Last November I sat in the Dhamma hall at Harnham Buddhist Monastery and heard Ajahn Sucitto give a talk all about dana (giving). I was inspired by the openness of heart he spoke of and the importance of this aspect of our spiritual practice and so I’ve been meaning to write something on this for a few weeks now.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of sharing and giving to others. Sometimes we’re all so fixated on our practice and how to make progress that we can, without noticing it, become very introspective and self-focussed. It’s important to take the time to balance this by being able to be simply aware in the world and walk through it seeing what’s there without concern for our own ‘spiritual agenda’.
The Buddha said, ‘If you knew what I know about giving, you would not let a single meal pass without offering to share it.’ So why is it so important, and why at times can it seem so unappealing and difficult?
This goes back to the root of our spiritual quest. Realising the truth is not about achieving freedom for you, it’s about achieving freedom from you. So much of what we do is simply a movement within the self. When we stop concerning ourselves with our progress, our attainments, our achievements and consider instead others around us we automatically gain a little more freedom.
To be giving, to be kind, to be sharing brings an opening of the heart that leads us beyond the sense of self. When we can listen with complete openness to the needs of others, without judgement it’s a sign that we’re starting to look at the world the way it is not the way we want to make it.
When we consider the act of giving at first it can raise some questions for us. How much should I give? To whom should I give? What do I need and what can I afford to offer? But giving is not just about money or things. Sometimes what we give is our time, our full attention, a kind thought or word. To have an attitude of giving is to be in a situation and not have ‘what I need’ at the top of our agenda. It’s about surrendering ourselves to that place and that moment and seeing what it brings. Then what we can bring to it becomes clear in our hearts.
Life will always surround us with the set of circumstances we need at any point in time. Why? Because where you are is nothing more than the result of every decision you’ve made in this and every lifetime. You got you here and don’t think it’s otherwise. What you can give and how you have the opportunity to give will present itself in your life, and keep presenting itself in your life. All we have to do is listen and look with an open heart.
And if the opportunity to give arises and our heart contracts and shrinks away then reflect on this. What am I holding onto? What am I trying to protect? What will I not share? These are our lessons. Giving our time, our attention and our friendship are the most important ways we can give of ourselves.
The movement of the present in the manifest universe, all of the multitude of dynamic, interactive causes and effects are simply the balance of the universe maintaining itself across the cosmos. How that affects us is simply this, if you want to get you have to give. The balance of life will only offer you what you have offered to life. So to give openly and freely is to fill your life with joy. To live only serving yourself is to move in one small and insular circle.
Whatever we have given freely in life will always be repaid. And whatever we are due will always be given to us. That’s why we don’t need to spend our days worrying about our possessions. What are possessions anyway. It amazes me when people claim ownership, ‘This is my house!’ Is it? It was built and lived in before you came here. When you’re gone someone else will live in it. In what way is it yours? How does this earth belong to you?
It’s so easy to miss the fact that our possessions own us, not the other way around, so be careful what you’re holding onto. Once you have enough in life to have your needs met, everything else is riches. And as you came into this life with nothing so will you leave it with nothing. So why hold on so tightly to what we have in the meantime?
To work honestly and openly in the present will bring us the rewards we are due – not when we want them, but when it is time for us to have them. And that’s all we have to do, to make the right effort in the right direction. When in our life the opportunity arises for us to be able to give then we have the chance to consider this with an open heart and to offer what we can.