A student asked the Buddha, “How many points of training are there for those seeking enlightenment?” The Buddha answered, “There are six: generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.”
Over the last several weeks we’ve been talking about generosity, or dana. Last Sunday I talked about the mindset of seeing everything as dana, generosity, a gate of liberation:
The whole world is the gate of liberation—don’t you see?
There is no place to put this gigantic body.
For me, the basic mindset of dana is that everything is dana until we label it otherwise. Life is generous—till our attachments and expectations get in the way. Everywhere we look, the One is manifesting in a multitude of unimaginable, unique ways, all filtered through the prism of our likes and dislikes, our expectations and disappointments. And so we become filled with fear: What will be if this happens or if that doesn’t happen? How will I cope with life’s contingencies?
True dana gives no fear. Knowing that generosity manifests everywhere around me, I have confidence. I have no worry about what will be, whether my expectations will be fulfilled or not. The confidence that everything is dana is what gives no fear. When we have such a mindset, we experience life in that way. If we don’t have that mindset, the practice of dana becomes a practice of cultivating such a consciousness.
So what do I do when difficult things happen which, don’t appear to me as generous? I certainly don’t deny my feelings or articulate some spiritual dogma. What I might do is work with the koan, how is it possible? How or why did this happen that I experience as harmful or painful? And as one teacher said, the how and the why in koans become wow! As in, Wow, it is possible! Or: Wow, this are happening that feel harmful and painful! Instead of bringing up resignation or resistance, the question now appears to me cloaked in mystery. I let myself experience the possibility of not-understanding, the open space of not-knowing, which lead to a curiosity about what will happen and how things will evolve. And that in turn leads me to a sense of the vastness of things, and how they’re beyond comprehension.
I would like to talk about the role of money in our practice. What motivated me to give these teachings on dana was noticing the relatively meager offerings left in the dana bowl on the stand outside the zendo. I constantly heard from people how much the zendo and its programs meant to them, but my sense was that once people went out into the alcove, something shrank inside, something contracted. And that in turn caused me to wonder about the alcoves of our lives. We can spend much of our day in a clear consciousness of life as dana, and then we go into some alcove and feel small again, or fearful, threatened, constricted. We take out a dollar or two and run for our lives.
So what is the role of money in our life as householders? According to the Vinaya, Buddhist monks could not handle money. Even among lay people, it was not uncustomary for people, after a certain age, to let go of possessions and become mendicants; often that was considered their period of strong practice. Layman Pang, the 8th century Chan master, put all his possessions on a boat and sank them. That story reminds me of how Te-shan, a contemporary of Layman Pang and a renowned Diamond Sutra scholar, burned all his books after meeting the Chan master Lung-t’an and having a great enlightenment experience.
Mumon laughed, saying:
A hundred hearings cannot surpass one seeing
But after you see the teacher, that one glance cannot surpass a hundred hearings
His nose was very high
But he was blind after all.
Yes, he needed to see Lung-t’an and have the candle blown so that all became dark. But why throw out the books? Why throw out the money? Everything is a gate.
Money is a crucial aspect of householder life, and therefore a big gate. It connects to the great practice of Right Livelihood, which in turn brings up many juicy questions: What is financial wellbeing? What is financial stability or independence? What do I spend on? What do I actually need? How can I use the resources I have to bring benefit? Money as path implies to me that I have to give thought to all these questions. And when I do, I am designing my life. I am using money to inquire into my vision for my life and then realizing that vision.
How much money do I have/make and what do I do with it? Who am I serving? These active inquiries ask us to continuously re-imagine our life. I listen a lot to people saying how they’re running out of money or how broke they are: I have no money. I encourage them to be a little more precise. Chances are that they do indeed have money, only they made certain choices: to pay for a house, a car, their children’s education, a legacy, a health plan. I have no money implies victimhood, with no power. I have money and I’m spending it on this or that involves a vocabulary of priorities and conscious design of one’s life.
Due to my Jewish upbringing, I’ve had a long-time habit of tithing. I did this even at times when I had very little income, such as when I was a full-time Zen Community resident or else worked as a writer, because while tithing decreased the money available for my personal needs, it increased the space and freedom I experienced, my sense of membership in the human community, and the sense of my own power to channel my resources where I wanted.
For me, Dana Paramita isn’t just about giving things away, it’s also an invitation to create and recreate my life. Many spiritual practitioners think money is bad and may even feel guilt about not doing what Layman Pang did. But our practice includes everything. For some of us, the stronger practice may not be to simply give away as much as to examine and clarify our life, and then have the discipline to use money to follow that design to benefit everyone.