Vast Taos Sky
7-Week Zen Practice Period / The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Week 2: "The Zen of Giving and Receiving"
Listen to this talk:
Week 2: The Zen of Giving and Receiving (23 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
Awakening Heart (Community of Mindful Living)
November 7, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

Tonight we are on the second of the seven spiritual laws of success in this seven week series during our Zen practice period. Last week we touched on the law of pure potentiality, and the Buddhist equivalent, which was shunyeta, emptiness, spaciousness, flexibility, malleability, openness. And if you missed that one, it was a really good one, I think. At least that's what everyone said. So it is actually online now, and someone, Jennifer, typed the transcript, and so the transcript will be emailed to you tomorrow if you'd like to read it. But I personally like it when people listen because you miss a lot, because the voice, you know, the inflections say a lot. Of course, you also miss a lot just by listening to an audio rather than being there in person, because you miss the visual hand gestures and the, you know, the vibrations of the heart energy. But anyway, at least you're getting something.

So tonight we're going to talk about the law of giving and receiving. So please read with me the italic part under number two of the law of giving and receiving.


The universe operates through dynamic exchange.
Giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe,
and in our willingness to give that which we seek,
we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.
So as we have practiced tonight and as I'm going to give a talk on the law of giving and receiving or as I like to call it, the Zen of giving and receiving, because we're Buddhafying these seven spiritual laws, I want to keep in mind that we have many people who have given to us to make this moment possible. So let's keep all of them in our hearts as
7-week Zen practice period
we practice together and listen to this teaching. And also, let us keep in mind that there are many who need our help and our support even as we practice together right now, we can radiate that support right here and right now.

So what does it mean, giving and receiving? In the Buddhist tradition we have a word called dana. This means generosity, and there are also wonderful teachings in the Buddha's dharma on this whole subject. I'm not going to go into all of them tonight, but I would like for us to consider getting this book, The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity. Now this might shock some people. When they think of Buddha and Buddhism they think of asceticism, poverty, celibacy, monastic life, a hard life. But, you know, the Buddha taught on many levels to many different audiences. Yes, of course there were ascetic kinds of practices that he gave to certain kinds of people, like the people who were interested more in the monastic life. But that wasn't the only kinds of people that the Buddha taught to. There are all kinds of people, of various levels, classes, you know, stations in life. So the Buddha offered many, many wonderful teachings. He taught people how to become wealthy, how to be prosperous, how to take care of their families. You know, he taught many, many things. And this is a wonderful book by a monk who did some research and discovered that, wow! The Buddha really did have a lot to say on prosperity and wealth and happiness and material success. It's not something that the Buddha shunned at all. It's something that he promoted because he wants us to be prosperous and healthy and happy and abundant, so that we can support the monks enough! No, but seriously, so that all of us together can support each other. We all have our different places, you see. Without the prosperity of one, the prosperity of another is diminished. So that's why all of us need to be prosperous in our own different ways. So that will help all of us.

Now, in Buddhism we have four different things that are traditionally said to be offerings that we make -- dana, offerings, generosity. The first one is the offering of material gifts. That's pretty obvious. You know, when you offer money to someone who needs something, or when you offer a material gift such as clothing, or shelter, or something like that. This also includes food. And by the way, if you feel that your karma or your energy or the kinds of things that are going on in your life seem to be going on a downward turn, I've discovered a little secret that's really helpful. I mean, there's actually several little things that are helpful, but one that some people don't realize is to make offerings of food to monks or nuns. That somehow really shifts your energy big time. And I did this, you know, a couple of years ago, and last year, especially when I took some temporary vows as a novice monk to practice for a month, I discovered there was such great energy there, and energy that was produced among people that were being generous to me, and also me giving to others, and it's very very powerful. So I highly recommend, it's a practice that we don't often do in our society and our culture today, but I really highly recommend that we offer food to those monks and nuns that are practicing deeply the practice of mindfulness and meditation and enlightenment because to support them in that tangible way, it reverberates big time back to us. So please do that.

So the second way that we can make offerings is with our time and energy. Usually this is included with material gifts but I like to divide them into two categories. Time and energy. So the first one, you can give money or things, or food, and the second way you can offer generosity is by the giving of your time and energy. Volunteering. Taking the time to say "thank you" or to offer someone kind words. Just offering time and energy and words of comfort and encouragement.

And the third way that we can make offerings is to give dharma, or give teachings. To offer a book on mindfulness to someone as a gift would be a wonderful gift to their spirit. To offer words of true deep mindful wise advice and of course, you know, this is something I love to do, because this whole past week, I did an exercise and I realized that this is actually a practice of Dana, the practice of gratitude. this is not one of the four things, I'm just digressing for a bit, but I realized I did this practice - and of course I tell other people to do it and then sometimes I forget to do it - but I remembered to do it just spontaneously. I was taking a walk outside, and I just began to recall everything that happened in the last few days, since Halloween, and I remembered how beautiful the sangha was last Sunday, and I remember taking a walk with a friend and his daughter, Trick or Treating with them so they wouldn't have to do it alone, and the meditation that was here on Monday, and being with my friends in Austin, and going to Waxahatchie and leading a retreat all day long from 9 am to 5 pm for Unity ministers. What a delight that was. That was just a joy because to me, to offer a retreat to a minister, or ministers, is like offering a retreat to 5,000 people, to me. Because as I nurture that minister, I'm nurturing every person in their congregation and all the people that they nurture in their lives. So I love that. So that's why, I think, when you offer things to monks and nuns, that's why it's so powerful, because they represent so many because they give so much, you see. So I just was so joyful with that. And then I was in Minnesota the last couple of days, and I led a retreat on Friday night for the college students at the university, and there were about seventy college students present, and after four hours of mindfulness they were just so psyched, and rockin' to just go out and change the whole world, and it was just so exciting to see that. But offering them dharma, offering ministers dharma, offering you dharma, offering the dharma is such a wonderful gift. And not only does it give to others, it gives to you. I can feel it already. It's wonderful.

And then there's traditionally a fourth and final way that we can make offerings, and that is to give the gift of non-fear, the gift of fearlessness. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh offers an example of this. He was talking about the boat people who were trying to go through the storms and trying to escape the war in Viet Nam, and sometimes it was very scary, and sometimes they didn't know in a storm if they were going to make it, and sometimes pirates would sail nearby, and they were so scared, so frightened. But if there was just one person who would just be calm on the boat, it would ripple effect across the rest of the people on the boat. If there was just one person who was not afraid, who was able to be strong and calm and peaceful, it would help the others. And of course when you have a boat full of people who are calm, it's much easier to navigate through the storm and avoid the pirates rather than if everyone is frantic and screaming and crying, you know. So it's very very helpful to others in their life if you can be in a space of mindfulness and calm and peace.

You know, our world is spiraling into a time of crisis. This century will be known in history as a major turning point in history, I believe. We are entering into a great time of crisis. And in this great time of crisis that is upon us, we need to be the light in the midst of chaos. We need to be the peace in the eye of the storm. Because people will need us to be that way. So we need to practice now to be that way, so that by the time those big crises come, it's not going to be difficult for us to be that strong light and peace for ourselves and others. So that's very important. So we have the gift of material gifts, the gift of time and energy, the gift of dharma and the gift of non-fear.

There's a wonderful story in this wonderful new book "The Buddha is Still Teaching: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom" by Jack Kornfield, or edited by Jack Kornfield. I'd like to read it to you because this is a wonderful example of how we can give the gift of just being peace. This little excerpt is called "Macaroni and Cheese."

A few years ago I was with a close woman friend in a grocery store in California. As we snaked along the aisles we became aware of a mother with a small boy, moving in the opposite direction and meeting us head-on in each aisle. The woman barely noticed us because she was so furious at her little boy, who seemed intent on pulling items off the lower shelves.

As the mother became more and more frustrated, she started to yell at the child, and several aisles later had progressed to shaking him by the arm. At this point my friend spoke up. A wonderful mother of three and founder of a progressive school, she had probably never once in her life treated a child so harshly.

I expected my friend would give this woman a solid mother to mother talk about controlling herself and about the effect this sort of behavior has on a child. Braced for a confrontation, I felt a spike in my already elevated adrenaline. But instead, my friend said, "What a beautiful little boy. How old is he?" The woman answered cautiously, "He's three." My friend went on to comment on how curious he seemed, and how her own three children were just like him in the grocery store, pulling things off shelves, so interested in all the wonderful colors and packages. He seemed so bright and intelligent, my friend said.

The woman had the boy in her arms by now, and a shy smile came upon her face. Gently brushing his hair out of his eyes, she said, "Yes, he is very smart and curious. But sometimes he wears me out."

My friend responded sympathetically. "Yes, they can do that. They are so full of energy." As we walked away, I heard the mother speaking more kindly to the boy about getting home and cooking his dinner. "We're going to have your favorite. Macaroni and cheese," she told him.

This law of giving and receiving, there's so much I could say, but I think I probably should keep it a little bit short so we have time for sharing, because I skipped it last week, but I will mention that in my own life, I have discovered that the universe is very generous. But sometimes a little helpful exercise that I learned from the Jewish tradition can be of support, and I don't know what else to call it but arguing with God. It's a Jewish custom, very ancient tradition, it's wonderful actually sometimes, when you really need to do that. Just arguing with God. Wrestling with God. Making your argument with God. And actually, if you make a logical, mindful argument with the universe, the universe cannot say no.

So this is what I've done, a couple of times in my life and it always works. I don't do it very often because I don't really like arguing with the universe, but once in a while it feels like it's necessary, to make a logical argumentation, and your presentation, just like Abraham did, and Moses did, and others. I did this once when I was $300 short in the bank because a check bounced and a few other things happened, and I couldn't even spend any money on gas to move from California to Minnesota. So I'm going to make this longer story very short but I think many of you have heard this story before. So I went to the Buddhist temple and I asked the monk to bless me and I said a prayer, and I only had less than $50 cash on me, and less than $300 in the bank, but I still gave $5 to $10 to the offering box because I knew the principle of giving and receiving means that you need to -- if you want to receive, you need to also give. To be in the flow you need to unblock that. And so I did, and the next day after Sangha in San Francisco, someone who was new, who was just amazed by the power of dharma and practice and the teachings, he said, "I wanted to show you my thanks. Here's a gift." And he gave me a check for $10,000.00. And so I got on my knees and I said, "Okay, I believe." But I know the universe provides. And the same thing happened this past week. And I won't talk about that example yet but I just want to encourage you.

There is an absolute generosity to reality, and when we don't experience it there may be a block. Either a physical block or maybe a mental block in the way we are receiving. Because in actuality, even when you feel like you're blocked or you're not receiving the generosity of the universe, you actually are, in every moment. Maybe you just can't see it. So our practice is also to allow ourselves to see the reality of this generosity.

This is the meaning of the Pure Land tradition of practicing with Amitabha, infinite light. It is a constant reminder, as you use that mantra throughout the day, amitabha, amitabha, amitabha, a constant reminder that you are always being supported. Amitabha isn't just one Buddha. Amitabha is a symbol of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the universe. It is the symbol of all the beings of the universe that are supporting your existence. It is a symbol of the sun and the moon and the rain and the earth and the stars and the air and the trees that all support existence. it is a symbol of who you really are. Infinite light. And as we practice with that, it's a constant reminder of the reality of that support. that we can just simply rest into receiving. And as we receive, we effortlessly, graciously give as well.

That's why I brought Dharma Bear with me tonight. Because he's a symbol of, to me, of that Amitabha reality. He was given to me several years ago at my ordination ceremony by my friends. And I've received so much from my dharma friends in California. And I've received so much from my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. You see, Amitabha means, "My friends." Amitabha means "my teachers." Amitabha means "Dharma bear," who reminds me and teaches me so much about being light, being childlike, not taking things too seriously and not judging myself too harshly.

Well, in closing I would like to share one more example about giving and receiving. I was going to read from one of Thich Nhat Hanh's books but I seem to have forgotten it. So that's a good sign that I'm not supposed to read from it because it would take too long anyway. So I'll just share what I remember from the reading, which is when we give, remember last week we talked about emptiness. We need to give in the spirit of emptiness. You see, when you give in the spirit of emptiness, giver, receiver and the gift are not separate. And there's no discrimination. And you don't give as if, "Well, you're so poor, I pity you, I'm going to give to you, I'm so good." That kind of giving is not dana, true giving, true generosity. True giving is when it's just the universe giving through you, back to the universe. And there's no discrimination. You realize that it's just simply the universe giving the universe to the universe. It's just Buddha giving Buddha to the Buddha. That's what it is. And so giving and receiving are equal. It's like if you were to take a hammer and try to put a nail in the wall, but you accidentally, with your right hand, you took the hammer and hit the thumb of your left hand and there was a lot of pain, if there was discrimination between the two hands, the left hand might get mad, and take the hammer and try to hit the right hand. But you see, that would be very foolish, wouldn't it? Because you'd just be hurting yourself. True wisdom giving understands the emptiness of these separate categories of self versus someone else. And sees the oneness, that's another meaning of the emptiness is the oneness.

Empty of separation, that means oneness. And so, you know, maybe if you're right handed, you might think, well, left hand, you're good for nothing. I paint, I write, I do all kinds of wonderful things. What are you good for? No. the right hand doesn't do that tot he left hand. The right hand and the left hand come together and bow in gratitude. They support each other. They both have their various functions. And that is the way we give. So when we give, we give in that spirit, knowing that we are not superior to the one receiving, we just give because that is what is called for by the universe in that moment. And it's not me giving, it's the universe giving through me, to the universe in the form of this other person or being. See? So the giver and the gift and the receiver are not separate but one.

And you know, many times we feel so small in our giving, but you know what, it's the little gifts that are the most powerful. Little drops of rain together form a mighty river, a mighty river of love and wisdom and power.

Transcribed by Jennifer Jonnson

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