A Talk by Guo Gu at the Tallahassee Chan Center, Monday, March 24, 2014
Generosity or dana is the foundation of Buddhism. It is the infrastructure that allows Buddhism, the Dharma, and all living beings to flourish.
Most Dharma centers in the West charge for their activities and events. Without this revenue the activities cannot be. The Tallahassee Chan Center is unique in the sense that we don’t have a fixed fee for any of our activities; we are completely dana-based. Being aware of this fact, we must cherish what the Center has to offer and support its programs. Its sustainability depends on us. But first, we must understand the significance of generosity.
The Buddhist teachings value three types of generosity. The first is the generosity of materiality. The second is the generosity of the Dharma, or Buddhist teachings. The third, the highest level, is the generosity of fearlessness. Within each of these three levels, there are numerous sublevels and practices. These levels are interdependent, inseparable. To fully realize the profundity of generosity is to perfect all the practices of Buddhist teaching.
Generosity of materiality includes the giving of material wealth, time, knowledge, and one’s effort. These provide the infrastructure to continue our Dharma practice with our fellow living beings. There are many organizations in the world that sustain our lives; each has its merit and purpose. For example, the local Children’s Home Society that we donate to each year helps orphans and children who are in need in the Tallahassee region. The merit and purpose of the Tallahassee Chan Center is to provide opportunities for people to practice Chan and to sustain their lives on a deep level. Its reach is not limited to those who only live in Tallahassee. There is only one Chan center in the southeast of the United States and in the whole United States the Tallahassee Chan Center is the most active. It plays a central role in transmitting Chan teaching in the West. It is precious to have a good center in which to practice, a teacher to practice with, and like-minded fellow practitioners in a community. In supporting the Tallahassee Chan Center, we are supporting Chan in the West.
Generosity of materiality is a way to lessen the cause of our anguish: self-grasping. It is an invitation to be free. It is, in essence, the method and realization of selflessness. Generosity opens us up beyond self-referential ways of being so that we can wake up to our inherent wisdom and compassion. When practicing generosity, we are grateful for the opportunity.
This leads to the second type of generosity: the generosity of Dharma. Usually, what lies at the center of all the moment to moment decisions, judgments, opinions, and views is the self. For most people, the self-referential ways of being extend only to include, at most, their families. The practice of generosity extends beyond the walls of our self-concern to consider not only ourselves and our families, but to all living beings. What kinds of help are thorough enough to benefit all people and transform their lives for the better on a fundamental level? The Dharma provides people with opportunities to understand the true freedom that lies within and express that in our relationship with others.
Freedom in wisdom and compassion is the insight that our true nature is selflessness. This simply means you are made up of non-you. You are made up of everything and everyone. All of your opinions, your experiences, and your views that you think are yours are dependent upon your relationship with every person, and everything that you have encountered to this point in your existence. Everything is interconnected; everything is empty of a fixed, unchanging center—this is the insight of selfless wisdom. Personally experiencing this wisdom, your relation to the world and all beings will no longer be self-referential but be peaceful and harmonious—this is selfless compassion. The realization of selfless wisdom and compassion is the natural expression of the Dharma. So generosity of the Dharma means that our practice of generosity itself, by its nature, is in accordance with selfless wisdom and compassion, the realization of the interconnectedness of all beings and all things. Practicing generosity this way gives us an opportunity to break out of our shell of self-grasping, self-preservation, and ignorance.
Chan provides a direct path to realizing Dharma. It teaches that we start seeing the world and our interactions with others as manifestations of generosity. Those who are critical and humiliate us, situations that present challenges to our lives—all of these are invitations for us to practice the Dharma. When we can see the world through the lens of generosity, we have gratitude for all beings and situations. All difficulties, challenges, when they come our way, allow us to see through the veils of self-grasping and pretention. They point out our path of what needs to be done to be awake.
The truth is, our practice can only be deepened through experiencing the world as expressions of generosity. All situations, then, favorable or adverse, nourish our practice. That is why generosity is one of the esteemed virtues in Buddhism, and is placed number one in the practices of the paramitas or “perfections.” There are six perfections: generosity, morality, diligence, patience, meditation, and wisdom. The first is generosity. If you perfect that, you actually perfect the rest of the six. If you perfect the second one, morality, you also perfect the rest of the six. The same is true with each of these perfections. Each one contains the rest; each one is an entry to all the rest. We begin with generosity.
When we can open to our true nature and to the world around us through generosity, everything becomes the Dharma, and we ourselves become the embodiment of it. This is what generosity can do. It allows the Dharma to flow through us like blood that flows through our veins. The world will come alive; the Dharma will come alive. All of our judgments, decisions, experiences, and opinions will start to expand beyond ordinary considerations and perspectives if we take the Dharma to heart and begin to practice.
The last type is generosity of fearlessness. This is the most valued of all practices of generosity. It is a natural extension of the generosity of Dharma. All spiritual and religious traditions have teachings on generosity. What makes Buddhadharma unique is selfless wisdom and compassion. This insight for someone who has experienced it doesn’t make them perfect, but it does mean that they have a taste of the true workings of the Dharma, the taste of liberation, which is what Śākyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, realized 2,500 years ago. This realization is recognized generation after generation within the Chan tradition.
Chan teachings can be understood as the generosity of fearlessness—the removing of fear in the hearts of people. This is because at a fundamental level, all kinds of fear come from the insecurities of existence and non-existence, living and dying, birth and death. Chan awakening is the realization of the birthless and the deathless. We have the potential to realize it in ourselves because this is our true nature. There is no gain and no loss, no birth and no death. It is precious to engage in Chan practice so we can be free from fear.
Usually, when people give, they want something back. This is not generosity, but a kind of exchange. When there is giving and taking, there is also gaining and losing, and birth and death. Fear lies at the heart of that. To realize the birthless and the deathless, no gain and no loss—the true workings of the Dharma, our true nature—is to realize Chan. A person who has realized this is the one person who will not harm you, take advantage of you, or want anything from you. That person will not act in a self-referential way, but would want you to flourish, to realize the selfless wisdom and compassion for yourself.
These three types of generosity in Buddhadharma can be practiced together. It is not that we only do the first level and then we work ourselves up to do the second, and after that we practice the third. They’re interrelated. We practice all three. Each of us has the ability to give material support, to practice the Dharma, and to remove the fear of those around us through our stable practice. However, the easiest practice is to support the material infrastructure of helping living beings. This means to have a stable center for practice and a strong community as our foundation. Once the foundation is solid, then it provides more opportunities to practice the generosity of Dharma and fearlessness.
Generally, those who are most devoted and committed to practice are those people who have done intense Chan retreats. Why? It is because they have spent a substantial amount of time going deep within themselves and exploring the Dharma in facing their deepest demons. Chan teachings are meant to be used amidst difficulty and the psychological/emotional challenges that come up in our lives. Chan teachings are not meant to be placed on an altar to be worshipped. Chan retreats provide an opportunity to go deep within ourselves. When a person puts into practice the teachings, they see the efficacy of Chan. That’s why they are more committed. So the first step is to have a stable center where we can host intense retreats for more people.
I hope you all can take to heart the significance of generosity and put it to practice in your life.
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