Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dogen and Generosity

Good old Dogen, Soto Zen founder, had a few words to say about generosity and giving. After Kevin's comment on the last post referring to the Tenzo Kyokun, I happened upon phrase hung in my bathroom (yes, Dogen graffiti) from Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance.

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving.

I take this to mean leaving alone what doesn't need to be meddled with. It's a great reminder that sometimes the way to give free of attachment and desire for reward is to do nothing. To let be. How often do you miss seeing this kind of non-doing as giving?

Not only should you make an effort to give, but also be mindful of every opportunity to give.

Dogen is trying to get us to expand our view of life, to be open and receiving moment after moment, and to understand that even recognizing the opportunity to give in a situation is an act of a bodhisattva.

A king gave his beard as medicine to cure his retainer's disease; a child offered sand to Buddha and became King Ashoka in a later birth. They were not greedy for reward but only shared what they could.

You don't have to do anything more than you can. I sometimes forget this. I also sometimes have too narrow of a definition of "what I can." So, these words are both a call to pay attention to my thinking around giving, and also to learn my limits more clearly, so that I may more fluidly move between doing and non-doing, offering something and leaving things be.


Barry said...

I've also reflected lately on the "what I can" aspect of doing and giving. These thoughts came up, in part, from last week's posts on Eido Shimano and my observation to a friend that I didn't have a personal stake in that sad affair.

Of course, I have a personal stake in everything - seen correctly. So what can I give to this "everything?" What can a do in response to "everything?"

No answers, here - just questions.

Nathan said...

I do wonder if a focus on "everything" is a place to get stuck, even if it's true.

Here's another line from the Dogen piece:

"Mind is beyond measure. Things given are beyond measure. Moreover, in giving, mind transforms the gift and the gift transforms mind."

I don't think that answers either of your questions, but somehow, it feels like it could be useful.

It's seems to me that "what I can" is about responding to specifics in each moment, seeing those specifics as containing everything.

With that said, I, too, still have plenty of questions.

Robyn said...

Here is one more Dogen quote about giving, one that I have been living with lately:

"You should know that the mind of giving communicates subtly with others. Ifyou study giving closely, you see that accept the body and to give up the body are both giving."

That quote, by the way, was given to me as a gift from my teacher... : )

kevin said...

Glad I could contribute.

With such a strong emphasis on compassion and such, I think sometimes we're too hard on ourselves. I'm not sure if Brad Warner's definition of compassion as being just what needs to be done in the moment appeals to me because it kind of lets us off the hook or not. But starting with ourselves and not worrying about what's going on on the other side of the world (or across the street) makes it more realistic.

Sometimes I regret having had the opportunity to be generous and not taking it, but the times I give without thinking can trap my mind just as much after the fact.

In the moment they both feel the same, though. So I can definitely identify with the bit about doing and non-doing, I just understand non-doing from the concept of mu-shin or the Taoist perspective wu-wei.

You act without thought, the universe (or the enlightened self) just kind of acts through you according to your habits of behavior. So we cultivate good habits and let the universe do the rest.