Activating Generosity, Dana

In looking forward to the retreat this weekend:

Cultivating Metta and Activating Generosity or Dana, (Register here.)

Phillip Moffit’s Dharma essay on Dana resonates deeply with our planned work. (To read in its entirety go to: dharmawisdom.org/the-gift-of-generosity-2 ) 

The Gift of Generosity 

by Phillip Moffit 

The buddhist practice of dana or generosity liberates you from feelings of separateness and alienation.  

It was the second day of a vipassana meditation retreat I was co-teaching in Santa Fe, and we had a problem. Or at least, I had a problem. I was not satisfied with the Tibetan bowl we were using as a bell to signal the end of each sitting. The retreat managers had provided us with a small bowl, and I found that the sound was not right for the meditation hall. The managers had been very responsive and located two other bowls, but something seemed wrong with the sound of each of these as well. Ordinarily I’m not that particular; after all it was just a bell. Moreover, the yogis were witnessing the search for the perfect bell. A dharma teacher who’s attached to the sound of a bowl is hardly the ideal role model for students who are being asked to sit in silence hour after hour, day after day. Still, I had this feeling that wouldn’t go away; it wasn’t the right bowl. I’ve learned to trust my intuition, even in matters that seem trivial, but in this instance I didn’t know what to do. 

I was sitting in the meditation hall by myself when a yogi came in and asked if I was in need of a different bell. I answered that indeed I was, and he said that on an impulse he had put one in his car before he left home. He then brought in a large Tibetan bowl that when struck sustained a clear, full bass tone that harmonized with all the higher notes the bell made. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard from a bowl its size. 

On the day I was leaving, the yogi came up to me, bowed, handed me a note, and said, “Read this when you settle down somewhere.” I assumed he meant when I was on the airplane, so I put the note in my pocket and thought no more about it until I was in the air. The note said, “I now know why I was compelled to bring this bowl-it was meant to be yours. Please take it with you when you leave. Thank you for sharing the dharma with us.” I was glad I had not read the note earlier. This way I was able to avoid taking the yogi’s bowl without refusing his gift. He clearly loved the bell; one day I had found him sitting in the hall during the lunch break, striking the bell and just listening to it. The last thing I wanted was to deprive him of such pleasure. Yet, he was offering the bell as dana, which is the practice of generosity. I felt as though I had received the warmth of his good intention, he had received the merit of the giving, and still he had his bowl. So it seemed like a fortuitous outcome.  

I told the story of the bowl to two of my teachers, who were staying at my house, when I returned from Santa Fe. They were somewhat disapproving of my relief at the way things had turned out. It was an act of true dana, they said, and not to receive it with equal generosity would be failing him as a teacher. I could not disagree with their comments, but I was still glad to have avoided the situation.  

To my consternation, within a few days of returning from Santa Fe, I received an e-mail from him: “Why did you not take your bell? If you did not read my note before you left, why have I not heard from you since then?” I wrote back explaining what had happened and suggested that the time had passed for giving away the bowl. He replied by asking for shipping instructions.  

That is how the bell of the enchanting sounds came to reside with me. I often carry it to retreats around the country where I am teaching, and hundreds of yogis have ended their meditation time on the cushion in response to its deep chime. Thus, one yogi’s dana became a gift to many. This is the power of the practice of dana-it reverberates out into unknown directions, over indefinite periods of time. But to the giver, it is not the fruits of giving that is of concern, only the practice of dana itself – the inner intention to find release from attachment and egoism by giving freely whatever one has that is of value. 

What you have to give may be material in nature, or it may be your time, energy, or wisdom.  The deeper lesson is that each of us is equally dependent on others for the blessing of our food. We are all interconnected with one another and with the Earth in a web that goes beyond the marketplace of commercial exchange. We flourish or perish together through interwoven acts of dana arising from the benevolence and integrity of people we shall never meet. This tool is the power of dana-even when practiced without consciousness, it arises and spreads. When you mindfully practice dana, you come into contact with its joyful, healing power.  

However, there is a paradox contained in dana: You practice it as an act of liberation for yourself, yet it is not self-centered. True dana arises from the intention underlying your act. It is not that you are supposed to have only pure motives but rather that your intention is to cultivate purity of generosity without self-consideration.  

There is an old Sufi story about the importance of cultivating generosity which asks the question, why does the beggar man beg? A seemingly crippled beggar sits in the central square all day crying, “Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Who will give me baksheesh?” Some pass by ignoring him, some give little, others give generously. He praises them all and asks that Allah bless them. At the end of the day, the beggar rises from his seat, walks normally over to the prayer fountain, tosses in the coins he has received, then goes home to his comfortable middle class house. So why does the beggar beg? 

The last line of the story answers, “He begs for me and thee.”  This teaching asks you to reflect on how practicing generosity fits into your spiritual life. What form your generosity takes is up to you, as it can only come from your values and what you have to offer. It is your authentic intention that matters, even if that is simply a sincere wish that in time you will become more spontaneously generous. It is important to understand that mixed motives are to be expected when you practice dana and that you are supposed to act from these mixed motives rather than wait for perfection of goodness. You practice in order to recognize and move toward the purity that already exists within you. If you only had pure motives, there would be no need to practice. This may seem obvious, but many yogis become confused and start to judge themselves by how much purity they have acquired. All that is called for is to practice daily in small but persistent ways-the practice will deepen by itself.  

In daily life dana also means receiving each arising moment with a generous attitude and meeting it with patience that is based in spiritual practice. When interacting with friends or strangers, you give them your full attention as you listen to their words, and you interpret their actions with sympathy, even when they are clumsy. This is not to be misunderstood as being naïve or allowing wrong action to go uncorrected. Rather, it means holding for each person life’s greatest possibility in the moment, even if in that moment the possibilities are severely limited; the same as putting food in a monk’s alms bowl. Likewise, you too are standing there with your alms bowl, arms extended. 

Dana in any form is dana; it nourishes the very essence of the other’s being as well as our own.

Dear friends, 

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:

Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.  

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome! 

Saturday March 20, 5 PM – 8PM PST – Sunday March 21, 8AM – 4PM PST.

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.  

You may register at:

https://form.123formbuilder.com/5838522/form

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com 

I look forward to retreating with you! 

Warmth and ease all around! 

William

Last Night as an American Road Warrior (2/11/2021) Gunter Hill State Park

Drinking pinot from a black box

tiny fire with damp wood

quiet except for the bass jumping, owls inquiring, screaming banshees

and the everpresent crickets like tinnitus.

*

I’m in love with the joy of the journey

as well as the harshness that pounded me

like my husband pounds lamb to make it tender.

I’m already nostalgic for the bitter, frozen Gila,

the terror ride in backwood Oregon,

the first nights on a remote river bank,

the emptiness of Death Valley

the burned joshua tree carcasses,

the broken window and freak snowstorm of Big Bend,

the open hearted Illuman men,

the emptiness of an endless West Texas drive,

The grief at the Lorraine Motel

My old lovers who still love me

and SKY, SKY, SKY

Sky so wide it hurts because it stretches you beyond perimeters.

A sky so dark that you disappearand are emptiness manifest

A sky so rich with a dying sun’s light that you gag on its beauty

A sky so threatening with frozen rain and no promise of relief

A sky so soft that you drown in ease

A longing sky

A heartless sky

A relentless sky

A strike-me-dead-now-because-I-cannot-bear-the beauty-anymore sky.

A sky as me

A sky as you

An empty sky.

*

This is neither a beginning or an ending.

The skies have taught me.

The desert has taught me.

The pain of the people has taught me.

The joy of the people has taught me.

The road has taught me.

The weather has taught me.

Raven has taught me.

Wind has taught me.

You have taught me.

And I am gratitude.

Metta and the Cultivation of Loving-Kindness

Metta from the Pali language, the language of many buddhists sutras, is often translated as “loving-kindness”. Additional meanings include friendly, benevolent, kind. From “A Guide to a Simple Life”: 

Metta is goodwill, loving-kindness, universal love; a feeling of friendliness and heartfelt concern for all living beings, human or non-human, in all situations. The chief mark of metta is a benevolent attitude: a keen desire to promote the welfare of others.” 

Metta subdues the vice of hatred in all its varied shades: anger, ill-will, aversion, and resentment.   

Often metta is translated as love. I hesitate some, when I hear that because when I hear the word love used, it triggers a wave of conflict in me. It is used so indiscriminately: “Luv ya!”, “You have to love your family.” “making love”, “love the one you’re with” and redhearts all around. There is even a chain of truck stops called Love, not to mention the chain of sexual support stores. The origin of the English word for love is associated with the Sanskrit word lubh that translates as lust. In this context “love” may be defined as a passion for something that one wants to possess, sustain, or be attached to. In Northern Eurocentric cultures we often hear that love is something virtually impossible to reach or achieve but something everyone should have in order to have a fulfilling life and maybe get to heaven. Metta is not like any of these and that is the source of my hesitation when using love. 

Metta  is the inherent, true nature of being in relationship with oneself or another. It is the capacity to be fully attentive and present in an interaction. Loving-kindness arises; amity, benevolence, accord, all arise, out of this inherent quality of being, as symptoms or manifestations of Metta. Yet no single concept or experience encapsulates the absolute nature of it. Metta can not be encapsulated, held, defined. It is immeasurable.

When I am open and at ease and listening in Nature, I observe metta as a constant activity of all the organisms and the manner in which they interrelate; being alert, sensitive, responsive and equanimous. Humans tend to use violent, conquest related terms like battle, waging war,  overcoming, wiping out, to identify the interactions in Nature between predator and prey, invasive species and endemic, ocean and land. In my observations, it is only humans who have these dominance-seeking approaches to interactions with others and we project them onto the natural world; often to justify our own behavior. “Survival of the Fittest.”

Once, while in the Amazon, I was walking, at ease in an open state of mind and sense, when I was overwhelmed by the density of interactions in the forest; the deafening sound of insects and birds, the etheric pulsations of the plant beings, the tsunami of smells. While sitting I noticed a giant elder tree that had pierced the canopy where I could see a clear blue-white sky outlining the leaves like grout on a mosaic. The power of that tree rumbled through the soil beneath me and it was almost as if all the beings of the forest were offering homage to the elder. Then I noticed a body-wide vine entwined around the tree from exposed roots to crown. It seemed to be writhing as it used the elder to climb into the canopy and I realized that this vine was not only using the giant elder to reach the light of the sun, it was also draining the life essence of the tree and soon would pull it to the ground, like so many others I had seen scattered on the forest floor. A mournful cry welled up in me and I could feel my anger burning as my mind demonized the great vine for killing such a magnificent being.  Beneath that rumbling rage, there was another sensation almost like a voice, filled with ease and equanimity. If I were to put it in words it would have been something like this:

“Be at ease little one.

This is the way of all life in the forest

All of us, from smallest fungus to oldest tree,

Strive to live with all of our being and in every moment

While striving to die with all of our being and in every moment.

For living brings death and death brings life.

Look around and see.”

I did and I saw.

Metta is an unconditional, relentless, living and dying. Metta is the activity of the sun, non-discerning, non-judgmental, non-discriminatory until they burn out; like the vine and the tree, like the wolf and the deer, like the microorganisms and the rotting flesh of life. 

When I reflect back on my time in the Amazon forest and especially now, in the wake, and as a result, of the meditation Practice, I see the Natural world as a teacher manifesting the qualities of metta. The “chief mark” of which  is a benevolent attitude: a keen desire to promote the welfare of others.

Metta is the unending and ever-creative evolution of diversity which develops in order to enhance interactions, and create more effective interactions. When humans consciously cultivate metta, there is no discrimination for who will receive and who will not, who is deserving and who is not, who earned it and who did not, who has been naughty or nice. Metta rays out into the innumerable pores of all beingness.

When we become ignorant of this Nature-al quality, or live in the realms of forgetfulness, metta pushes on our consciousness like an infant crying to be fed, like a glorious blossom signaling to be pollinated, like the call of the moon to the tides. This forgetfulness of the reality of things as they are, and the resulting attempt to impose a hierarchy of beings, feelings, actions, beliefs on an innately equanimous reality, causes suffering and separation, and isolation and an experience of being trapped in the cycles of Nature rather than being freed by them. Meditation in general and the cultivation of metta, in particular, lifts the weed blocker from the gardenscape of life, a Natural life, and allows an experience of circumspherical interrelatedness, a celebration of diversity, and an end to suffering.

In the upcoming Spring Equinox retreat, we will practice the cultivation of Metta  and the activation of Generosity. If you are interested in joining the retreat follow this link:

Spring Equinox Retreat. Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity

or continue reading below. If you would like to sit and Practice meditation please email me and I will provide the schedule and links.

In the names of all teachers, Buddha’s bodhisattvas and enlightening ones, seen and unseen, known and unknown, heard and unheard, I offer these words.

Warmth and ease,

William

wrgentner@gmail.com

Spring Equinox Retreat. Participation is free and everyone is welcome!

Dear friends,

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring and especially after a particularly harsh winter, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome!

Saturday March 20, 5 PM PST – Sunday March 21, 3 PM PST

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta, S.K.) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana, S.K.) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.

Please register at: https://form.123formbuilder.com/…/retreat-registration…

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com

I look forward to retreating with you!

Warmth and ease all around!

William

Spring Equinox Retreat. Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity

Dear friends,

In the spirit of the unending, unconditional kindness and generosity of Nature, which is so prevalent in Spring and especially after a particularly harsh winter, I’d like to invite you to join us in a virtual retreat.

Spring Equinox Virtual Retreat:Cultivating Loving Kindness and Activating Generosity.

The retreat is free and everyone is welcome!

Saturday March 20, 5 PM PST – Sunday March 21, 3 PM PST

Through gentle “rewilding” of our connection to nature, spontaneous writing, meditation, and Council, we will explore our innate capacity for loving kindness (metta, S.K.) and discern obstacles to its fulfillment. While cultivating loving kindness, we will activate the bodhisattva way of embracing a life of generosity (dana, S.K.) and develop unique ways of practicing these capacities in our daily lives.

Please register at: https://form.123formbuilder.com/…/retreat-registration…

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me at: wrgentner@gmail.com

I look forward to retreating with you!

Warmth and ease all around!William