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Mar 13
Opinion Pieces
Powerfully, Be Generous

This article is part three of a series on the practices of generosity by Jonathan Hanna. Click here to read the first article: Simply, Be Generous, and here to read the first article: Practically, Be Generous.

Generosity can have two objects, the fields of benefit (sentient beings) and of merit (the three jewels). The last essay emphasized the field of benefit. Having begun to water the garden of sentient beings and tasting the natural joy that arises when we let go of self-cherishing, we are saddened by our limited capacity in the face of immeasurable suffering. We long for greater wisdom, love and power in order to benefit to others. The curious mingling of profound joy with the heart of genuine sadness brings a recognition of the futility of conventional attempts to artificially organize, arrange, and manipulate external conditions to achieve desired outcomes. We begin to glimpse the possibility of activity arising through the magic of auspicious coincidence. This attitude – the humility of acknowledging our limitations together with the recognition of the awesome power of authentic presence – is the basis for making offerings to the three jewels.

We tend to think of the financial contributions we make to our centers and to our central governance in fairly mundane terms. We are helping out because there is a need; helping to pay the bills, supporting a particular project, “paying for a program”. This is true as far as it goes but if our motivation stops there, the view remains that of the field of benefit. We see ourselves as the benefactor and regard the three jewels (city center, land center, Sakyong Ladrang, a visiting Acharya, etc.) as the beneficiary. This turns the principles of lha, nyen and lu literally upside down.

Perhaps we could take a different view. What if we were to begin to truly think of our centers, our teachers, and Shambhala as a whole, with the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo at the center, as the physical embodiment of, and our direct link to the blessings of the three jewels. According to the tradition, this is the way it actually is. Every time we attend a teaching or otherwise make a gift we could remind ourselves that we are giving to the field of merit, not the field of benefit, which means that we are the ones who actually benefit in this case. This isn’t a sophisticated sleight of hand designed to separate unwitting dupes from their hard earned cash. It depends entirely upon our own view and motivation. The practice of making offerings in this way is a method, a support for training in a profound view of reality and carrying that view into actions of body, speech and mind. As Shantideva says in the Bodhisattvacharyavatara:

Shantideva, courtesy of bodhicharya.org

Shantideva courtesty of bodhicharya.org

In order to seize that precious mind (bodhicitta)
I offer now to the Tathagatas,
To the sacred Dharma, the stainless jewel,
And to the Children of the Buddha (sangha), the oceans of excellence.

When we make profound offerings in this way, aspiring to give up our pettiness and step beyond cocoon, to be a vessel for the blessings of wisdom and compassion, we mingle our own mind-stream with that of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the lineage of enlightened masters. Instead of trying to water the entire world with a garden hose, we begin to become part of the natural cycle that is continually drawing water up from the earth to produce rainclouds that nurture all living things.

Generosity towards sentient beings (the field of benefit) brings integrity and equanimity to our conduct in post-meditation. Offering to the field of merit brings power and merit, which magnetizes auspicious coincidence. The ngondro (preliminary) practices, prostrations, Vajrasattva purification, mandala offering, and guru yoga help us to become familiar with this untapped dimension of our being. The seven-branch offering is a similar practice that can be done by anyone. It is a simple recitation that includes the branches of: 1) prostrations, 2) offering, 3) confession, 4) rejoicing in the merits of others, 5) supplicating for the blessings of the dharma, 6) requesting the enlightened beings to remain with us, 7) dedicating the merit to others. These are formal meditation practices while making offerings is a post-meditation practice that allows us to begin to transform our daily lives. We are discovering the ground that allows the “higher” practices of Vajrayana to arise as authentic experience, not just fanciful imaginings and bizarre rituals.

Traditionally, offerings of this kind are accompanied by deeply intentional aspirations for genuine progress on the path and heartfelt prayers dedicating the resulting merit to alleviate the suffering of all beings in general and the specific sufferings of particular beings that we may know of. Thus, when enlightened masters have developed the siddhi (powerful accomplishment) of actually being able to benefit others in ways that seem miraculous, it is said to be due to having mastered the power of aspirations and wishing prayers. In this sense they are no different from us. And the same potential is available to us if we have the courage and confidence to practice as they have done.

We don’t need to wait until someone asks for a donation, there are endless opportunities to make offerings. But when we are asked, we should give what we can cheerfully. The following verses from the Madhyamakavatara illustrate the power of the bodhisattva’s attitude toward generosity:

(1.9) The initial cause of perfect buddhahood
is generosity, which here is now preeminent.
With joy the bodhisattvas give their very flesh –
A sign whereby the unseen is inferred.

(1.14) The merest thought or sound of someone crying “Give!”
will bring to children of the Conqueror a joy
unknown the Arhats even when they enter into peace –
How shall we speak of when they give up everything?

The bodhisattva’s burning passion and greatest delight is to undermine the self-cherishing that inhibits his/her ability to benefit others.

Traditionally, it is considered particularly potent to make offerings on certain auspicious occasions, such as Shambhala Day, which marks the lunar new year, closing one chapter and beginning another. The parinirvana of the Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (and other great masters) is a very special time for us Shambhalians to make offerings and practice. This year marks the 25th anniversary of his parinirvana. Anything we can do during this time to enrich and enliven our local communities and our global sangha will be of great benefit to ourselves and to the fulfillment the Trungpa Rinpoche’s aspirations and vision. Any gathering for practice, and especially Vajrayana practices such as feast offerings, is regarded as worthy of offerings, which need not be limited only to those actually performing the practice. The same is true for situations where teachings are being bestowed, whether by the Sakyong (or other lineage masters), Acharyas and Shastris, or our local teachers. It is also very important and beneficial to make offerings in support of those who are attending teachings or going into retreat. As Milarepa said the benefactor will have the same accomplishment as the meditator.

One project that is worthy of abundant offerings is the Stupa That Conquers All Directions which is currently being built at Karme Choling. Building stupas is said to be a particularly meritorious activity, benefiting beings far into the future. Arising from the command of the Sakyong, a stupa is an opportunity for the entire sangha to harmonize our aspirations with a single intention that is indistinguishable from the wisdom and intention of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. By turning our attention to fulfilling the Sakyong’s aspiration and making generous offerings we can ensure that it is swiftly completed. Training in collective harmony and single-mindedness through activities of this sort will allow us to break through hesitation and fulfill the vision of the Shambhala teachings. The 100,000 aspirations project is a wonderful way for anyone to contribute prayers and aspirations as well as financial offerings. The following verse is also from the Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Shantideva, and is extracted and included in the long seven-branch offering of the Nyingma school:

May there incessantly fall
A rain of gems, flowers and so forth
Upon the sublime dharma, the rare and supreme ones, and
All stupas and physical representations.

We can see how our own holding back or jumping into the practices wholeheartedly is what will make the difference in the fruitfulness of our own practice as well as in the capacity of our entire community to truly mine the riches of the Shambhala teachings and be of genuine service to the world.

For a powerful demonstration of the view and practice of generosity practiced toward the fields of benefit and merit please see click on this link to view a video about Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s annual dana and offering pilgrimage to bodhgaya.

Having explored some of the view and practices related to the individual practice of generosity, the next installment in this series will address institutional/organizational approaches to generosity in the interest of facilitating a genuine evolution in our culture toward a more profound and pervasive practice of generosity.

Jonathan Hanna has made numerous visits to Tibetan communities in India where the practice of generosity is inseparable from the traditional culture of Buddhism. Inspired by this, he has generated the wish to see this approach to generosity take root and flourish within the Shambhala community, both in the way our institutions offer the teachings and in the way individuals support the teachings. This essay was written at the urging of one of our shastris, made during the recent Kalapa Governance Gathering in Halifax. May it help give rise to profound generosity throughout Shambhala.

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1 response to “ Powerfully, Be Generous ”
  1. Kristine McCutcheon
    Apr 20, 2012

    Thanks Jonathan,

    I really appreciate these articles. I will share them. Could I have permission to possibly republish parts of them?


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