the past. When we meet someone we have met before, we trust less in our reactivity, and more in a response that comes unexpectedly by itself. A gift.
Some teachings even say generosity defines human beings—not only caring for ourselves and our own, but also caring beyond what we think of as our own. This “giving within and beyond our own”--though it does also happen in other animals—does seem to be the defining shift from suffering to fulfillment.
Jesus talks of a mature awakening, when he says the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing: there is not even a concept of giving or of a giver--just freshness in action.
Even in the sober clarity of how much violence, programming and lack we all experience—inside and outside ourselves—we discover a willingness to be here that rhymes with the Tibetan Buddhist bodhisattva power.
Something in us is willing—even though it is not safe, even though it is heartbreaking and humbling to be here— to be here anyway, to meet and be met by life, to participate in the radical generosity of life.
The Sanskrit word for generosity, dana, comes from the word for seed. As with a seed, we can tend and provide good conditions for generosity to grow, to root and burst into fruit. But what grows is an unowned gift that we did not create but can enjoy, a mystery that keeps on coming as if out of nowhere.
“Across the Bay”
If we throw our eyes way out to sea,
they thank us. …
Out here eyes find the edge that isn't one.
How far can the wind carry
whatever lets go? Light
shining from dead stars
cradles our sleep. Secret light
no one reads by—who owns that beam?
Who follows it far enough?
~Naomi Shihab Nye,
"Across the Bay," Fuel
For in truth it is life that gives unto life-while you, who deem
yourself a giver, are but a witness.
And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight
of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings
(1883- 1931, Lebanon and US)
from “On Giving” in The Prophet
I offer teachings and, as much as possible retreats, on the basis of generosity.
It makes sense that teachings about the nature of things be given in alignment with the nature of things. And this way of sharing Dharma*, across the millennia, gives us all a freedom hard to come by when teachings have a price. If one pays for teachings, it is easy to fall into the trap of suspicion, of trying to “get your money's worth” --an insidious “consumer mindset” where you should get the product you expect.
What could be worse on the spiritual path than only being continually told what you expect or want to hear?
For the teacher also, if I think you have “bought” my product, then I can easily feel as if I need to give you what you like. But a teacher does not have such an easy, glamorous job.
So there are live and recorded Dharma talks and meditations, and there are group and one-to-one meetings, there are residential and online retreats, and my job in all of that is to stay true to the deeper sense of what is possible. What is emerging? What burdensome programming can drop and what freshness could emerge, even if it is uncomfortable, scary, boring, and unpredictable? Part of my job is to invite people to gather in silence and to go deeply into life, but without giving any guarantee about what is going to happen—to devote our precious time and energy to something without knowing what or how or when the fruit may come forth.
We share and practice together with tools and resources that have often helped people in the past.
But living one's path is very different from what we expected—discovery rather than imitation. We need to leave that room for how the lived experience is different.
Teachings of awakening have been offered on dana for thousands of years, to protect this sacred, fearless space of not-knowing and therefore discovering. Teachings of awakening have been offered freely because there is no way anyone could afford to pay for such a precious opportunity. Because we all do it together. Teachings are offered freely so all have access and all have the chance to uncover the genuine wish to participate and support the flow of shared practice and awakening.
Sometimes old students and friends will ask me--”Are you sure you are okay living only on people's gifts, on dana, especially now that you are a mother?” The concern is that if I don't charge students a certain price, I will not be able to pay for my gas and car repair, for my kids' shoes and bikes, for doctors and food, much less for my goddaughter's birthday presents or a massage or a celebration.
I think we don't need to have such a low opinion of human beings—after living on gifts for almost 2 decades, I question the assumption that people always give less when they are free to give whatever they want to.
And i rejoice in the sense of love in meeting each other so directly, simply and fully. Thank you.
*Dharma: a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “support” or “the nature of things” or “that without which nothing exists.”