Transcribed talks by Ratnaghosa

From Confidence to Compassion

Talk three of four on generosity or dana

Recently Dharmachari Shakyanand died in India and Padmavajra wrote about what sort of person Shakyanand was. He wrote about a tour they went on together; "My strongest memory of that tour was before a talk in a large village. It was the last talk of the day and we arrived as the sun was setting. As we stepped from the car a marching band started up, drummers began to pound out a rhythm and fireworks began to explode. About twenty village women had lined up either side of the dust road to the village. Each one of them was beautifully dressed and held a shiny brass water pot. Another woman came and anointed us with red powder. It was a magnificent welcome. As I stepped forward to walk between the lines of women, Shakyanand held me back gently with his arm and told me “Padmavajra all this is for Bhante. It is not for us. Bhante has made all this possible. This welcome is for Bhante”. I was very moved by this. It was as if he was urging me to offer up this welcome to Bhante because he had made our Dharma teaching tour possible. We were only passing on what Bhante had taught us. Since that time I have often pondered on those few words of Shakyanand’s in that village; often pondered the fact that just about everything of value and substance that I have tried to communicate has come from Bhante."

(13) Anything of substance or value that I have to communicate about Dana comes from Sangharakshita too and I would like to dedicate this talk to Sangharakshita. I want to start, as I did in a previous talk, by quoting Sangharakshita from the lecture “Perfect Emotion”, “Dana is the basic Buddhist virtue, without which you can hardly call yourself a Buddhist. Dana consists not so much in the act of giving as in the feeling of wanting to give, of wanting to share what you have with other people.”(14) So Dana is the feeling of wanting to give. If it remains as just a feeling of wanting to give and never passes over into the activity of giving I doubt if it could be called Dana. Then it would simply be blocked energy. Dana is energy that has been freed. Energy that has been freed from the constraints of our selfishness. When we feel the impulse to generosity and act on that impulse we allow our energy to move, we allow the vibrant life swelling within us to expand out into the world. We allow our consciousness to expand and mingle, as it were, with the consciousness of other. Dana is an expansion of consciousness. Dana, the feeling of wanting to give, is a spiritual experience. It is the seed of compassion within us, when we act on the impulse to give we orient ourselves in the direction of the Bodhisattva Ideal, we respond to the call of the Bodhicitta. Dana is the feeling of wanting to give. In order to practise Dana then we need to firstly experience the feeling of wanting to give and secondly we need to give. We need to experience the impulse and we need to act on it. Do we experience the feeling of wanting to give? Often? Always? Do we give unhesitatingly when we experience that feeling, that impulse to give? I suspect the answer is both yes and no in many cases, in most cases even. What do we have to do in order to experience the feeling of wanting to give more often and more thoroughly? And what do we have to do in order to be able and willing to act on the feeling of wanting to give? Here is a favourite quote from Sangharakshita again; There is in fact only one need of one’s own that has to be fulfilled before one can preoccupy oneself effectively with the needs of others, and it is not a physical or material need, but simply a matter of emotional positivity and security. We need to appreciate our own worth and feel that it is appreciated by others, to love ourselves and feel that we are loved by others.(15) This seems very simple. Unfortunately, from my experience, there are quite a lot of people who do not manage this very well, even people who have been ordained for many years. It would seem that this need to appreciate your own worth and feel that it is appreciated by others, love yourself and feel that you are loved by others, is only simple in the sense that it is simple to say. Beyond that it is not necessarily complex but it does seem to be extremely difficult for many people, even for many of us in the Order. Now let us look at this a bit more closely. Why is it important, in fact necessary, to appreciate and love ourselves? Are we not in danger of becoming a bit self indulgent if we adopt this philosophy? If we say to ourselves, “Well I can’t give, I don’t love myself, and as far as I can see nobody else loves me. So I’ll just have to wait until I love myself and feel sure that others love and appreciate me before I start to give.” I am sure all of us do give in many ways. But what we are talking about here is giving effectively. There are many examples of people giving quite sincerely, but the effectiveness of the giving being vitiated, being compromised by their feelings of emotional impoverishment. For instance, sometimes in team-based right livelihoods, team members and others start to complain about money and often in my experience this is an indication of the lack of love (Metta) in their lives. Money is seen as a way to cope with feelings of impoverishment, richness is projected onto money. Or sometimes in communities, people complain about the domestic habits of others. And when the complaints start to rise to a clamour or even crescendo, there is usually something else behind it all and that something else is often a lack of love and friendship. These are just two examples of how the effectiveness of our generosity can be impaired by our feelings of emotional impoverishment, our inability ‘to appreciate our own worth and feel that it is appreciated by others.’ So it becomes an urgent necessity for us to do something about this. It becomes an urgent necessity for us to ensure that we love ourselves and feel that we are loved by others, appreciate our own worth and feel that it is appreciated by others. That is what we have to do to increase and enhance the effectiveness of our practice of Dana. How do we do this? I am going to suggest several ways. First of all I am going to go through a list devised by myself of four ways in which we can love ourselves and four ways in which we can feel that we are loved by others. Then I am going to go through a more traditional list from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa, a list of the eight ways in which Bodhisattvas hurt themselves and from that list I will try to draw out some lessons of relevance to us. First of all my own list. How to love yourself or to appreciate your own worth: 1. Take Responsibility for it 2. Touch the Earth of Experience 3. The Book of Abundance 4. Do something So firstly you have to take responsibility for it. It is something you have to do. If you do not love yourself, you need to realise and acknowledge that this is something you are doing to yourself, something you are responsible for. So in taking responsibility for appreciating and loving yourself you need to commit yourself to it as a practice and constantly remind yourself of the fundamental necessity of Metta. Also you may need to shake off any assumptions you have about your basic badness. I would say that you should assume that you are okay, in that you are worthwhile rather than worthless. In Christianity everybody is (or at least was) tainted by original sin and should assume themselves to be bad. As Buddhists we know that Enlightenment is possible for all human beings and that we are basically worthwhile, if somewhat blinded by spiritual ignorance. The first step to take in order to love ourselves is to take responsibility for it as an essential element in our spiritual progress. Secondly, we need to touch the earth of experience, that is the earth of our own experience, and call forth the goddess of our spiritual practice to bear witness to the value of our lives. To be on the spiritual Path is something extraordinary, something of great significance, spiritually, historically and on a cosmic level. We need to take this seriously. To have found a spiritual Path is to have achieved something of greatness in our lives. By reflecting on this, on the spiritual significance, the historical significance and the cosmic significance of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and the part we play in it, we may come to understand the meaning and value of what we have achieved and appreciate the enormous worth of what we are doing with this precious life. That reflection is what I call touching the earth of experience. The third item on my list is the Book of Abundance. This is something I came across in a book called, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and I thought it was a useful idea especially for those who have a particular difficulty with self-Metta. This is how the author puts it: Buy yourself a beautiful notebook, as expensive as you can afford. Start filling it by listing as many positive things in your life – past and present – as you can think of. Don’t stop until you reach 150. Some of you will find more. When you feel you can’t think of any more, you can. Just keep focusing on all the blessings in your life. No matter how small they seem, include them in your book. Each day make entries in your book. Instead of a traditional diary – which for many is comprised of doom and gloom, wish and want – create this book, which in effect simply states ‘I have!’ Note every positive thing, large or small, that happens – a compliment from a friend, a cheerful hello from the postman, a beautiful sky, a chance to contribute, a haircut, a new suit, nourishing food. Notice everything good that happens to you. Look for blessings, and you will notice them all over the place. They will envelop you. There is so much you are not seeing that is already there. There is no need to feel scarcity, when there is such abundance.(16) That is the Book of Abundance, a simple technique to focus on the positive in your life and give it attention rather than wallowing in the doom and gloom. As members of the Spiritual Community we probably should not need this technique. Our Book of Abundance is our friendships, meditation, ethical and devotional practices. If you have maintained and strengthened your friendships and other practices that will give you the expansive perspective that I am getting at by talking about focusing on the positive in our lives. If you have not developed and strengthened your friendships and other practices or if you have allowed them to diminish or fall away, then you will probably find it difficult to sustain the practice of Dana and you will need to take some steps to cultivate the field of positive emotions within your experience by some means, whether by using the Book of Abundance or Metta Bhavana or re-connecting with your friendships or through the Arts or whatever. The last point on my list is Do Something. What I am getting at here is a point I have made before. We must make the law of karma work for us if we are to experience a clear conscience and its consequent joyfulness. It is important that we live our lives now. If we wait for confidence to arise before we act, we will never do anything. Confidence comes to us as a consequence of what we do. If we act in spite of lack of confidence we will gain confidence. That is certainly my own experience and it is also the Law of Karma. Karma means action. In his lecture, “Are There Ethics in the Order”, Subhuti has this to say about karma: Now one of the reasons I think why we become obsessed with our own feelings is that we have little conviction in the efficacy of action. We don’t actually believe that acting can in the end change the way we feel. Therefore we look for techniques and remedies – professional help, the stars, needles, whatever it is – in order to change us because we have no faith in the principle of karma. And this is pretty fundamental. As Buddhists, in Going for Refuge to the Dharma, this is one of the major principles of the Dharma, this is one of the major principles of the Dharma that we take on. We take on the perspective that the universe is fundamentally moral, that morality, that ethics, is part of the nature of things. It is not something adventitious or added on or sort of made up or invented. It is not something that we can choose to have or not to have. The universe is, as it were, moral in its very nature. Skilful action always brings about the appropriate responses, the appropriate effects, both internally and externally. Unskilful action always leads to the appropriate effects within the universe and within our own minds. It is not haphazard or random. The universe does not play dice with us. It is actually part of the universe. The effects that we get from our actions are part of the nature of things, can’t be made in another way – it is the way things actually are. And this is Dharma. This is part of the meaning of Dharma. In a sense you could say that our effort is rewarded. This is something that we can have complete confidence in.(17) So we need to act in the face of our fears and our actions will have the beneficial effect of changing us into more mature, confident, effective, adult people with a capacity to live life fully. This then is my recipe for self Metta: 1. Take responsibility for it 2. Touch the earth of your experience 3. The Book of Abundance, and 4. Do something – make use of the Law of Karma. The second part of Sangharakshita’s advice to us if we want to practise the Bodhisattva Ideal is to feel that we are loved by others or feel that we are appreciated by others. How do we do this? Again I have a list of four things: 1. Listen to what they say 2. Ask them 3. Rejoice in Merits 4. Do Something I will go through these very briefly. Firstly listen to what other people say to you and about you. If you hear compliments do not brush them off, take them seriously. Often what others most appreciate about us is what we take for granted or even think of as a limitation. So someone might say to me, ‘you are a capable speaker’ and I could think, “But I can’t meditate for peanuts.” Now it might be true that I am not a great meditator, but that is no reason for me to undermine a compliment on some other ability. Anyway, I promise if you want to compliment me on my talk I will listen to you this time. So, yes, let us listen and receive what is said to us. Secondly, if it is essential that we feel that we are appreciated by others, and Sangharakshita tells us it is essential, then I think that within the Spiritual Community we should not hesitate to ask others to appreciate us. We should be helping each other to change and one potent way of doing this is with the encouragement of appreciation. So ask someone to appreciate you if necessary; your need is their opportunity. Thirdly, Rejoice in Merits. What you send out into the world is what comes back to you. We create the world we live in, we create the atmosphere that surrounds us. if we rejoice in the merits of others, even only within the privacy of our hearts, that rejoicing will have an effect on how we interact with others and will influence how others perceive us and relate to us. If we rejoice in others our own lives will be appreciably enhanced. And the fourth point on my list is the same as on the previous list – Do something. We will learn that we are appreciated by others if we act. It gives people something tangible to appreciate and one of the consequences of skilful action is the gratitude of those affected by it. So that is my formula for feeling that you are loved by others: 1. Listen to what they say 2. Ask them to appreciate you 3. Rejoice in Merits 4. Do something. Now I would like to go on to look at the traditional list from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa. In the sutra the Buddha is telling Maitreya how Bodhisattvas harm themselves. Depending on the translation there is either a list of eight things or four things. I am going to use the list of eight. So there are four ways in which the Beginner Bodhisattvas hurt themselves and there are four ways in which the Senior Bodhisattvas hurt themselves. I hope to be able to draw some positive lessons from these that we can apply to ourselves and that can help us to live in the spirit of generosity. Here is what the Vimalakirti Nirdesa says; Maitreya, there are four causes through which beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves and do not analyse the profound Law. What are these four? 1. On hearing this profound Sutranta not yet heard before, they are afraid, hesitant, and do not delight in it. 2. By asking themselves: “From where does this Sutranta, not yet heard before, come to us?” they put it in question and reject it. 3. On seeing the sons of good family take up, adopt or expound this profound Sutranta, they do not serve them, do not frequent them, do not respect them and do not revere them. 4. Finally, they even go so far as to address criticisms at them. Such are the four causes through which beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves and do not analyse the profound Law. There are four causes through which Bodhisattvas, even while believing in this profound interpretation of the Law, harm themselves and do not rapidly obtain the certainty concerning the non-arising of dharmas. Which are these four? 1. These Bodhisattvas despise and reprove the beginner Bodhisattvas who, even while pledged to the Great Vehicle, have not exercised the practices for a long time. 2. They refuse to receive them and instruct them. 3. Not having great faith in the profound doctrine, they do not have great respect for its very extensive rules. 4. They help beings through material gifts and not through the giving of the Law.(18) I would like to go through these points one by one and by seeing how we harm ourselves, we may be able to learn how to benefit ourselves. I will leave it to you to interpret for yourselves how the terms Beginner Bodhisattva and Veteran Bodhisattva (as used in the Thurman translation) might apply to the Order and the Movement. First of all the Beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves by being afraid, hesitant and not delighting in the teaching, or as Thurman translates it, being terrified, doubtful and not rejoicing in the teaching. So we are starting with a lack of Faith. There is fear and doubt and an inability to delight in the good. So Faith is needed, confidence is needed. We harm ourselves by our lack of faith. Faith in the Dharma is faith in the Buddha. Faith in the Buddha is faith in the human potential for Enlightenment. This in the end is faith in ourselves, in other words, yet again, to be effective we need to appreciate ourselves and feel that we are appreciated by others, love ourselves and feel that we are loved by others. The second way the Beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves is that they ask, “Whence comes this teaching never heard before?” and they reject it. Here we have a lack of openness to new experience, a rejection of what is not already known. So we can harm ourselves by our lack of openness to new experience. As Sangharakshita says in The Religion of Art, “Selfishness is simply unwillingness to face new experiences.”(19) Then the Beginner Bodhisattvas hurt themselves by their attitude to those who do take the teaching and practice wholeheartedly. They do not serve them, do not befriend them, do not revere them. So not only is there fear and doubt but also a sort of ‘sour grapes’ attitude to those who do practise and progress. This could be characterised as pride or arrogance. So we can harm ourselves spiritually by having a negative attitude to others who practise. The last way that the Beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves is that they go so far as to criticise those who do practise wholeheartedly. Criticism here obviously does not mean constructive feedback. It means carping criticism, cynicism, reactivity. We can harm ourselves by indulging in these. So the Beginner Bodhisattvas harm themselves through lack of faith, lack of openness to new experiences, a negative attitude to those who do practise strongly and by giving voice to that attitude in cynicism and carping criticism. We need to be wary of these four too so that we do not harm ourselves. Conversely we can benefit ourselves by cultivating faith; faith in the Dharma, faith in Sangharakshita, faith in the Order. We can benefit ourselves by being open to new experiences, to changes which benefit the Movement. We can benefit ourselves by serving, befriending and honouring those who practise more wholeheartedly than ourselves. We benefit ourselves by recognising spiritual hierarchy and we can benefit ourselves by rejoicing and delighting in those who practise wholeheartedly. If we act like this we will be cultivating and nourishing the field of positive emotion that is essential to the practice of Dana Paramita. If the soil is poor the crops will be poor. The soil must be cultivated and nourished to produce abundant crops. The soil of our positive emotions must be cultivated, developed, and nourished if we are to produce the richness and abundance that bears fruit in acts of generosity. Let us look now at how the Senior or Veteran Bodhisattvas harm themselves. Firstly, they despise and reproach the Beginner Bodhisattvas who have not been practising for long. So here we have at best a lack of patience and at worst a deliberate undermining of someone else’s attempts to practise. By being impatient, and not encouraging others, we harm ourselves. Secondly, the Senior Bodhisattvas harm themselves by refusing to receive and instruct the Beginner Bodhisattvas. They refuse to give Kalyana Mitrata in other words. So we can harm ourselves by refusing to give Kalyana Mitrata to those less developed than ourselves. If we refuse to give Kalyana Mitrata we strangle the spirit of the Dharma. Thirdly, the Senior Bodhisattvas harm themselves by not respecting the rules or in other words by not observing the Precepts. We will harm ourselves if we do not respect and observe the Precepts. In my view The Ten Pillars of Buddhism is one of the most amazing gifts that Sangharakshita has given us. We ought to study it and revere it, and practise it. Finally the Senior Bodhisattvas harm themselves by giving material gifts only and not giving the Dharma. We can harm ourselves if we only do good works but do not give of ourselves. As Sangharakshita puts it in Wisdom Beyond Words; Any amount of giving of material things in the ordinary worldly sense, however appropriate, necessary, and beneficial it may be on its own level or however meritorious in a traditional Buddhist sense, is completely incomparable with even the smallest amount of giving of the Dharma … If you go and give just one talk on the Dharma to an audience of people who have never heard the Dharma before, the amount of merit you thereby generate is far greater than if you spent, say, ten thousand lifetimes as a social worker in ten thousand different worlds.(20) Like the Senior Bodhisattvas we too can harm ourselves if we are impatient and discouraging to others, if we refuse to give Kalyana Mitrata, if we fail to respect the Precepts and if we do not give the Dharma. On the other hand, we can greatly benefit ourselves by practising patience, by treating others with Metta and encouraging them. We can benefit ourselves by giving Kalyana Mitrata. We can benefit ourselves by putting ourselves wholeheartedly into the observance of the Precepts. We can benefit ourselves by taking every opportunity to spread the Dharma. I quoted Sangharakshita at the outset as saying that Dana was ‘the feeling of wanting to give’ and I further quoted him as saying that all we need in order to be able to effectively meet the needs of others is emotional positivity and security. ‘We need to appreciate our own worth and feel that it is appreciated by others, we need to love ourselves and feel that we are loved by others.’ I have looked at several of the ingredients necessary to create this emotional positivity and security. Now I would like to look at a Path of Progress through Generosity that will take us around the Mandala of the five Buddhas. Before we enter the Mandala in the East, we hear the undermining voice of Mara saying, “Who do you think you are? How can you be generous?” Then coming into the sphere of influence of Akshobya we touch the earth of our experience and begin to feel the confidence of our worth. We love ourselves, we feel that we are appreciated. Our life has taken us this far, we are on the spiritual Path; we have received friendship and teaching from those we honour and respect. We have been appreciated indeed. Our confidence grows into an imperturbable faith in our potential and touching the earth again we call forth the goddess of our creativity, richness and abundance. We are now in the glorious realm of Ratnasambhava. Joyfully, exuberantly, increasingly we are giving impulsively, spontaneously. We are having a ball with the outpouring of generous feelings and throwing all caution to the winds we let our generous impulses dance free and naked through the sky, until we subside into the rich red tranquillity of Amitabha’s sphere replenishing ourselves in the depths where the expansiveness of Ratnasambhava is nourished, contained, integrated, centred and becomes fierce hot energy directed towards the surmounting of all obstacles. From the depths we rise, fearless, ready to act, sure of success, skilled in the use of the Law of Karma. We are under the influence of Amoghasiddhi and there is no longer any crisis of confidence. To be alive is to act and to act is to give. To give the Dharma, fearlessly. Having come this far there is an increasing congruency between what we say and what we do and as we move into the realm of Vairocana we find that we are embodying the Dharma more and more so that to speak is to speak Dharma, to think is to think Dharma and to act is to give Dharma. Our Faith in the Dharma and our confidence in ourselves become the same thing. There are no limits to the benefits of giving. Generosity is as Sangharakshita says, the basic Buddhist virtue and as we grow, as we progress spiritually our generosity moves from Precept to Paramita and from Paramita to Sangrahavastu. From giving as a discipline, to a more spontaneous giving, to giving for the sake of creating Sangha. I want now to look at two ways of giving before I finish off. These are giving money and giving life and limb. First of all, giving money. As Sangharakshita says in his lecture on Buddhist Economics, “Money is rather a strange thing. One could almost say that money is everything except money. People’s attitude to money is rather strange. The strangest thing about people’s attitude to money perhaps is their reluctance to part with it.”(21) Do you find people’s reluctance to part with money strange? I do not, but I think Sangharakshita is speaking from a different perspective, a different level of spiritual insight than I am capable of, and from that level, from that perspective, people’s (our) reluctance to part with money is strange. Money is an illusion of security, money is an illusion of wealth. We project richness on to money and then of course we do not want to part with it, we do not want to part with richness. So the wealth and richness that we project on to money makes it a painful business for us to part with it, even for the sake of the Dharma. But part with it we must. If your hopes and fears are hovering around your pot of gold then your life is poor indeed. We cannot rely on money, on salary, savings or inheritance. We can rely on each other, on friendship, on trust. Trust, according to Sangharakshita, “Is the confidence that the other person will deal with you in accordance with the love mode rather than in accordance with the power mode.”(22) This trust is what we need to rely on for our security as members of the Spiritual Community rather than on money. We need to loosen our grip on our money. We need to loosen our mental grip on our money so that our minds can become free to grasp other, more subtle things. We need to loosen our physical grip on our money so that the Movement from which we have gained so much and to which we are dedicated can expand and prosper. There are two levels to the third Precept, namely refraining from sexual misconduct, and then refraining from sexual activity altogether. I would like to suggest that we could have two levels to the second Precept, namely refraining from taking the not given and refraining from unnecessary possessions. If we all refrained from buying or accumulating unnecessary possessions I am sure we could thereby generate substantial funds for the furtherance of the Dharma. For a start, we could help to realise Sangharakshita’s vision of a College of Public Preceptors and a Memorial Library. This would involve inconvenience to ourselves and this is how I would like to interpret the giving of life and limb to make it relevant to us. To give life and limb is to be willing to suffer some inconvenience or hardship for the sake of the Dharma for Bhante’s sake and for the sake of the Movement. This year with the Sangharakshita Appeal we have the opportunity to give our money and to accept inconvenience for the sake of the future flourishing of Dharma activities around the world and to help Bhante realise his vision. As Padmavajra realised when he was in India with Dharmachari Shakyanand, just about everything of value and substance in our lives was given to us by Bhante. The gratitude we owe to Bhante can only be expressed by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to the practice of the Dharma and by doing all we can to help him actualise his expansive vision of a world permeated by the values and principles of Buddhism.

From Confidence to Compassion - References (13) Shabda, December 1994. (14) Sangharakshita, Vision and Transformation, page 43. (15) Sangharakshita, Wisdom Beyond Words, page 83. (16) Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and do it Anyway, page 184. (17) Subhuti, Are There Ethics in the Order?, page 10 (18) Lamotte, The Teaching of Vimalakirti, page 269. (19) Sangharakshita, The Religion of Art, page 87. (20) Sangharakshita, Wisdom Beyond Words, page 115. (21) Sangharakshita, Transforming Self and World, page 185. (22) Sangharakshita, Seminar on the Sutra of Golden Light.