Jul 16, 2020
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 358

Giving is the first of the Six Paramitas, however the motivation behind it is as important as the action. Jenny Hall explores this theme.

Red gift box... By Milad Mosapoor

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… A gift free from delusion bears good fruit.’

‘… A gift free from delusion.’

The festive season encourages giving. Many years ago there was a very poor family who lived in a small village. One of the children called Lisa became seriously ill. The doctor told her family that only a very expensive operation would save her. The family’s neighbours collected all their hard earned savings together. There was just enough to pay for the operation. Lisa’s life was saved. Her parents, filled with gratitude, vowed to pay their neighbours back. However the neighbours insisted that their donation was a gift. This is selfless giving. The neighbours saw and responded wholeheartedly to an urgent need. However, we do not always see so clearly.

When Lisa grew up, she moved away from the village. She became rich. Her parents grew old and died. Their daughter remembered the kindness of her old neighbours. She remembered her parents’ vow. She decided to secretly give something back in remembrance of them. Lisa travelled back to the village. She began to search for elderly people whom she judged as ‘worthy causes.’ First she noticed an old man sitting in his front garden enjoying half a pint of beer. Lisa hurried to the Off licence. She ordered a crate of beer to be delivered to the old man’s house every week. Then she spotted an old woman pulling up carrots from her vegetable patch. Lisa rushed round to the Greengrocers. She ordered a large hamper of vegetables to be delivered weekly to the old woman’s cottage. Finally Lisa saw the ageing village vet trudging up a hill carrying a dog back to it’s owner. She went to a local garage and ordered a car to be delivered to the vet’s house.

Unbeknown to Lisa, the old man drank so much beer that he became lazy. The old woman stopped gardening and became bored. The vet, now able to travel, gave up his practice and moved away. Now there was no one to look after the villagers’ animals.

Although Lisa wanted to repay the villagers’ kindness, her indiscriminate giving created problems for the community. The Buddha taught that ‘I’, made up of all my thoughts, wants and opinions is a delusion. This ‘I’ based way of seeing clouds clear seeing, which notices situations in a more rounded way. Thus, ‘I’ am incapable of wise action.

‘… bears good fruit.’

The Zen training shows us how even the desire to be helpful or kind needs to be emptied out. We are led to the understanding that when we wholeheartedly give ourselves into what is here just right now, then there is the possibility for a mutuality of giving that is beneficial for all.

When a friend has a problem, there is a responding to the need rather than the usual giving ‘my’ advice. I can give myself wholeheartedly into what is being said. In this giving there opens an awareness free from ‘my’ opinions which just listens. This awareness was called ‘Choiceless Awareness’ by Krishnamurti, and from this quiet spaciousness there is an inherent wisdom which can now respond.

When a discussion arises, there is an opportunity to pause before giving ‘my’ opinion, which could create disharmony amongst friends by presenting rigidly held beliefs. It is possible to give myself into listening to the differing points of view. Choiceless Awareness again contributes in kind and appropriately.

When someone in the supermarket bangs a trolley into our legs we don\’t have to give her a piece of our mind. We give ourselves wholeheartedly, and from that Choiceless Awareness comes a firm but polite response.

This giving myself away not only benefits all but leads to the understanding that giving and receiving are ‘one’. In giving there is also receiving. When we give ourselves to polishing the door handles the door handles shine back at us. When we smile and wave at the newly arrived neighbour, she smiles and waves back. When we help those around us by responding to a need within the circumstances we become like small children living in the moment and receiving gifts as if for the first time. We are surrounded by gifts.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as ‘A paradise of forms and colours.’

Text copyright to Jenny Hall.

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