July 2015: Everyday Precept Practice

The Eighth Grave Precept: Refrain from Begrudging the Dharma Treasure

This month, our precept for study is Refraining from Being Stingy or Refraining from Begrudging the Dharma Treasure. These two translations emphasize different but related aspects of the precept. “Begrudge” is an interesting and rich word. Its first meaning is “To envy (someone) the possession or enjoyment of (something)”. It includes the meaning of resenting someone for having something we value, either because we don't think they deserve it or should be entitled to it or perhaps that it is something we don't have and we feel resentful that they have it and we don't. The second meaning of “begrudge” is “to give reluctantly or resentfully.” This second meaning is closer to the word translated as “stingy,” which includes being unwilling or reluctant to give.

The other aspect of this precept that unfolds into multiple meanings is “Dharma Treasure.” The “Dharma Treasure” means the teachings of the Buddha – which can be seen as the sutras and their content. So this means that “Begrudging the Dharma Treasure” means being unwilling to share the teaching with all – in other words thinking some are worthy of receiving it and some are not. It speaks to our obligation to learn to present the Dharma (the Buddha's Teaching) in many different ways, tailoring it to the needs of each person receiving it. The Dharma Treasure is also, more broadly, all of the ten thousand things (everything) – each thing a manifestation of the Buddha Treasure appearing uniquely according to the law of cause and effect. This is, indeed, the teaching of the Buddha unfolding before us in each moment. In this case, “Begrudging the Dharma Treasure” could mean resenting that some people have more good fortune, more positive attributes or blessings at a particular time than ourselves. Another implication of “Begrudging the Dharma Treasure” would be not recognizing that all beings and things are the Dharma Treasure, consciously or unconsciously thinking that some things and people are, and some are not and thus treating some things and people with more respect than others.

Mountains and Rivers Order

Give generously. Do not be withholding.

Clearly, the positive expression of “Do not be stingy” or “Do not begrudge the dharma treasure” is to give generously and not be withholding. What is important to note here, is that this is not merely asking us to give, but to give in a particular spirit – the spirit of generosity. Our motivation and conditions of giving are important. Are we giving something in order to control the other person or make them indebted to us? Are we giving out of obligation? Because we want to be admired? Or are we giving simply because the person we are giving the item to needs it. When the motivation for giving involves a self-centered agenda (such as wanting to be admired or wanting the person to feel obligated), this giving does not open and free us. Instead, it reinforces our deluded self-centeredness. When we simply see that someone needs something and give, no strings attached, we are freeing ourself and freeing the other person as well. There is just giving, without the separateness of a “me” giving or a “you” receiving.

The word “generous” itself includes the qualities of kindness, understanding, and unselfishness. This spacious activity includes Dogen Zenji's Three Minds as well. Magnanimous mind allows us to give without judgment or deciding who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive. Nurturing mind motivates us to want to care for others and provide for their needs. Joyful mind fosters an attitude of willingness to give freely to others, recognizing that they are not separate from us.

Unfortunately, humankind as a whole struggles with manifesting the spirit of these three minds. A prime example of this is the continued prevalence of world hunger. According to the WHES (World Hunger Education Service), there is enough food on the planet, despite global warming, to feed everyone at this time. The issue is the unequal distribution of food that results in significant pockets of hunger:

Hunger Notes believes that a principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political, and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.

The WHES publication, Poverty Notes, further cites poverty as the principal cause of hunger, which in turn is caused by “poor people's lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself.” Thus, it is not the overall shortage of food that generates hunger, but the unwillingness of those who have abundance to share with those who do not. And why? If we truly recognized our connectedness could we stand by and watch others die of hunger when we have more than enough? Are we sometimes guilty of judging others without really understanding all of the elements present in their circumstances (“They would have enough if they just worked harder”)? And how can we raise the Bodhi mind, the mind that seeks to care for those in need, those overlooked by our society, those who cannot advocate for themselves? We have to play an active role in helping others get their share. Otherwise, we are not really observing this precept. And we must do so, willingly, joyfully, rather than with an attitude of “well, I guess I have to...” or “well, I don't want to, but I know I should...”

Dogen Zenji's Teaching

“Let go of it and your hands will be filled.”

The role of giving or generosity is emphasized in so many Buddhist teachings. The first of the Paramitas, Dana Paramita, is the Perfection of Giving. One of the wisdom elements of the Eightfold Path, Right Intention contains the teaching of “relinquishment,” or letting go, an important component of giving. It is hard to give to others when we worry that we will not have enough for ourselves. We are also hindered by the delusive belief that we can make ourselves happy by accumulating things and then holding onto what we have accumulated even if someone else needs it more than we do. We believe on some level that holding on more tightly, controlling more tightly will secure our happiness, when actually the Buddha's teaching tells us that the more we let go, the more happiness we feel. It is hard to trust that this is so. We must gather our courage and make the leap. We can start by vowing to raise the mind of abundance ---the magnanimous, nurturing, joyful mind --- and vowing to actively practice generosity regardless of how little or much we personally have.

Zen Peacemaker Precept

I will use all the ingredients of my life. This is the practice of Not Being Stingy. I will not foster a mind of poverty in myself or others.

“Not Being Stingy” also emphasizes some other implications, such as using all of the ingredients in our lives and not dwelling or encouraging others to dwell in “mind of poverty or scarcity.” We will look at each of these implications in more detail.

“You are the only person on earth who can use your ability. It's an awesome responsibility.” - Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker

What an interesting perspective! Usually, we think of our abilities as possessions or attributes, not as responsibilities. However fully using all of the ingredients of our life can be seen as an act of generosity or sharing of dharma. Most of us want to show only our successful self to the world. We attempt to hide our “flaws” and “failures, “ thinking these only degrade us in the view of others. Actually, being open about our struggles and challenges, no doubt helps others as much or more than simply parading our accomplishments and virtues. Who helps us with our challenge of addiction more than someone who openly shares their journey to sobriety in a way that we can all learn from their mistakes and their successes? The bodhisattva uses all of their ingredients – whatever they have – whether it be material goods, challenges, talents or uniquenesses -for the sake of others. Coming back to Zig Ziglar's statement, each of us is unique and the sutra of our life story illuminates unique truths not illuminated by any other. We are the only one who can make the contribution that is uniquely ours.

What does the expression “fostering a mind of poverty (scarcity) in myself or others” mean? This expression is often contrasted with the expression “a mind of abundance.” When we experience scarcity of wealth (not enough money to meet expenses), scarcity of time (always too busy) or scarcity of companionship (always lonely), we tend to get stuck in the mindset of scarcity. We focus intensely on what we don't have. We hoard, we try to control, cut costs, trust no one and micromanage. We are focussed on ourselves and view our success as possible only when we are able to “beat out” others.

By contrast, when we foster a mind of abundance, we give away, share control, invest with a return, foster trust, and expect high performance. Says Richard Spoon, CEO of Arch Consulting Group:

“The abundance mindset is about being in service to others. It’s not about serving others to get something ― that’s not authentic and true service. ..From where I stand, I believe there’s a lot of truth in the idea of “If you want something, give it away.” Basically, the more you give, the more you receive. There seems to be a direct connection between other people being successful and your being successful. You build a network of people who trust you and it’s about “me helping other people”—not just about “me helping me”. There’s a big difference there.”

Zig Ziglar observed, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want”.

Authors Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University and Eldar Shafir of Princeton University share interesting research on the poverty/scarcity mindset in their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. They postulated that scarcity creates a mindset that perpetuates scarcity. For example, someone who lacks financial resources becomes so narrowly focussed on money and how to get enough of it to pay bills that they miss salient information/obligations in their environment, for example, a valuable job opportunity, getting their children vaccinated, taking their medication or renewing insurance, all oversights that could end up taxing their financial resources more. The stress of scarcity of any kind can result in significantly lower brainpower or mental “bandwidth” as the authors called it. Indian sugarcane farmers, for example, had lower IQ scores before their harvest (when they lacked cash and felt poor) than after the harvest (when they had an abundance of cash).

According to these authors, it is necessary to address the mindset of poverty, to teach people how to act from abundance even when they have little, in order to address the issues of chronic global poverty. Because the person living in severe poverty is at a disadvantage not just because of the material and financial resources that they lack, but because poverty creates a mindset that tends to perpetuate itself.

Bodhidharma's One Mind Precept

Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous.
In the all-pervading true Dharma,
Not clinging to one form
Is called the precept of refraining from begrudging the Dharma Treasure.

Since the true Dharma is all-pervading, is everywhere, we violate this precept by clinging to any one form of teaching as the genuine or real one as opposed to other false teaching. Our teaching, our tradition can become even poisonous when we stick to our form as the only “right” one. Everything is teaching all the time. Even if we think we are withholding or begrudging the teaching, that is not possible. We are truth, our lives are the manifestation of truth and everything we encounter is truth. That doesn't mean that everything is skillful – there is so much hatred, delusion and ignorance. But everything appears without fail exactly according to causation. There are reasons, not necessarily justifications or excusals, but reasons for the hatred. Seeing clearly the chain of causation resulting in the hatred is part of compassion, the act of bearing witness. Out of the clear seeing, just being present, experiencing the hatred as part of this causal chain, appropriate action can emerge.

“What we would like you to do is to pray. Come and pray with the Lakota. Come and pray with us, for the Lakota, for ourselves, for us, and for this earth.”
- Lakota Elder and Bearing Witness Retreat Spirit Holder

I truly do not know what actions will emerge out of the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in South Dakota that many will attend in August. But I deeply believe in just bearing witness, just listening to the Lakota Elders tell the stories of how the lives of so many generations including the present were changed and shaped by what happened when the European settlers arrived on their shores and in all of us telling our stories. I believe this powerful bearing witness, however difficult, has the potential to bring about some healing in whatever form it may take. Our stories are the living sutra we tell, the truth we manifest.

Yasutani Roshi states the following about this precept: “All the myriad things of heaven and earth are just truth, the inconceivably wondrous self-nature. How groundless to feel stingy about anything!” Indeed, from this perspective, what are the barriers standing between us? What prevents us from giving and receiving what is needed?

Dogen Zenji's Kyojukaimon

Even one phrase, one gatha (of the Dharma) is ten thousand things. One Dharma, one realization is all the Buddhas and Ancestors. From the very beginning nothing has been withheld.

Shakyamuni Buddha declared, “I and all beings have simultaneously attained the Way.” This is not his realization or your realization or my realization. This is the One Dharma that has always been clear. This One Dharma includes all the Buddhas and Ancestors past, present and future --- and includes all of us. Thus, in one live word, one phrase, all of the teaching is revealed. Nothing is hidden. How do we wake up to that fact? To wake up to that fact is to reveal the Dharma Treasure for and also as all of us.

As mentioned above, the Zen Peacemakers Order and the Lakota elders have jointly organized a Bearing Witness Retreat, centered around the experience of Native Americans. The retreat will take place from August 10-14, 2015 in the Black Hills, South Dakota. For more information, please visit this page.

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