Giving away

This is an extract of a teaching about giving away the three foundations of ego-clinging (ie, our body, possessions and roots of virtue/merit) by Khenpo Kunpal.  In this part, the explanation is also given about why we should give up our roots of virtue/merit to sentient beings.  

The mind is trained by relinquishing, for the sake of others, the three foundations of ego-clinging (the body, possessions, and the roots of virtue).  Beginners, however, should not actually surrender them in reality.  For it is also said that if we try to do so without being truly able to, the outcome will be nothing but a parody.  If therefore we train and habituate our minds to the generous attitude of offering these three foundations to others, there is no contradiction in saying that we will perfect the paramita of generosity, even if in reality we do not actually give any of them even slightly.  On the other hand, when people make charitable donations without having a generous attitude, their action is a mere imitation of generosity.  It is therefore crucial to school and habituate ourselves in an openhanded and generous frame of mind…

We must relinquish everything for the benefit and happiness of all without exception — and we must do so sincerely and unparsimoniously, without counting the cost or expecting some recompense or karmic advantage in return.  This is an essential pith instruction that drives out the fiend of ego-clinging, the root of samsara.  Whenever thoughts of cherishing and attachment toward our bodies arise, we should face up to them squarely and at once, never losing sight of the view of No-self, emptiness and nonreferential compassion.  This will ensure that we are on the supreme path and that beings, who are like illusory visions, will never be abandoned…

It is said in the Shikshasamucchaya:

Let this most crucial point be grasped
Whereby no downfall will occur:
My body and my worldly wealth
And all my virtues gained and being gained and to be gained
I give them all to everyone,
Protecting, cleansing and increasing them.

But how is it possible to give up our virtue, since it is precisely through virtue that nirvana is gained? The accumulation of virtue or merit brings rebirth in the higher realms, and this is the foundation of the path. It is the necessary prerequisite for the occurrence in the mind of the truth of the path – the realization of the personal and phenomenal No-Self. (Now with regard to the personal No-Self) it is said that when the emotional obscurations are discarded, the resulting “nirvana without remainder” of the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas is like a fire or a butter lamp going out for want of fuel.  By contrast, nirvana as understood in the Mahayana is the result of the removal of the two kinds of obscuration together with their habitual tendencies. Therefore, (as the Sutralankara says) liberation is no more than the exhaustion of error. Apart from the mere separation from the two obscurations, there is nothing extra to be attained. And as for the truth of the path, this is likened to a raft, which is to be left behind as soon as the far shore has been reached. Consequently, it is generally said that worldly virtue, bounded and confined by ego-clinging, is not actually effective in the attainment of liberation. In particular, since compounded virtue must be entirely relinquised if one is to attain the final result of perfect Buddhahood, it definitely follows that we must give it all away.

In the second place, we might wonder why it is necessary to abandon the three foundations of ego-clinging (body, possessions and roots of virtue) even when we are not actually intending to achieve nirvana. The answer to this is that, even if we do not give them away now, the fact is that when we die, we will have to leave behind both body and possessions. And as for our virtues, either these will have been exhausted by moments of anger experienced in the past or else (if this is not the case) they will be consumed by the single experience of their fully ripened result. It is certain therefore that everything is destined to be entirely and pointlessly lost. Therefore, in the present moment when we have freedom to act, it is best to give everything to other beings for their happiness and benefit. For in this way, the merit of such an action will not be exhausted but will become the cause of attaining the supreme goal.

My own comments:  Many people practising the dharma think about acquiring more and more.  They think of merit as some kind of spiritual currency.  But they lose track of the main point of dharma, which is to cut through the ego-clinging and self-centredness.  Some others think only of gaining realisation and meditating but neglect the essential practices of the other paramitas eg, in this case generosity.  It is to be seen here that generosity is a very skilful method to cut through ego-clinging, to create the conditions (ie merit) for realisations to arise.  Realisations are basically about realising emptiness and egolessness.  That takes place on a more subtle level.  We have to start from the grosser levels by performing acts of the physical level like generosity and mentally cultivating the attitudes of letting go and taking a loss and giving up/surrender.  All these prepares the eventual ground for subtle work of realisation to occur spontaneously.  That is why Buddhism emphasizes on creating merits.

However, some people mistake the emphasis on merit to be something to be grasped to and thereby fortify their ego all over again albeit now under a spiritual guise.  Some even mistake the emphasis on merits to be a worldly dharma, ie, a spiritual way to increase their worldly enjoyments.  They create merits to increase wealth, health and other worldly goals.  All these will only trap one further in samsara.  Therefore, the Buddha taught that even the merits are to be given away.  Dedication is a special point of the Buddha’s doctrine.  In the ultimate end, there is nothing to be held on to, just groundlessness.  This is a subtle but very important point that many people have missed. And it takes alot of time to understand this.  It is a important view, not to be belittled.

Although it is said that the main emphasis is on the mental attitude of generosity, let this NOT be misconstrued by some people as being permission to simply think of giving but not actually give.  This is just another form of self-deception.  Frankly speaking, when one has that generous frame of mind, giving will take place in reality according to one’s ability.  But the teaching here emphasizes that one should not be creating an appearance of giving without the actual attitude of generosity.  Both should go hand-in-hand.

Update :

Garchen Rinpoche said, “Of all the charities of giving, the giving away of one’s own body and giving Dharma teachings are the most beneficial to the practitioner. It is written in the Kalachakra Tantra that when one is able to make an offering of horses and elephants the merits accumulated by those actions would be thousand fold. Where if a practitioner is able to give away one’s wife or husband or sons and daughters the benefit would be a hundred thousand fold and even more beneficial than that when one is able to give away one’s own body as offering the benefit would be million fold”

(Note:  This is in relation to a practice called Chod where one visualises oneself offering one’s own body to all Buddhas/Bodhisattvas and sentient beings.)

Again, Rinpoche said:

“It is said than when you give charity, the things you give away in this life is said to be your own food in your next life journey, so it is very, very important. After sometimes when you give you will realize that when you give to sentient beings, you the giver and others the receivers you will really find that both the giver and the receiver are the same. There is not an iota of difference between the two, the reason for that is that when you give, you are the one to receive the benefits. So you are the giver and as result you will be the receiver, just like you see I gave you the example of looking after, keeping a house spick and span with the motivation of benefiting whoever is going to be the next occupant. If you keep it in good condition thinking that it does not matter whoever comes, whoever comes there will find a pleasant place to live in there, who knows if it is going to be yourself. But on the other hand just being so self-centered because you are living in that house and you don’t care about who is going to be the next occupant. If you plunder everything, tear down the walls, take steal frames doors and windows, then in all probability is going to be you the one who is going to occupy this very house. So from this hopefully you will learn some more profound meaning of giving.”