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Thread: When Dana Is Difficult

  1. #1

    When Dana Is Difficult

    I'd like to get a hand from the sangha with a dana question.

    I have 35 cousins on my dad's side of the family and two on my mom's side. The older of the two cousins is dealing with some severe eyesight issues and may have permanently lost sight in one eye. This weekend he got surgery at Mass General and he has a few weeks of convalescing at home before (1) they'll know if his eyesight is back and (2) he can go back to work. I don't know their insurance or financial situation in detail, but I know enough to think that sending them a package of some sort in support would be a thoughtful gesture. I've also been prompted to call him by my mother, who hosted him and his mom the days before and after the surgery.

    In the spirit of ango and full disclosure both, I want to admit that this situation is emotionally complicated for me. My mother and our family in general has been very supportive of this family for a very long time, yet, for as long as I can remember, that's been a one-way street: they have not extended that support to any of us. This was particularly true when my brother committed suicide -- and, of course, particularly galling to me as a result. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that they blew in and out of town merely for the day of the funeral (left one hour later) and made no other attempt to support my parents (or, for that matter, me) during the worst stretch of our lives.

    As you can tell by my language, I still harbor a lot of resentment about what they did and did not do ten years ago, resentment that bubbles up (along with a lot of other feelings) when I think of supporting him in this situation. The package is simple enough: I can figure out what to give him, his partner, and their three teenagers (though I'd appreciate any thoughts about what to get him/them), pack it up, send it off. The call, however, is not so easy.

    I feel like this is probably an experience that can help me reflect on, act from, and deepen my commitment to dana -- that is, if I can accept it for what it is. Thus I turn to you.

    I wish I could formulate a good question here, but I'd rather leave it at that and offer it for discussion. Gassho in advance.

  2. #2

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    I am reminded of the Diamond Sutra.
    Furthermore, Subhuti, in the practice of charity a Bodhisattva should be detached. That is to say, he should practice charity without regard to appearances; without regard to sound, odor, touch, flavor or any quality. Subhuti, thus should the Bodhisattva practice charity without attachment. Wherefore? In such a case his merit is incalculable. Subhuti, what do you think? Can you measure all the space extending eastward?

    No, World-honored One, I cannot.

    Then can you, Subhuti, measure all the space extending southward, westward, northward, or in any other direction, including nadir and zenith?

    No, World-honored One, I cannot.

    Well, Subhuti, equally incalculable is the merit of the Bodhisattva who practices charity without any attachment to appearances. Subhuti, Bodhisattvas should persevere one-pointedly in this instruction.
    Dana should have nothing to do with yourself, or the other person. Dana is simply recognizing in a particular moment what has to be done, and doing it wholeheartedly.

    Of course this is easier said then done, which is why we practice.

    Sorry I cannot offer much help here, since I truly would not know what to do. But I wish you well, and I know others will be able to give you more assistance.


  3. #3

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Thanks -- that's actually helpful. Dana is the first perfection, after all, so... any port in a storm!

    Here's a definition from Access to Insight:

    d?na: Giving, liberality; offering, alms. Specifically, giving of any of the four requisites to the monastic order. More generally, the inclination to give, without expecting any form of repayment from the recipient. Dana is the first theme in the Buddha's system of gradual training (see ?nupubb?-kath?), the first of the ten p?ram?s, one of the seven treasures (see dhana), and the first of the three grounds for meritorious action (see s?la and bh?van?).
    Interesting comment in the "About Buddhism" entry on dana:

    Shohaku Okumura wrote in Soto Zen Journal that for a time he didn't want to receive gifts from others, thinking that he should be giving, not taking. "When we understand this teaching in this way, we simply create another standard to measure gaining and losing. We are still in the framework of gaining and losing," he wrote.
    Good time for my midday sit....

  4. #4

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Sometimes simple giving without requiring or expecting anything in return, any payback at all ... and giving to someone who might not even appreciate it ... can be a very pure way of giving and generosity.

    I am not saying that you should or must do so in this situation, but something to sit with.

    Gassho, J

  5. #5

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Yes, I'm coming to that conclusion, giving both in objects and in conversation. Getting away from the right/wrong, good/bad, gain/loss tallying....

  6. #6

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    I think that generosity is a one-way transaction that ends as soon as it leaves your hands. Shundo Aoyama's story in "Zen Seeds" called "Loving" (p. 16) comes to mind. You can't expect anything in return. Do it because it is the right thing to do. I'm not even sure intention is important. For instance, even if you really dislike these people, and you don't want to do anything nice for them. That is OK. Do it because it's right, not because you want to or they will appreciate it.

    Maybe this isn't too helpful. Sometimes I am compelled to pitch in but the words do not come out as I imagined them. But I pitch in because it's the right thing to do, not because it will sound good or you will necessarily appreciate it.


  7. #7

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Chris wrote:
    My mother and our family in general has been very supportive of this family for a very long time, yet, for as long as I can remember, that's been a one-way street: they have not extended that support to any of us.
    Giving is always a one way street otherwise it would be just another form of trade. If you gave money to a stranger, say a panhandler, you wouldn't think "hey, why should I give you money? What have you done for me?". You don't expect to receive anything now or in the future when you give to a total stranger. Just because you know these people shouldn't change the idea that when you give there is not a return of investment. You can't let your basis for helping another be determined by such factors.
    Helping or not, it's your choice. If you do, drop the baggage! Not helping(in this non life or death case) doesn't make you a bad guy either!


  8. #8

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Everyone -- and most recently Matto and John -- your responses were most helpful. I also have been reading the Dana chapter in Robert Aitken's Practice of Perfection. When it was all said and done, I realized that I could best express the gesture of giving in a note and gift. The phone call idea was prompted by my (rather insistent) mother, and I realized that I could leave behind the back-and-forth, give-and-take structure I was stuck in by writing instead of calling.

    So, all, gassho. I'm grateful for your support.

  9. #9

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    I will tell you that I have the same problem at times. Without all the details, my mother in law and I don't get on well, she did some messed up stuff. Her father was also not very compassionate to her, her mother, or her brother when they were younger - dark days for sure. So, in short, imagine my surprise when, especially prior to really practicing and learning from Jundo, Taigu, and sangha, when her father had a stroke from trying to stop drinking and her mother was invited back into our lives after a year of silence initiated by my wife. It's tough, many days it's tough. But, when we learned that her father was being taken by his sister for thousands of dollars that was supposed to be used for his care, I helped my wife to set things straight, and I helped to have some of his money released from his guardian to care for his mother (who lives with him and is suffering from advanced dementia). Why? It was the right thing to do. Was it easy? No. Did I question why I was doing it? Yes. Do I still? Sometimes. We're all of us beginers on the Path, no matter how long we've walked, so stumbles are expected.

    But in the end, we do these things because it is right to do them, beneficial to all beings. I try to think of it this way, I cannot act based on how others act. I cannot see for them, I cannot speak for them, and I cannot think for them; this being the case how can I expect them to walk the Path of Gautama's dharma with my feet?

    I have great faith in our way. They do not. This should not have any impact on my actions. Right Action is Right Action, even if the recipient would not have done the same for me.

    Still, it can be tough. ops:

  10. #10

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    In the end, too, there is no "I" or "them".

  11. #11

    Re: When Dana Is Difficult

    Hi Chris and all,

    This is a tough one...I agree so much with what others here have said, so I'm not sure I have anything new to offer. Only wanted you to know that you're not alone in this situation.

    But I see giving as an opening up of your heart to another in need, regardless of what the past has held. I wasn't there during your very difficult time, but maybe there was something preventing them from being there to support your family - whether a valid reason or not. If you feel compassion toward them and their situation, then it shouldn't be too hard to open yourself to what they are experiencing and just let them know they are not alone. However, if it is too much for you, well, maybe a package would suffice and save the phone call for another time. Like someone else said, it doesn't make you a bad person either way, but the choice is ultimately yours to make.

    Sometimes giving and helping someone who has been difficult or not so nice to you...well, it just may change them and help them to see what compassion truly is.

    wishing you the best - bows,

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