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Lions Roar : January 2014
same time. This is our practice and our joy. So we practice giving—both receiving and giving gifts—in this spirit. Some gifts we see as gifts (the birth- day or holiday gift) and others we usu- ally don’t see as gifts (the gift of sunlight, the gift of breath). The practice of giving extends to all forms of giving. Traditionally, there are three things to give: material gifts, the gift of dharma, and the gift of freedom. But really there are many more things to give: the gift of listening, the gift of love, the gift of cre- ation, attention, and effort. To make a poem or a painting is to practice giving, as is cooking a meal, cleaning a room, put- ting a single flower in a vase. In his fascicle “Four Methods of Guidance for Bodhisat- tvas,” Dogen writes that to launch a boat, build a bridge, and earn a living are acts of giving. To be willing to be born—and to die—is to practice giving. I usually think of four simple ways to practice giving: giving yourself to your- self (that is, to be generous in your atti- tude toward yourself ); giving materially to others (giving money or other material gifts to those in need and to those not in need); giving fully and without reserva- tion the gift of your presence and respect; and giving yourself completely in your meditation practice. There are six paramitas or perfections that define the Mahayana path: giving, ethical conduct, energy, patience, medi- tation, and wisdom. It is no wonder that giving is the first of these. The more you study it, the more it seems that giving is the whole of the Buddha way. ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER is a Zen teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. His most recent volume of poetry is The Strugglers. Feeding Demons By Tsultrim Allione There is a story of a rich man who said that he could not practice generosity because he was unable to give anything away. The Buddha’s advice to him was to begin by simply taking a piece of fruit and passing it from one hand to the other. The Bud- dha told him to notice how it felt to let the fruit go and how it felt to receive it. Using this method, the man began to experience both the joy of giving and the pleasure of receiving. Eventually he became a great benefactor. Like that rich man, we may find that giving does not arise spontaneously and that we need to train in it. The ego-cling- ing mind always feels a sense of scarcity, so you might think, “I barely get along with what I have. How can I possibly give anything to anyone else?” There are, how- ever, many ways to practice giving that transcend monetary and material means. You could give something simple like a poem, words of encouragement, or an act of kindness. True generosity brings the giver a feeling of openness, along with the enjoyment in the happiness of others. Even imagined gifts can be powerful. There is a story about the great Buddhist king Ashoka that illustrates this. The story goes that a poor child was playing by the side of the road when he saw the Buddha begging for alms. The child was moved to make an offering, but—with nothing else to give—he spontaneously collected some pebbles and, visualizing them as vast amounts of gold, placed them in the Buddha’s alms bowl. Due to this act, in his next life the child became the power- ful, wealthy King Ashoka and benefited countless beings. To take the practice of generosity a step further, you can infuse generosity with the view that there is no inherent sepa- rate existence in the giver, the gift, or the receiver. This view, known as the threefold emptiness, turns practicing generosity into something beyond simple virtuous action. It helps us not be attached to the outcome of giving, thus setting us free from any expectations. In chöd, a Tibetan meditation practice developed by the famed eleventh-century yogini Machig Labdrön, generosity is practiced for the purpose of severing ego- clinging. Chöd practitioners deliberately go to frightening places, such as a cem- etery at night, and visualize making their body into an offering. Since these places provoke fear and clinging to the body, the offering is a direct confrontation with the ego. Many kinds of guests are invited to this imagined banquet, including person- ified forms of diseases, fears, and demons. As the guests arrive for the feast, chöd practitioners keep the view of three-fold emptiness and offer their body, which they visualize as nectar that satisfies all desires. The intensity of making the body offering in a frightening place is designed to push the practitioner into a state free from all clinging. Although we may not be a chöd prac- titioner who deliberately goes to scary places, we still meet plenty of frightening inner demons, such as depression, anger, and anxiety. When this happens we have the opportunity to feed, not fight, these demons with the nectar of love and com- passion. This goes against the grain of ego-clinging and allows the inner demons to transform into allies. Here’s an idea: choose a day to devote to the practice of generosity. Maybe one Saturday from the time you get up until you go to bed, see how many opportuni- ties you can find to be generous. Start by passing an object from one hand to the other mindfully. You might cook some- one breakfast, offer your seat on the sub- way, make a donation, or spend some time with a child or someone having a hard time. See how many ways you can give in one day. Notice your motivation, how it feels to do it, and the reactions of others. At the end of the day, recall all the ways you were generous. Notice how you feel and what happened as a result of your generosity. ♦ LAMA TSULTRIM ALLIONE is the author of Feeding Your Demons and the founder of Tara Mandala, a Buddhist retreat center in Colorado. 49 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2014