In-depth series of teachings on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and how practitioners in today’s world might approach traditional texts written hundreds of years ago.
Generosity; participants’ experience with meditation on giving with and without a sense of I and other; rational choice theory; advantages of practicing and disadvantages of refraining from generosity; action vs. motivation as basis for morality; essential gesture; classification; primary characteristics; economic systems; 4 methods for increasing the power of generosity; moving from ordinary generosity to the perfection of generosity; end outcome of generosity; meditation assignment: the difference between doing the moral thing because you know its the right thing to do and doing the moral thing because it is natural. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 12.
Ken: This evening we’re going to be focusing on generosity. Cara, what was the assignment I gave?
Cara: Our assignment was to focus on—no, what did you say?—explore, practicing generosity with the absence of an “I” or an “other.”
Ken: Ah, yes.
Cara: …and what do the six perfections become.
Ken: When do the six perfections become perfections.
Ken: Yes. Okay, what was your experience with this? You said you had some comments about your strange behavior.
Cara: Well, it wasn’t really strange behavior but I was tipping a lot, like in cafés or something, like in a coffee shop, but I would always wait until the person whom I was tipping was walking away, so they couldn’t see me do it. And one of my friends said, “Wasn’t the whole point that they see you put the dollar in the jar?” And I was like, “No, that’s not the whole point.” There was something for me that was just a small, small…I don’t want to say “victory”…but it was like a small enough daily practice for me to realize that I can be generous without having to be recognized.
Ken: Great. Okay. Anybody else?
Joe: I’m not going to wait to be asked.
Ken: How kind of you.
Joe: It’s a risk but I’ll take it.
It’s always amazing to me that I understand the question in class, or I think I understand the question in class or the practice, then I get home, I realize I have no idea at all. Not what you were talking about but there’s this whole matrix of things, you know, this generosity fits into this matrix of thoughts and ideas and things I have been taught over the years. And I had to sit and see what it means to me in terms of experience. And in terms of a practice one thing I realized was that generosity has no downside whatsoever.
Ken: That’s a good way of putting it.
Joe: In terms of generosity without a self—without a giver and a receiver—I found that I failed entirely. I found that I couldn’t be generous without a self and other. And that was all right for a while. I started thinking, “Well, can I practice in the moment?” Can I just say to myself in the moment while I’m driving home say, I say, “Do I need to plan my next generosity by finding somebody who needs something, or can I just be generous in this moment?” And if I can, what does that mean, being generous in this moment? It could be generous to other drivers or it could be generosity to self.
For example, not being judgmental of self, or critical. But that still involves that I’m making myself into another from the observer self. And then something occurred to me that you said during class, and I’ve heard you say it before, and I’m going to get it wrong, probably, but “the one thing you know about when you give something is that you have to let go of it.” You have to let go of something. And I realized that the only thing that can be given or let go of without a giver and receiver, without a self and other, is self itself. And when I got there, I realized, “Well, yeah, it can be anytime, anywhere.”
Ken: When one of your daughters asks for something, what happens?
Joe: An extraordinary complex calculation.
Ken: [Laughs] When one of your daughters is upset and needs something, what happens?
Joe: I’d go to her aid.
Ken: How much do you think about it?
Joe: Not a whole lot.
Ken: Like about zero?
Joe: I don’t think it’s zero. I don’t think it ever actually evaporates. I don’t think that the relationship never evaporates—the self, other, for me, at this point.
Joe: It becomes clearer and more direct. I was thinking that if I saw an enlightened being give something to another, it would appear to me to be generosity. But, in fact, it would not be generosity. It would be acting properly in the situation. The very fact of calling it generosity is conditional, is this side of “it’s a practice.”
Ken: Okay. We’ll come back to this later. Okay. Randye. I understand what you’re pointing to there, Joe. It’s interesting, but what I’m pointing to I’ll get to later.
Randye: I had kind of the same problems Joe did.
Ken: You guys think too much.
Randye: Well, I also sort of misunderstood the assignment because most of my practice was on the cushion rather than in vivo. And when I did that, I could feel it much more. You know, my imagination must be better than the reality. But what it felt like was not giving or doing, but just being. It did not feel like I was letting go of anything. It just felt like I was being and being me. And so the question that comes up is, can you still call it generosity? It doesn’t feel like it. It just feels like being.
Ken: [Laughs] This is why I say you guys think too much.
Cara: You can define the opposite behavior quite easily of not being generous; do you know what I mean? So like if you’re being yourself and you’re being generous then can you call it generosity. But if you’re being—
Ken: But just a second. (There’s a mic there Randye, if you want one.) This wonderful Puritanism is creeping in here. Philosophical Puritanism.
Cara: I’m not a Puritan.
Ken: I know, but it’s where it comes from.
Randye: For me, it was more etymology. You know the word generosity brings up—
Ken: Yeah, yeah. That’s the philosophy side.
Okay, just take what Randye’s talking about, which is really what I was trying to point to in this exercise and I was trying to point Joe to this. Situation arises and without actually thinking about anything, you give something. That is generosity. Arguably, it’s the perfection of generosity because there’s no conception of self or other. It is just an immediate response. And, of course, now the philosophers say, well, since there wasn’t any sense of self or other can you really call it generosity? And, yes you can. And yet, in all relative and absolute stuff and that’s why I say, you’re thinking too much.
Randye: It didn’t feel like I what I expect generosity to feel like.
Ken: Now we’re getting…yes. It didn’t feel like what I was expecting it to feel like. And that’s often the case. In many respects, when you are truly present, it feels like nothing at all. Chuang Tzu refers to this in his writings in Taoism: When the shoe fits, you forget the foot. When the belt fits, you forget the waist. And it’s true. So when you make the appropriate response in a situation, it doesn’t feel like anything at all. And that’s what I was pointing to. And that’s what we’re gonna be working towards in this chapter. Okay. Good.
So, let us turn, in Konchog Gyaltsen’s book here on page 183, in Guenther we’re on 152. Now, in the next six chapters, including this one, we’re going to be using the same framework for discussion. Guenther calls it liberality; I think generosity is probably the better translation. But each of these perfections is going to be discussed under seven headings.
Wonderful, these mistranslations: Reflection on the faults and virtues. [Gyaltsen, page 183] It’s not the faults of generosity or the defects of generosity. That’s quite misleading. It is the faults, the defects, the problems when you don’t practice generosity, and the qualities or the virtues or whatever that come from practicing generosity. So it’s not that the faults or virtues of the action itself, but whether you’re practicing or not; that’s the first one.
Its essence: that’s like “What’s its essential gesture?” In generosity, it’s opening; it’s letting go. Classification: that’s straightforward. The primary characteristics of each class: that’s straightforward. And then, its increase: this would be more about how to develop it, or how to make it stronger or extend its scope and so forth. In particular, it’s about how to extend the depth and range of its influence in you, not so much in other people, but in your experience. Purification: what’s being talked about under those headings is, “How does it move from being ordinary generosity to the perfection of generosity?” And the same with all the other ones when we get there.
And again, we have to refer to—when we talk about result—you’ve heard me talk about karma as evolution and we’ve used the term genesis to give this idea of things growing into other things like acorns growing into oak trees and apple seeds growing into apple trees, and so forth. So when we talk about a result, it’s not what generosity is causing; it’s “What does it actually grow into?” Here generosity’s being used as the genesis of a process and what is the end outcome of that process. You know, outcome might be a better word than result, if we’re going to use genesis. I’ll have to think about that. You see what I mean?
Ken: Now. I have to chuckle when I read this. Have we talked about rational choice theory, here yet?
Student: A little bit.
Ken: Julia knows all about this. Okay, rational choice theory—and Julia can correct me if I get this wrong—and you should know about this, Randye—is the theory that if a person or an entity—like an organization or something—is given all the appropriate information then they will make a choice that maximizes their interests. It’s utility theory, right?
Julia: Yes, essentially.
Ken: Almost all economics is based on rational choice theory or utility theory. And it has spread, to some extent, into sociology probably a little bit even into psychology.
Julia: And foreign policy.
Ken: And foreign policy. There’s only one small problem. There’s a tremendous amount of research, and we all know, that this is only one of several ways we make decisions. So we have very, very large systems of thought which determine the actions of states and individuals and policy which is based on a completely—not completely—but a largely inaccurate theory. It just enables mathematics to be done more easily. So, it’s an example of that Nasrudin joke where Nasrudin had a little too much to drink. And a policeman finds him groping around on the street under a light. “What are you doing, Nasrudin?” he says, “I’m looking for my keys.” “Well, where did you lose them?” And Nasrudin points out into the middle of the street where it’s completely dark. He says, “Out there.” “Well, why are you looking here?” “Because the light’s much better.”
Now, don’t laugh. I went to a lecture at UCLA on functional MRI and brain measurements and what they were trying to do. And when I listened to it I put up my hand and said, “Well, according to what you’re saying, this phenomenon that you’re looking for is not going to be where you’re measuring. Why are you looking for it there?” And the reply was, “Because we can measure it there. Because we can measure there.” I just couldn’t believe it. It was almost verbatim this—because the light’s much better. So, I just sort of walked out at that point. It was unbelievable.
So this whole section is totally about rational choice theory. That here are all the terrible things that are going to happen if you don’t practice generosity, and here are all the good things that are going to happen if you practice generosity. So, I would just like to ask all of you, quite candidly, is this going to make any difference to you? If I tell you it’s a good thing to practice generosity and terrible things are…really unfortunate things are going to happen to you if you don’t practice generosity. Is that going to make any difference to you?
Ken: Why not, Joe? I like that—No.
Joe: Because I don’t know if what you say or if what this book says is true. I don’t know if that’s true.
Ken: Ah, you mean the descriptions that you’re going to be born in the preta realms or the hungry ghost realms and things like that. Okay, well that’s a very good one. So the described outcomes, you have no basis to which to appraise their facticity. Okay. Suppose you knew them to be true. There was a way.
Joe: Would I always do them?
Ken: No, would it make any difference to be told? For instance, we can make it a little more immediate. Let’s take it for the usually…if you give to this charity, people are going to think well of you.
Joe: And what’s the question?
Ken: So would this make any difference? And if you don’t give to this charity, people won’t think well of you. People will think, you know, “Well, why isn’t he doing that?” You’re going to encounter opprobrium and shame.
Joe: Okay, I don’t know quite how to answer this. Yes, at some point that would make me do it, when I feel like I need to be approved of. At certain times, I don’t feel I need to be approved and I would not do it.
Ken: Well, yeah. You’re getting at the point that I’m trying to get at. What I find somewhat ironic here is they’re talking about the perfection of generosity, and the first thing there that Gampopa’s talking about is how it is in your interest to do this which is not exactly what the perfection of generosity is actually about. Let’s move on again.
Joe: In that same way, I notice it said it should not be done with a fear of poverty, and yet at the same time, it emphasizes what you’re going to get out of it.
Ken: You’re gonna be so wealthy if you do this.
Cara: Yeah, but when you say that I get like all these alarm bells of formal religion and, you know, the way, the truth, and the light, and like that, and if you know that something is going to…it just makes me think of the opposite. Like if I know that generosity is going to give me x, y, and z, and then I’m not generous, I’m not going to get x, y, and z, and then I somehow feel guilty and it leads to shoulds and shouldn’ts and like that.
Cara: So, I feel like if it’s—just like you said—it’s something that’s born of your natural state then that’s when it’s—
Ken: Yeah and we have to remember this text is written in sometime in the late twelfth, early thirteenth century, and that’s seventeen hundred years after Buddha lived. This whole line of thought really developed probably around six or seven hundred years after Buddha lived. So, yes, it really was a religion with all the institutional regalia and the mindsets and things like that. It’s very different from other forms of Buddhism, which didn’t stay quite as wedded to institutional forms. These are expressions which come out, very, very much out of an institutionalized form. It’s essentially medieval form. It’s very similar in tone to the Catholic Church, the medieval Catholic Church.
Ken: Okay. Randye, you have some comments?
Randye: There’s another reason that I can find to actually believe the cost and benefits and the rationality. But like everyone else, I’m more rationalizing than rational, and I can always find ways to rationalize my behavior to fit in to what I think I should be doing.
Ken: Yes, we’re very good at that, aren’t we?
Randye: Yes we are.
Ken: Anybody? Any other comments? I’m going to just go over this. Joe?
Joe: I have one quick question. It says it’s impure to give with a fear of poverty, but in the terms of this chapter in this book, is it okay to give with a desire for wealth? Is that a distinction that I know…well, never mind.
Ken: Well, no. That’s exactly why I’m bringing this up. From my point of view, there’s a little problem with pedagogy here. That’s what I’m really pointing to. There are mixed messages going on. If you want people to aim at naturally responding to things without thinking, it’s probably counterproductive to tell them how wonderful it is if they behave this way, because then the calculating mind immediately comes in. So that’s really what I’m pointing to.
That being said, I mean you’re saying, “I don’t know whether all these things are true,” Joe—that’s what you were saying a few minutes ago. Well, what happens to you when you refrain from being generous when you have the resources and the opportunity to do so?
Joe: That’s much clearer.
Ken: What happens?
Joe: I feel bad, for one thing. I recognize that I’m acting out of a story about myself of lack…
Joe: …of insufficiency. All this stuff happens.
Ken: This is what it means to be born in the hungry ghost realm. Okay.
And then we skip down a little bit further. When you don’t give, and you’re known to be a bit of a miser, how many people gather around you?
Joe: Not many. But that brings up a point: why do I want people to gather around me?
Ken: You want people to gather around you for two reasons, okay? One, it gives you opportunities to practice it with interaction. And, two, if you’re going to help beings, you got to have some kind of connection with them. Those are the two reasons you want people to…okay?
Now, skip down to the bottom of page 152 [Guenther]:
The liberality of a generosity [a bodhisattva] destroys…
Guenther’s English is so terrible…
…it ends rebirth.
(Jesse drove in from Arizona today, that’s all. He wanted to know if he could come to the class. I said, of course.)
Ends this business of becoming a hungry ghost, you know, because it’s the opposite. You see, a hungry ghost feels there isn’t enough out there. So, it has a poverty-stricken mentality and it just takes. Well, if you’re giving stuff obviously you’re not concerned with there…you feel there’s plenty out there, because you’re just giving stuff away. So, it ends that whole mentality, internally.
As well as poverty and all conflicting passions.
Yeah, people who give are generally happier than people who don’t. Yes.
Randye: But another paradox, I guess, a little further on, it talks about essentially giving according to your means.
Ken: Oh, yes.
Randye: Which would indicate that you have to sort of calculate how much you need first. And then—
Ken: Let me come to that, okay? Because, yes it could be read that way, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. And…
During his lifetime he wins infinite wealth.
Well, there’s a story from the life of Buddha where this, I can’t remember whether it’s an old man or an old woman, comes across this wish-fulfilling gem and recognizes [it] for what it is. “Ah, this is just amazing. I don’t know what to do with this. I’m going to take this to the Buddha because he’ll know what to do with it.” Takes it to Buddha and says, “Here’s this wish-fulfilling gem but I don’t have enough knowledge or wisdom to know what to do with this, and I just want you to give it to the person whom you think it is most appropriate to give it.” And Buddha immediately calls the king of the region and then, “Here, take this wish-fulfilling gem.” And the old man or woman says to Buddha, “Why? They’re wealthier than anybody else!” “Well, yes…but they have even more…they don’t feel they have what they need to have. So that’s why I gave them the wish-fulfilling gem.”
So, when you give and are able to give generously and freely without a lot of thought, how wealthy do you feel? You got everything you need and more because you’re giving it away. So, when we read this stuff, I really don’t think—I mean, you read it literally and it sounds really nice, and you can certainly interpret it at that level, but then it is very calculating and very materialistic, etc. But I think if you read it at an internal level, what actually happens when you practice generosity? Well, we become wealthy, not in the sense that we have lots and lots of stuff but in a sense we have no feeling of poverty. This making sense? So, this is one of the things I want to point out about this is, I think, this has to be read on that interior level as well.
And moving on to some of its qualities—you take this:
By the practice of generosity one can fully mature sentient beings who are suffering.
This is about three-quarters of the way down on page 184 [Gyaltsen]. And Guenther translates it as
Liberality brings suffering beings to maturity. [Page 153]
Different interpretation in the translation. But this goes back to what we were talking about last week is that that opening and the letting go which is absolutely necessary for generosity—this starts the process of what becomes ultimately the letting go of self. So when you read lines like this, again, it’s referring to the unfolding of the whole process. It’s certainly not simple cause and effect.
The quotation from the Householder Drakshulchen-Requested Sutra is very interesting:
A thing which is given is yours; things left in the house are not. A thing which is given has essence; things left in the house have no essence. A thing which is given need not be protected; things kept in the house must be protected. A thing which is given is free from fear; things kept in the house are with fear. A thing which is given is closer to enlightenment; things left in the house go in the direction of the maras. [Gyaltsen, pages 184-185]
What do you make of this? Julia?
Julia: I saw it as a distinction between things that are sort of hoarded in some way and things that are charged with some intention…
Ken: Go on.
Julia: …of transferring to somebody.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Anything else?
Julia: I don’t know how else to say it—just a sense of a movement of energy: an object being a gesture rather than something that’s just static…
Julia: …and sitting there and not fulfilling a purpose.
Ken: I think that’s very much what’s going on here. I agree. A thing that is sitting in your home, you’re keeping. It’s not doing anything in the world, it’s not actually influencing.
Ken: When you give it, it’s now as you said, “set in motion.” And so, it becomes active in the world. So, that’s how it becomes yours. You know what the Zen people do with this? They just said it so much more concisely: Gain is illusion, loss is enlightenment. It’s from Uchiyama. I was reading this and, “Ah, I’ve come across this before.” And it’s really good to keep that in mind. I had a student in Orange County and we were reading Uchiyama’s Refining Your Life together. When he hit this chapter he just came and said, “What does this mean—‘Gain is illusion, loss is enlightenment’?” He was just really upset. We had a good discussion.
Julia: But the sense here that’s not exactly loss, just static.
Julia: Because loss is a perceived…
Ken: Yes, I agree. These aren’t exactly the same. This also reminds me. There’s a Thai, British-raised Thai, scholar whose—if I remember his name correctly—is Payutto, who writes a lot on interpreting Buddhism in the modern world. Those of you who did the Money and Value workshop, I drew some of the stuff from him on Buddhist economics. And much of what he is talking about when he looks at the Theravadan—he’s not even looking at the Mahayana sutras—he’s looking at the Theravadan sutras. He finds a great deal in there which is all about keeping things in flow, which is exactly, you know, basic economic principles. As long as the money keeps moving, everybody’s happy. It’s when it stops that you get really bad problems, which is exactly what happened in the Great Depression is that everybody locked the credit down, so money stopped flowing and then there was no economic activity for a very long time, or very little. And it’s what people are very concerned about now with this liquidity crisis is the fact that there is so much bad debt out there. Like, these things really are worthless, that people will just stop lending, and then the whole global economic machine grinds to a halt. It takes quite a while to get it started again. That’s why the central banks are taking actions that they are.
So, keep things moving and, I think, what Julia was saying is also right on point. Implicit in this, even though it’s not said at all explicitly, is the idea that things are not things: things are movement. This reminds me very much of a book that I’ve mentioned before—Against Essentialism—which is a very high level book on sociology theory which really is a prolonged two-hundred page argument for not regarding things as things but regarding things as relationships, very close to this idea of regarding things as movements.
Now, we can do that intellectually. What we’re actually working towards is not so much regarding things as movements but experiencing things as movements and relationships rather than as entities. That’s the difference between this form of practice and an intellectual or cognitive understanding of that idea.
Randye: When I read that I got part of that but also what resonated more with me is that when it moves it increases in value. Because when I’m full, and I give food to somebody who’s hungry, they need it more than I do. And they will appreciate it more because they’re hungry and they need the food and that’s why I give it to them because I don’t need it and they do.
Ken: Because it has no value to you but it has value to them so it increases in value. Yep.
Randye: It has value to them, so that to me tied in that increase in wealth, that they’re…somewhere earlier you mentioned.
Ken: Hmm. Has anybody developed an economic theory based on that principle?
Julia: All of welfare economics is based on that principle. So, you know, a bowl of rice is more valuable if it’s given to somebody who’s hungry than if it’s given to somebody who’s already eaten twelve bowls in a row. So, the shadow price of the rice is basically its utility in a distributive sense. So welfare economics is inherently interested in distribution effects. Whereas the kind of neoclassical economics as promoted by the “Chicago School” in this country…
Ken: The supply-side.
Julia: …has become the dominant economic view in this country and is not interested in distributive effects, and that’s why it’s been so powerful in influencing conservative thought.
Ken: Yeah. Supply-side economics.
Julia: Well, that’s a little bit of a wrinkle on it. But I mean this basic idea that distribution doesn’t matter.
Ken: I wondered what was behind that. Okay. Thanks. Because it’s been quite destructive.
Julia: The long dead hand of Adam Smith.
Ken: Oh, I don’t think it was Adam Smith because he was very much concerned with distribution and the effects of stuff, wasn’t he?
Julia: As interpreted by the neoclassical school.
Ken: Ah. Well, yes that’s very different.
Julia: That’s a big proviso.
Ken: Yes, because Adam Smith was always talking about closed economic systems so that the people had to experience the effects of their economic actions.
Julia: Yes, we’ve now got a whole system set up when nobody does that.
Ken: Yes, where everything is to insulate yourself.
Ken: Yes. Okay.
Ken: Cara, you were going to say something?
Cara: Well, from what Randye said—backtracking a little bit—about having a bowl of rice and then giving it to someone else who doesn’t have one, it’s all kind of muddled now. That was a big thought, but—
Ken: We like big thoughts here.
Cara: I do like big thoughts, everyone here does. I like sleep, too. I need to get more of that. If anyone has extra sleep, if you would like to give it to me, I’d be happy to take it. I need it more than you do. [Laughter]
But what I was going to say is that, a lot of times, I think harkening back to the beginning of the class, you know, like, the separation that they’re talking about: it’s going to be good for you if you do this or you do that. I think that if you have an equation where there’s a separation between the recipient and the giver, then there’s somehow an expectation that you have that if you give them that bowl of rice that they’re gonna be grateful. And I think that on an emotional and a financial level that that becomes an even more negative equation than just simply not giving somebody something.
Ken: Yeah. That’s treated very definitely later in this chapter.
Ken: Yep. Okay.
Definition. I love it.
A mind co-emergent with non-attachment—
With that motivation, fully giving things. [Gyaltsen, page 185]
Let’s see if we can get an even worse definition out of Guenther.
It is an unattached and spontaneous mind and the dispensing of gifts and requests in that state of mind. [Guenther, page 153]
Actually Guenther’s is more intelligible. What do you get out of this wonderful definition?
Ken: Nothing. Okay. Lynea? I could tell you were hiding something back there.
Lynea: No, I’m not. I need you repeat that again, though.
Ken: Okay. Do you want Guenther or Konchog Gyaltsen?
A mind co-emergent with non-attachment—
With that motivation, fully giving things.
Ken: This is such crystalline English. Do you want Guenther?
It is an unattached and spontaneous mind and a dispensing of gifts and requests in that state of mind.
Lynea: I have a question about this.
Ken: Good. Fire away.
Lynea: So, what I’m hearing is action or energy that is born of emptiness?
Lynea: There really isn’t much more to say, I guess. [Laughter] It’s just a lot of words to say…
Ken: To say what you said actually much more nicely, as far as I’m concerned. Yeah.
Cara: I think it sounds smart.
Ken: Well that’s the trick. It’s very important to seem smart, isn’t it? Okay.
Classification. Wealth, fearlessness and the giving of dharma. [Gyaltsen, page 185]
And then he goes into a long thing about impure giving, which is actually worth…. Now, none of this is about the perfection of generosity. This is just about generosity, this whole discussion here. And if you are giving so that someone gets hurt, that’s not exactly the right motivation. If you’re giving so you become famous, not so good. If you’re giving because you want to give more than the next person, which, you know, fundraisers just love, not so good. In other words—he only lists these three—but you could say if your giving is based on any of the reactive emotions of the six realms, then it just is a reinforcement of those realms.
So, those are impure motivations and then—
Joe: I have a question about one of the impure motivations. It says you should not accumulate wealth for giving.
Ken: You should not accumulate…?
Joe: Yes. It’s near the end of page 186, right before c, Impure Recipient.
Ken: Oh, I’m not there yet.
Joe: Oh, you’re not there yet? Sorry.
Ken: No, I’m at the top of page 186. So, if you can hold on to that.
So, those are just wrong motivations. Lower level motivations are, I think, “Oh, if I give this, then eventually I’ll get wealthy,” or you know, “I’ll get a good rebirth, or I’ll get a good that.” This is what Trungpa talks about in terms of spiritual materialism. The reason that this is problematic is that giving with such an intention or motivation is still organized around a sense of self. And that’s why it’s firmly in the samsaric mode because you’re doing it to better yourself.
Impure materials. This requires some fairly careful reading, and it’s wonderfully convoluted because Gampopa wanted to cover all bases. The first thing is, in terms of generosity, you don’t put bad stuff out in the world. So, poison, fire, weapons, you know, drugs, etc. You don’t put this out in the world. Why? Because if that stuff’s out in the world it causes pain and suffering for other people. That’s basic principle. That’s fine.
Cara: What about choice?
Ken: Pardon? What about choice?
Cara: What about choice?
Ken: I don’t follow your question.
Cara: Well, okay, don’t put bad stuff out in the world. But isn’t bad a relative term? And isn’t everyone’s right to choose what they deem?
Ken: What they do? Oh. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
Cara: With guns. [Laughter]
Ken: That’s where the NRA comes from. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
Cara: Sorry. It’s not that. But I believe that, you know, drugs are bad, prostitution is bad, guns are bad, all those things are bad, but I also believe that…
Ken: Believe what?
Cara: That I’m totally digressing right now.
Ken: No, I don’t think you are. Make your point.
Cara: I think that it is truly relative what we put out there in terms of whether or not it’s being good or bad. Because for one thing even if we have a good intention the way that it’s perceived might actually be negative. And so, then are we…
Ken: There are a couple of things, I think, that would be good to keep straight here. One of the things I think you’re saying is that, “Okay, saying here we shouldn’t, you know, give lots of weapons away. But what about individual choice?” Right?
Cara: For example: I give away things that could very well cause people to contract diabetes.
Ken: Right. All your rich cooking, right? So, again, this is what we get into. We think too much. And what we tend to do—particularly in this culture—is we think too much and we tend to think in absolute terms. That is, you make cakes and pastries and stuff and you give it away. Okay. Now, because it could cause diabetes, then they shouldn’t put it out in the world at all. That’s absolute thinking. There’s a whole gradation: a little bit is fine, certain amounts okay, too much, well, that’s where we have the school systems trying to get pop and soft drinks and stuff made with corn syrup out of the vending machines out of the schools because it makes it so available that a lot of people are contracting diabetes. They’re becoming obese from drinking it.
But that points to the deeper problem of moderation which leads into your next point which is, well, should the giver be concerned with the possible results or isn’t it up to the people who are on the receiving end whether they actually use it or not? Again, we start thinking about all of the possible ramifications.
Gampopa’s approaching this from a much simpler point of view. What are we putting out in the world? If we put out a bunch of guns, then people are going to have a bunch of guns to use. If we put out a bunch of flowers, people will have flowers. The results of those two things are going to be quite different. You follow? Okay.
Randye: This list is remarkably similar to the lists I read about for right means of livelihood.
Ken: Oh, I would think, yeah. And that’s probably from where it’s derived.
The next thing is very interesting and this is where it’s qualified.
If that which helps is poison,
Then poison should be given. [Gyaltsen, page 186]
That is, if someone has a certain kind of disease which will be cured by taking a certain kind, of what would be normally poison, there are lots of examples of that, then you should give them that particular medicine or that particular drug. And Gampopa’s putting these things in because people in his age were also subject to absolute thinking: “Oh, you said I can’t give any poison and this person is desperately in need of this medicine but because you told me I couldn’t give poison I can’t give it to him.” Yes, Cara.
Cara: This is very apropos to my life right now, what we’re talking about. But does that mean that if someone needs to be yelled at, then it’s okay to yell at them?
Jesse: It just comes to mind that if say your child is about to walk out into the street, you can yell at them. That will save their life and prevent suffering.
Ken: There’s actually a story, a Buddhist parable, on exactly this topic which the analogy is given of a father comes home to see that his house is on fire and his children are unaware of it. And he wants to get them out of the house. So, instead of saying, “The house is on fire. Get out of the house.” He says, “I’ve just come back from town and I have these wonderful toys for you.” And the children come running out of the house. And now they’re out of the house and they’re safe. Okay, was the father deceiving the children? And so, there’s a big raging debate about this.
From my point of view, we get onto—this is where the Mahayana and the Theravada parted ways. Because the Theravadans basically said, “We simplify life so that we can reduce desire and become free of samsara.” The Mahayana developed because India, at that time, was moving from a purely agricultural society into a medieval society, with towns and there’s a merchant class and trade was increasing. And the amount of wealth in this society was dramatically increasing.
So, then, the question was “Okay, how do you interact with this world rather than just withdrawing from it as the sutra instructions or the teachings before?” And that was arguably the major split: do you seek to be awake in the world or do you seek to withdraw from the world and wake up?
And if you’re going to be awake in the world then you’re going to have to deal with things like money and interactions and all of these complexities. And the consequence of that is that in terms of morality is that there is a significant shift from the action being the basis of morality, which it largely is in the Vinaya—you do this or you don’t do that—to the motivation being the basis of morality. And you’re talking about similar things here. One’s going to have to make individual determinations according to the situation. And that’s what this verse is about.
If that which helps is poison,
Then poison should be given.
Even if a delicacy will not help,
Then it should not be given.
Because there’s no point.
As when one’s bitten by a snake
Cutting the finger can be of benefit…
That’s like your yelling example.
Buddha said that even if it makes one uncomfortable,
Helpful things should be done. [Gyaltsen, page 186]
Now, you ask is it okay to yell at someone if that’s going to be helpful to them. Well, here it comes down to a matter of perception. How clearly do you see, and how appropriate is your action? People will use this kind of reasoning to justify things which are actually self-serving, and that’s the big danger here. Okay.
And I love this:
You should not give your parents nor pawn your parents. Your children, wife, and so forth should not be given without their consent. [Gyaltsen, page 186]
This is a very, very different conception of people, and so forth. Doesn’t say that it was okay for the wife to give away her husband even with his consent. I wonder why?
Cara: Probably would have been a wide open market for it. [Laughter]
You should not give a small quantity while you have great wealth.
That’s basically because it’s not a meaningful action. It doesn’t cost you anything.
You should not accumulate wealth for giving.
This is what you were inquiring about?
Ken: Okay. This is a very nice subtlety. If I go out and earn a lot of money in order to be able to give, what is my relationship with giving?
Joe: I hear your ego and [prompted by another student] self-serving around me.
Ken: And what’s your opinion? I’m glad you have this support group around you. [Laughter]
Student: That’s very miserly.
Joe: [Sings] “Bringing in the sheaves.” If I save money to put my kids through college, is that accumulating wealth in order to give?
Ken: I don’t think that’s what Gampopa’s talking about here. My guess—I’m not one hundred percent [sure]—my guess is what he’s talking about is accumulating a great deal of money so that you can then practice generosity because you think it is going to do you good. What you’re talking about is exercising your parental responsibilities. I see them as quite different. You follow?
Joe: Yeah, I’m beginning to see that difference.
Ken: Okay. Randye.
Randye: So what about working for a charity that does good things for people that need good things done for them and going out banging on doors or knocking and asking people for money or being a part of something that’s raising money for a good cause?
Ken: I see that as different, because it’s not about you accumulating wealth for yourself that you’re going to use to benefit yourself karmically.
Randye: But you are accumulating it for the purpose of giving it away.
Ken: You’re being sticky, and you know you’re being sticky. [Laughs] Julia.
Julia: Would also there be an idea here of making a big splash?
Julia: So that sort of reminds me of that story of the man [who] built the wealth and the white stones affair.
Ken: Well, that was Rinpoche’s story about Vajrayana.
Julia: Oh, okay.
Ken: Okay. Because he had to liquidate all his wealth into the form of white stones. Then said, “Who needs white stones?” And so he transformed all his wealth into something; it’s like the deity meditation. Okay, fine. So now, you see, it’s just in another form. But now it’s completely useless to him. So, he can let it go, and that’s what you do with the deity practice. That’s what that story’s about.
Student: I have a question.
Ken: Yes. Please.
Student: Could you relate that to something I’d heard in a previous class about at that time most of the monasteries were supported by one or two wealthy individuals or actually teachers were supported by one or two wealthy people who would provide a place for them to teach…
Student: …and then everyone else would do the listening. How does that fit into this generosity because there was one person that accumulated a lot of wealth but he didn’t really do it with the intent.
Student: After the fact of earning it he decided to support the teacher.
Ken: Yeah. If—and people do this—this happens a lot in China because they take a very materialistic attitude to this kind of stuff in Southeast Asia. But let’s say I go out and I work and I accumulate a great deal of wealth so that I can become a major patron of the dharma. That’s what you’re talking about.
Now, in terms of the karmic processes that I’m setting in motion, good is going to come out of that, just because a lot of good is being created by that. At the same time, because I’m not actually just giving it away to people, but I’m doing it in order to—in this example—so that I will have good karma, I’m actually reinforcing my sense of self, and that’s going to create problems.
Student: Did the monks and teachers not accept big gifts?
Ken: Oh no, no. They were far more mercenary than that. There were probably some who—if they felt that the donor was doing it for the donor’s sake—would not accept it, but it was more frequently the case. There was a story from Taiwan of this person who just made very, very significant donations to the monastery for the building of a new retreat center or something like that. And he’s sitting with the abbot waiting for the abbot to thank him. And after awhile the abbot turned to him and said, “If you’re waiting for me to be thank you, forget it. That would destroy any goodness that comes to you from this.”
Cara: In Taiwan, literally, like almost every street corner temple is sponsored by a family, and there’s like a giant plaque on it that…
Cara: …like indicates like which family is patronizing this temple.
Ken: And they’re doing it all to accumulate merit, which in Chinese is luck.
Ken: So you’re actually accumulating luck so good things will happen to you.
Cara: Well, they burn these huge piles of ghost money. I mean it’s all tied in.
Ken: This is spiritual materialism. Okay.
Impure recipient. The essential message here is you give to people who can actually use what you’re giving, appropriately. Guenther said you shouldn’t give food or alcohol to gluttons or drunkards. That’s how he translates this. And the reason here is that if you give to people who are just going to use it to further their own habituated patterns, no good is coming from it. So, there’s a sense of using some discrimination in what you’re doing, trying to do good in the world with this.
Impure method. Question Lynea?
Lynea: I did. Yeah.
Ken: Well, people got very tired of me at the weekend in Toronto because everybody’s sitting still and I say, “You have a question?” and they’d say, “How’d you know?”
Lynea: So, exercising discrimination—what’s the relationship between control, discrimination, thinking, and actually being responsive to a situation?
Ken: Remember the four steps of standing up?
Ken: Show up, open to what is, serve what is true to the limit of your perception…
Lynea: That’s the part that I was…to the limit of…
Ken: …receive the result.
Ken: That answer it? You can only act to the limit of your perception. You cannot see any more than that. If it becomes a mess, then you get to see what you couldn’t see before and you learn from that. And that’s part of just receiving the result. Now if it goes wrong, okay it went wrong, and now you learn from that. That’s receiving the result. Not trying to make it, you know, a thing, “Well, that’s not what I meant.” Trying to make it all like it isn’t all right. “No, okay that didn’t work out. That was a mistake.” But you learn from that. You go on to the next situation with that ability now, to see more.
Ken: Okay? I mean we’re not talking about absolutes. We’re talking about a process here. I’m glad we’re going through it this way because it’s very important. We have a tendency, partially because of our modernist approach, where we take everything very, very literally to read and interpret these things in terms of absolutes rather than as a process that is unfolding. Okay?
Impure method. When you’re unhappy, angry, or disturbed: “Yes, here’s your damn five dollars!” It’s not exactly generosity. And also, with threatening or scolding beggars. [Gyaltsen, page 187]
This puts the kibosh on the Salvation Army because, you know, they give food but you gotta listen to the sermon. And no, this is all giving with an agenda. If it is actually generosity, you just give and that’s that. No strings, no conditions, etc. Okay.
Pure giving. I love this one.
Inside materials, [are] those related to your body…You should give your hand to those who desire hands…your legs to those who desire legs… [Gyaltsen, page 187]
Etc. Okay. And then in the next paragraph:
Those bodhisattvas who have not fully actualized the equality of oneself and others should only give their whole body, not pieces.
Oh, right, okay, so now I give my whole body, but…
Cara: That’s spiritual hokey-pokey. [Laughter]
Those who lack the pure intention of compassion
Should not give their body away.
Instead, both in this and future lives,
They should give it to the cause of fulfilling the great purpose. [Gyaltsen, page 187]
So here we have a wonderful example of the Mahayana ideal being expressed. But then being tempered so that people don’t go around cutting off arms and legs and like, let’s be a little practical about this. And this is very, very important because when you have stuff expressed in mythic language, there’s always the danger that people will take it literally. And people do. And it’s problematic. So, there are stories in the literature of people giving arms and legs and things like that.
Student: The Bodhidharma—didn’t that happen? His student threw his hand…
Ken: Oh no, that was—there’s a story of Always Weeping One who was—a god came down and asked for his hand…
Ken: You’ve got to have the microphone, Jesse, otherwise it doesn’t get out there.
Ken: I don’t remember that story very well. I’ve heard of it but I can’t remember the details.
So, how do you make this practical?
Those who lack the pure intention of compassion
Should not give their body away.
Instead, both in this and future lives,
They should give it to the cause of fulfilling the great purpose.
What this is saying here is that, until you have a very high level of realization, that is, you experience all the world as it appears, etc., etc., just work at dharma practice. Don’t get into this; you know, don’t start chopping off limbs to give to people.
Outside material. That’s food, drink, clothes, conveyances, child, wife, and so forth…—do you see this is coming from another age? Then again, this is important because in Christian fundamentalism, they say everything in the Bible should be taken as true. Well, yeah, but there’s large sections in Leviticus and some of the earlier chapters, dealing with how you handle your slaves, and it’s, you know, absolutely straightforward recognition that, you know, these human beings were your property and here’s how you manage those kinds of transactions. All of that stuff’s ignored. So, one of the problems of fundamentalism is that it’s very selective on what it regards as fundamental. There’s usually another agenda operating. But that’s true of religious fundamentalism as well as economic and political fundamentalism.
So, teachings and the understanding [of] the teachings change and are adapted to the culture. And, in one sense, we have a much better, a much more fully realized culture of individual rights in this society than existed in Buddhist society. So, all of the stuff about sons and daughters being things you could possible give away just don’t hold any more at all.
Then we go to the recipients. And again we get into a wonderful business here. You get the most merit if you give to the spiritual masters and the three jewels, and so forth. And then you get lots of good merit if you give to your parents, and so forth, and to sentient beings, and finally your enemies. Now, you get people who will sit and try to calculate who they should give to so they get the maximum merit. This is totally wrong way to approach things.
Methods of generosity. It’s something you actually do. That’s what this boils down to.
Bodhisattvas exercise giving with devotion, respect, by their own hand, in time, and without harming others.[Gyaltsen, page 188]
That’s all fairly straightforward. I don’t think there’s anything we need to go through there.
Ken: Pardon? Guenther’s translation?
The proper time has come, gives with confidence and respect, with his own hand, and without harming others. [Guenther, page 156]
Student: The manner of giving is that you should give with either (a) good intention or (b) excellent behavior. Middle of page 156.
Ken: It should be both, actually. It shouldn’t be either/or.
Randye: I thought that’s what you just said about “you just give.”
Randye: So if you can’t find a good intention, at least behave properly.
Ken: Well there’s that. If you look in Konchog Gyaltsen’s he translates that with an “and.”
The methods of generosity are giving with excellent motivation and giving with excellent action. [Gyaltsen, page 188]
Ken: But, you know, you aren’t lauding it over the person. You know, it is just a natural, straightforward act of giving—not making a big deal out of it. Treating the other person as another person, not as an object of charity, and so forth.
Now, I find it very interesting that they give such a short thing on fearlessness, because it’s actually a much stronger form of generosity. And when you think of sheltering people in times of war or persecution, etc., it’s really very, very significant.
And then he goes into giving the dharma. Again, you don’t give the dharma, or teach in other words, because of your concern of what it’s going to do for you, even though a lot of people do, unfortunately. On top of page 190 in Konchog Gyaltsen, I love this:
Concerning the generosity of giving the Dharma,
If someone requests it,
First you respond this way,
“I have not studied that in detail.”
There are several reasons for this. One is, it’s a practice of humility. The other is, it’s also a test of a person’s actual interest. Do they keep coming back saying, “No, I’d really like to learn this.”
There’s another point in here. I can’t remember where it actually is, but it says, you don’t teach people who aren’t interested. That’s one of the characteristics of Buddhism: you only teach when it’s requested. We covered this another time when we were discussing the Seven Section Prayer. That’s actually, I think, quite an important aspect.
Now then we get into this Increase section. This is where we’re beginning to get to the heart of the matter. Four methods by which a person can make the act of generosity more powerful. [Texts list three.]
That’s what is meant by increase here. If you are completely present, then the act of generosity—the perfection of generosity—becomes much more powerful because it is not reinforcing any aspect of the samsaric way of experiencing: sense of self, sense of other, etc. And so it becomes an expression of awareness, pure and simple.
…can expand it through the power of discriminating…
Sorry, just finish that one…
This is the realization that the giver is like an illusion, the gift is also like an illusion, and the recipient is like an illusion.
It comes from the full realization that is free from the three spheres. [Gyaltsen, page 191]
Guenther has a terribly garbled translation of this.
…means to know the three elements involved to be perfectly pure. That is to say, the donor, the object of the gift and the recipient are like phantoms. [Page 159]
When I was studying this way, way back I got very, very confused by this. What this means is that in the moment of giving, the sense, the idea, or the framework of “I’m giving something to somebody” doesn’t arise. One is not in that conceptual framework. You follow? And thus the giver of the gift and the recipient are not experienced as substantial entities. That’s what like an illusion means. It doesn’t mean you’re looking at them and they’re sort of misty or something like that or appearing out of nowhere. And when you give that way that is the Perfection of Wisdom.
Student: A quick question.
Student: This goes back to the assignment, then? From the previous week?
Ken: Yeah. Exactly. That’s what I was aiming for in the assignment.
The second method of increasing the power is practicing giving as an expression of your spiritual practice, not as something which is going to do good in the world. So there’s a change or a shift in context. So, you may be giving something, you know, like money to charity, which is going to do good in the world, but your own motivation is—through this act of generosity I’m doing this in order to be able to bring other beings into the path. That’s actually a very different motivation. And you aren’t concerned with the actual result of that.
In this way, it moves from generosity in the world in which we think we live to an act in the world in which we actually live. You remember that distinction I’ve made in the past. And that’s a very important shift. Your example, Cara, of tipping people in Starbucks or something, when they weren’t looking was a good example of that because you were doing it as a practice for yourself and things like that, and you were making sure there wasn’t going to be any form of recognition because that was a way you could see of developing a different relationship with giving yourself. So, it’s a very good example of what’s being talked about here.
Third, dedication. This is the idea that again, getting away from spiritual materialistic—I’ve done this good action and I’m going to get lots of merit—is that as soon as you do any kind of virtue, but here the discussion is generosity, you dedicate it to the awakening of beings. And so, you’re reminding yourself that’s what this is about. Or the awakening of all aspects of our own mind if you want to interpret it internally. So it becomes an internal process rather than an external process, that’s it’s going to improve things for you in your world.
Now we come to the perfection.
If one acts with emptiness and the essence of compassion,
All the merit will be purified. [Gyaltsen, page 192]
Now, again we have a very formal way of expressing something. You know, how do you act with emptiness? Lynea said it better earlier this evening: action borne of emptiness. I think that was your phrase. Is that right? It arises out of nothing, which is to say, it is simply the response in the moment. And it doesn’t come from a preconceived, strategized, conceptual framework. It just arises as the appropriate thing to do in the moment. And, it is an expression of compassion. That is, it’s a response to the pain and suffering of the world, or you can put it in a slightly different language: it is addressing an imbalance. That imbalance can be internal, external, it could be anywhere.
It comes down to this: it should be sealed by the four seals.
…sealed by the pervading emptiness of the inner body… [Gyaltsen, page 192]
[Sighs] Again, an unfortunate translation. It means you don’t see one’s experience as a “thing.” You don’t see the world as a “thing.” You don’t see yourself as a “thing.” You don’t even see the dharma as a “thing.” In other words, you’re letting go of all those conceptual frameworks. You’re letting go of all of that stuff and it’s simply a natural action. That’s what the Perfection of Wisdom is: it’s acting completely naturally as direct knowing’s response to what is arising. And it’s dressed up in all this mythic language. It makes it seem like this terribly unattainable thing. But it’s actually extremely simple. And that’s why I was asking Joe, because parents do this with their children all the time. You know, the kid has a need, you just give and that’s it. And when you can actually do that in every area of your life, then you’re practicing the perfection of generosity.
What does Milarepa say? When attachment to a sense of self is ended, that is the perfection of generosity. You’re not giving in order to be something or to do something in the world. It’s just there.
The result of all of this is—well, the ultimate result is that you become awake. That’s fine. And then, it cuts off rebirth as a hungry ghost. Well, fine, because when you’re giving this way, there is no sense of greed. And you’re not reinforcing any sense of greed or neediness or anything like that.
Likewise, poverty and all the afflicting emotions are cut off. [Gyaltsen, page 192]
That’s very straightforward.
…one will achieve infinite wealth following the bodhisattva’s life.
That’s the one that’s a little deceptive, you become infinite wealth, because you know you don’t need anything. And you create the conditions in which you can really help others.
Okay. I think we’ve covered all the topics. Any questions? We’ve gone a little bit over, actually a fair amount over. But I’ll have to speed up next time.
Okay. For next week we are going to be doing morality. Moral ethics.
What I want you to explore this time is the difference between doing the moral thing because you know it is the moral thing to do, and doing the moral thing because it is the natural thing to do. The difference between doing the moral thing because you know it’s the moral or the right thing to do and doing the moral thing because it is the natural thing to do. So this is going to be an exploration of what gets in the way inside you of naturally doing the right thing. Anybody have any experience with that? This resonates with you, does it, Randye?
Randye: Oh, yeah.
Ken: Oh yeah. Good. Anybody else make sense of this one? Lynea?
Ken: Going to enjoy this one?
Lynea: Oh yeah.
Ken: Oh yeah. As in, NO! [Laughs]