Don’t think of receiving, think of giving

Apr 27, 2023


The first of the six perfections of the bodhisattva is giving, generosity, or as Lama Zopa Rinpoche likes to call it, charity, and the first of the three levels of giving, the easiest, is giving material things.


The second, much more difficult, is the giving of spiritual advice. Well, I think we much prefer that one; we love to give advice, whether we’re qualified or not! But giving a dollar, we’re not so sure about that.


Our trouble is we have no understanding of even the benefit to ourselves of giving, not to mention the benefit to others; we’re so worried that we’ll end up with less if we give. But the key main cause of having access to even a grain of rice for our breakfast is our past giving, our generosity. As Rinpoche says, we need the virtuous karma of non-killing just to get a decent human body, but in order to have access to things, to have what we need to survive, not to mention what we need in order to have the luxury of time to spend doing our spiritual practice, is the karma of giving. 


Without resources, our hands are tied. If we have to spend eight hours a day earning money just to eat, which is what the majority of the human race have to do – and many can’t even do that – we can do nothing. There is just no opportunity to use this precious human resource for anything worthwhile: to grow our marvelous human potential for wisdom and compassion.


It’s not easy to give, to be generous. It comes naturally maybe to give to our family and friends, but much of that is based on attachment to being seen as a nice person. But it doesn’t occur to us to give to strangers. 


A bodhisattva would have this in their mind spontaneously because they’re well on the way to perfecting it: the moment they see any being, they think, what do they need? It’s like a mother for her child: she knows her job is to give the child what it needs; she doesn’t look around wondering who’s going to feed her baby. Bodhisattvas are like that, but for everyone.


That’s pretty intense! It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s not some sentimental thing; it takes masses of practice, starting with the intention and, crucially, a clear understanding of the benefits, first to ourselves – don’t discount that.


These bodhisattvas who have trained their minds, the first thing they think is, “What do you need?” And then there’s their automatic response, “I will give it.” Lama Zopa is famous for his giving. I remember one time in London, at the center there, Rinpoche was seeing one student who was requesting ordination. The next thing you see is this guy walking out of the room with Rinpoche’s robes – and Rinpoche walking out in his underskirt to go to the airport! Ven. Roger had to run after the student to get the robes back! 


Years ago the abbot of Sera Je, Rinpoche and Lama’s monastery in South India, asked Rinpoche to raise money to start a fund to feed the thousands of monks. The story goes that at some point Rinpoche had a meeting with some abbess in Taiwan and she told Ven. Roger after the meeting that the night before she’d had a dream in which Kwan Yin appeared to her and said, “A very special person is coming tomorrow – give him whatever he wants!” And so she did! Who knows how much Rinpoche asked for, but I bet it was a good amount. And these Chinese monasteries are famous for their generosity: they really understand the benefits of it.


That’s Rinpoche’s way of fundraising: a direct line to the buddhas!


As Rinpoche said to someone who was trying to raise money for some project, “Don’t think of receiving; think of giving.” The training starts with that thought. As Rinpoche says, “Everything exists on the tip of the wish.

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