Twice a year as the equinox occurs we celebrate Ohigan. This is a time during which we pay particular attention to our practice of the Six Paramitas, for the five days surrounding the equinox. While we are supposed to adhere to these Six Paramitas every day, in all actuality for many on a day-to-day basis we probably sometimes fall a bit short of the mark. So during the Ohigan season we are encouraged to refocus our attention on being mindful and practicing with greater diligence these six rules or guidelines.
The Six Paramitas are; 1. Giving – Dana, 2. Discipline – Five Precepts, 3. Patience, 4. Effort, 5. Meditation, and 6. Wisdom. The Five Precepts are; 1. Not to take life, 2. Not to take what is not yours, 3. Not to engage in sexual misconduct, 4. Not to tell an untruth, 5. Not to use intoxicants.
As an aide to focusing our behavior and our mind, or at least my behavior and my mind, I thought I would take some time out of the next few days and write about each of the Six Paramitas.
Today, I will start with number one which is Giving or Dana.
Americans are famous for our generosity and volunteerism. We gladly and without second thought rush to aid any and all throughout our communities and the world. It has been said that Americans can be some of the most generous people when it comes to aiding charities. I don’t know if that is true or not, it at least makes us feel good and perhaps prideful of our efforts.
I do know that there are many other countries where people gladly and willing make donations so I do suspect the claim that Americans do more than others. We certainly have had our great moments in history where we have given greatly, even at our own sacrifice.
This first precept of Giving or Dana, is somewhat different than perhaps most people are accustomed to thinking about, though I am sure some do.
Dana is the act of giving without ANY expectation of reward or benefit.
Think about that for a moment. No reward, no thanks, no benefit, no tax deduction, no write off, no name recognition, perhaps no appreciation, no self congratulations, no quiet satisfaction of performance, perhaps even no warm fuzzy feeling. How hard is that?
Just giving because you want to and in appreciation, giving as your thanks.
Imagine if you will, standing at a door (perhaps even a Wal-Mart greeter) and all day long holding the door open for people to walk through. How long could you do it without starting to feel a bit peeved because people didn’t say thank you? How long could you be the greeter at the Wal-Mart door and say “Welcome to Wal-Mart” and have people completely ignore you, or even scowl at you or treat you with disdain? And do it without pay! Just because you wanted to, who would want to?
I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t do it for very long without developing a tension either in my mind or in my gut. I might be able to avoid saying something snarky but I am sure that after a while I would probably be thinking something snarky or worse.
In Buddhism we are not saying go out and be a “for free greeter” at Wal-Mart, but we are trying to learn to be generous with our selves, our time, our lives, our money for no other reason than to express our appreciation to the Dharma or teachings of the Buddha.
Dana, is about being generous. It is about taking to heart the first of the Four Great Vows of a Bodhisattva, which is to save all being no matter how numerous they may be, even before ourselves. What I like to affectionately refer to as the first of the Great Impossibilities. It may be impossible, but that is not an excuse for not trying.
Dana is about selflessness in gratitude. It may be hard, and it may be uncomfortable, but we as Buddhists have to try.
While there is nothing per se wrong with giving and expecting a tax write off, or expecting a thank you, it is important to realize that as far as the Paramita of Dana, that isn’t it.
As we enter the Ohigan season I hope we all strive with just a tad bit more effort to learn to be and to become more genuinely giving.