Monday, March 20, 2006

Greatest Gift

"O monks, if people knew, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of [stinginess] to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. But, monks, as people, do not know, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given, and the stain of [stinginess] obsesses them and takes root in their minds."

(Itivuttaka 26;18-19)

We give a dollar here and a few coins there or perhaps we send out a check once a month, but we are so unwilling to give our time and attention or dedicate too much of ourselves to the spirit of giving. Money? This can be a welcome gift under the proper circumstances, but this gift will not remove the burden of suffering from others. To feed a family for one night is charity, but we must ask if we are part of a greater system which perpetuates the suffering of that same family.

We, followers of the Dharma, members of the Mahasangha, all under the light of Buddha Gautama, have a gift to share that carries with it no price tag, no religious obligations for the receiver, no expectation of return, but only movement of a wheel of evolution towards the alleviation of suffering. What is this gift?

When the Buddha expounded the eight streams of merit, he began with the familiar Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. What followed were five precepts, vows to be followed by all Buddhists, as gifts to all beings, to free them from fear, lighten their burden, and lessen their shadow.

"There are further, monks, these five gifts- pristine, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated...."

"Here, monks, a noble disciple gives up the destruction of life and abstains from it. By abstaining from the destruction of life, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression."
(Anguttara Nikaya 8:39;IV245-47)

This is a very large gift to beings everywhere. How few find the strength to do so. Too many find excuses to withhold this gift. In the Buddha's time, the monks lived on the alms collected door to door, from the charity of householders. They did not choose their meal. Surviving on only alms, it is true that they would have eaten meat. It is also true that in most parts of the world, even today, meat is a luxury eaten rarely and it is doubtful that it was handed out to monks regularly. The monks would have survived primarily on rice and grains from the kitchens of the householders. Many use the example of the alms of the Buddha's time as an excuse to eat meat. There is a fundamental difference in alms and choosing our food at the grocery store.
"But I didn't kill it!" we say. Oversimplifyng the laws of supply and demand and the inventory systems of major grocery store chains, imagine that there are 20 slots for steak on the shelf. If we purchase 1 steak, that steak will be replaced with a new steak. If we did not bring about the destruction of life of the cow of our steak, we have sealed the fate for the cow of the next steak down the line. This is so for each piece of meat we purchase. Demand will be met at the grocery store. We didn't kill the cow but we bring about the destruction of life nonetheless.
How can we claim to give when we take, and how can we find any peace in meditation knowing that any number of beings live in fear based on our appetites? Did the Buddha mean cows, chickens, ants, and cockroaches when he said immeasurable beings? Of course. Though not about the above topic, we see the Buddha define what a "being" is:

"To whatever extent there are beings, whether footless or with two feet, four feet, or many feet, whether having form or formless, whether percipient or nonpercipient, the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One is declared best among them."
(Anguttara Nikaya 4:34;II 34-35)

Sadly, many people will go to great lengths to build complex labyrinths of false logic to justify violating moral codes that they themselves stand for. I sat down for dinner in a restaurant with a woman from Peta (though she may not represent the organization as a whole) who spoke at length about the cruelty and insanity of hunting elephants and other majestic animals. She went from one animal to another, explaining how each suffered at the hands of man. A small voice of question started to whisper in the back of my mind. Every animal that she mentioned was cute and cuddly. Not once did she mention saving an animal that was no so majestic, like a cow, chicken, or pig. (Nor would it be logical to only save animals that are near extinction, for there are millions and millions and millions of humans, and we seem to value them to some degree)

And then our meals arrived. On her plate was the once majestic chest muscle of a chicken, seasoned and fried. I could only close my eyes. Removed from the scene of destruction of life, unattached from the original form, she could take the life of one and attempt to teach others not to take the life of another. One cannot teach from the grand podium of a hypocrite. "All creatures that are cute and cuddly should be protected and anything with feathers is for dinner!" is not going to inspire many people.

We all know the other four gifts:
2. Abstaining from taking what is not given
3. Abstaining from sexual misconduct
4. Abstaining from False Speech
5. Abstaining from intoxicants

When we uphold our five precepts, without a labyrinth of false logic, holding true to their meaning, we give the immeasurable beings freedom from fear. There is no greater gift we can give to the world. We are only 6% of the population ( but we can affect change. The West is only now becoming comfortable with the Buddhist ideas of peace, and we must share with them, through action, our idea of freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. Peaceful minds will make peaceful communities, which make peaceful countries, which make peaceful worlds. As the sangha grows, the wheel thus turns again and the Pure Land comes into view. We all have the map...
Sutras from:
Bodhi, Bhikkhu In The Buddha's Words Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2005



At 3:23 PM, Blogger Tina said...

Surfed here via BlogMad. Gotta love the double credits. Enjoyed looking over your blog. Spread the love!

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Bodhiwater said...

Thanks for stopping by.


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