Generosity was an early hook for me in my exploration of Zen. When I was first looking for a place to practice, I typed "Zen Buddhist Monasteries in Oregon” into Google and quickly learned that Great Vow Zen Monastery (our good friends to the West of Portland!) offered their summer immersion program completely free of charge. I remember being surprised and some-what suspicious: how could that be? What were they getting at? They said, "if you have resources to support us, we recommend X amount. If you do not have resources that you can share, we are glad you joined us to practice." Essentially, they felt it was most important to come and learn about this way of life and the Dharma. Sure enough, that was the sincere posture with which they met me during my month's stay.
In addition to these resources freely-given, I encountered a generosity of spirit that was particularly evident in the teachers and resident priests. They could wield their attention with precision, which often meant stopping their own activity on the dot to respond to my many, many needs. I remember asking one of the monks a question while she was working on the computer: in a single movement, she stopped working and totally engaged me. Wow! I was blown away. Inspired by this, I think I made up my mind: I'll have what they are having.
When I began churning my life into our temple home, I was met with these same kinds of offerings: the teacher poured himself out and the community welcomed my participation in classes and retreats, although I had only meager funds to offer. I developed a habit of staying after on Sundays to clean up as an expression of my gratitude. That small service had edges about repaying the debt of my gratitude, but was also about aligning myself with that posture of generosity. It was a “giving with,” rather than a “giving to.”
Particularly as I explore a life of service through the priesthood here, I think dana is pointing to a fundamental posture within the vast matrix of giving and receiving endemic to living. For me, it suggests that our lives can be centered in a kind of joyful participation. I think most of us know the joy of sharing our strength with others. I'm also learning that to just receive a gift, there’s an opportunity to "give with" as well. Perhaps that is one of the best opportunities! When Carl brings eggs to the temple, Kenny delivers kombucha, Lulu scampers joyfully towards me from across the yard. . . I'm asked to just receive, to know the bright weight of my gratitude. It forces me to reflect, what would it mean to live a life that knows the countless offerings of my life—the grand and banal, as well as the given and received? How does that perspective encounter the world? Actualizing that gratitude for something precious and shared, I think one wouldn’t hesitate to offer—and to receive—attention, care, and resources whenever it is appropriate. Eyes like that would reveal an entire world as an offering: a single, unfolding opportunity for collective liberation.
So much of my heart wishes to shout "Thank YOU!"—my life and practice here are totally supported by this community. I am so deeply grateful. And yet, the tradition cautions me to not settle this as yours to give and mine to receive, or the other way around. Rather, it asks me to investigate this simple and partial life—is it not totally the vibrant world of reciprocity itself? Dogen reminds us that this isn’t just a linear activity between humans: “to leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving.” And so, how will we meet, you and I? Maybe in just sharing our strength just as we are, a bright and cooling dance can unfold. At the core and on the peripheries, a lively dance: empty of giver, receiver, and gift.