Wednesday, June 10, 2009


In Buddhism, there is a suggestion that its followers engage in "dana" or giving/generosity. On the face of it, it sounds very much like dropping a buck in the Christian plate during Sunday services. And there's nothing wrong with that either -- donating to monks or nuns or beggars or institutions that uphold a convincing direction or faith.

But today I wonder if the most profound act of generosity does not lie in this: To offer yourself as best you can.

It's a little tricky, since in order to offer yourself, you would first have to know who you were. Any teenager can say with conviction, "I know who I am," and there are plenty of adults who fall into the same trap, but in order for an offering to be any good, it would be given without a backward glance, without ever expecting anything in return, without seeking accolades or's just a gift after all, nothing extraordinary, just something I might do for you or you for me.

It can't be helped -- isn't that the essence of dana? Isn't that the essence of generosity? Isn't that the way the world goes around? It can't be helped: Life is generous and not to accord with life is an uncertain and unhappy business.

Yes, yes ... there are virtue-mongers who can prattle from the pulpit about generosity, encouraging others as if they knew what they were talking about. And maybe they do. I once saw the Dalai Lama on TV talking at a local college (the tickets were sold out and I am getting a little old for the crowd scene, so I had to settle for TV). In a fairly repetitive fashion, he encouraged his mostly-academic audience: Use your brains to lend a hand. Be generous. Don't be an intellectual or emotional pinch-penny.

Was he promoting his apparent faith -- Buddhism? Was he trying to convince others?

Or was he just being who he happened to be -- the Dalai Lama?

No one can answer such a question about the Dalai Lama any more than they can answer such questions about their friends or enemies. But is an answer necessary? I don't think so. You are you; the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama ... isn't that delightful? Isn't that fun?

Generosity just works better and accords with life. No need to convince anyone. It can't be helped. I can mention it, just as you might. I can put a buck in the plate if that's where I am at. I can imagine that better and worse are better and worse ... and maybe they are. I can cling like flypaper to something called generosity or dana.

But in the end ... well, don't things just work better that way -- the way that is tentatively called generous? Nothing sexy or profound. As a matter of conversation, "I give" or "you are generous." But in the end, isn't it just more interesting to see what actually happens?

Be generous.

It can't be helped.

So stop helping it. Stop imagining there is some payback or elevation or improvement. How could life be improved? How could you be other than you ... assuming you could ever figure that out?

True generosity makes the sun come up in the East. It makes tears bitter and a kiss sweet. It just makes laughter easier. Or anyway, that's what I think.

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