Tag Archives: compassion

The Nature Of Dana: Generosity In Action

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

The nature of dana, generosity or giving, relates directly to hearing and responding to one’s spiritual calling. In Master Dogen’s ‘Shobogenzo’, two chapters address dana in different ways. The first talk is entitled “Establishment of the Bodhi Mind” and was directed to the laity, and the second is called “Establishment of the Will to the Supreme” which Dogen addressed to the temple monks. These talks were given on the same day about six hours apart we are told, just after Dogen entered his new monastic home in the mountains.

The first instruction was given to the laity as a lesson on generosity of life as it is. He was imploring those who were donating money or labor to the temple, to continue to do so. An age old challenge that continues to haunt Buddhist teachers even today. A little time later, he offered a talk to the monastics in his newly established monastery, but this time focusing on impermanence, the absolutely fleeting nature of life. He beseeched the monastics to give their life away to others, to not get lost in zazen and the solitary practice of realizing themselves before taking care of all beings, including those he had addressed six hours earlier. These two teachings, different in perspective but focused on the same subject, takes dana as the act of contributing to the Sangha’s upkeep and highlights its place in a compassionate practice. The human emotion of compassion is developed when you give selflessly. Likewise, when one receives they are given an opportunity for experiencing feelings of compassion.

Dogen was a master strategist as well as a brilliant dharma teacher as his written works in our possession today reflects. His wonderful teaching reveals dana within a beautiful, circular path, flowing in both directions among the laity and the monastics. Utterly and forever different, each giving to the other. The recognition of the inter-being of self and other. The social-self in action. Through these two we create a wonderful interplay of dana, of exchange, of one hand supporting the other and the other supporting the first to the point that it is not clear which is giving and which is receiving. That is when we enter into the heart of ‘dana paramita,’ the perfection of selfless giving. The term ‘dana’ when used alone is referencing our actions toward upkeep of something we highly value. The term ‘dana paramita’ encompasses all acts of generosity, including those of supporting directly the transmission of the dharma. Continue reading

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Refining The Practice Of Generosity

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

Compassion and generosity are two of the primary practice refinements in Mahayana Buddhist thought. It might be easy to see them as interchangeable when connecting with others. While there is a relationship between them, it is also helpful to examine them in the context of how each is approached when cultivating an aware practice. They are each a characteristic of our behavior when we begin to awaken from a self-centered world to one interconnected in a net of dependent relationships with all living things. While generosity is an element of the Six Perfections, compassion is not, and stands at the threshold of an awakened bodymind. In the Ch’an tradition, in all Mahayana Buddhist traditions in fact, an enlightened path is one that acknowledges that wisdom and compassion is essential if we are to experience full awakening to what Buddha nature is. Generosity is a necessary intentional action that is preparatory for wisdom and compassion to emerge into the light of our awakened bodymind.

We must come to understand that when acts of generosity are fully present in our everyday interactions with others, it is only then that the compassionate human emotion arises making further concerns for displaying generosity unnecessary. Our efforts of generosity are necessary only when we lack compassion for others that is the foundation of the ethical and moral precepts of the bodhisattva’s path. While genuine compassion might seem a natural element of a Buddhist practice, or what it means to be human really, it only emerges with great sincerity when we walk the cultivated path of awareness. Until that is achieved, the teachings and practices of generosity are available to help inaugurate a practice of wisdom and readiness. So the role of generosity is the first important element of refining a practice that moves us toward compassion that plants the seed capable of stripping away the filters that sees the self as separate and independent of all other universal expression. Generous and compassionate treatment of others may be the only path toward an awakened bodymind, and is why the dedicated practice of the Three Pure Precepts is the golden thread the must run thought every action we take in a world full of possible awakened moments when we are ready.

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