Brothers and sisters,
This is the Sixth Realization. Please listen carefully:
“THE SIXTH REALIZATION is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates vicious cycle of negative thoughts and activities. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas consider every one, friends and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrong doings, nor do they hate those who are currently causing harm.”
Giving invokes powerful emotions and we’ll watch some video clips this evening. A couple of them are long, we’ll watch just a portion of each here and you can watch the rest at home.
We learn from the First Realization that no-self is the ultimate truth in human to human relations as well as between humans and the environment. It is the most important teaching in Buddhism. We’re interconnected. Our survival and happiness depend on others. This means to understand no-self is to practice giving. It is the first of the Six Paramitas which include giving (offering, generosity), ethics (the five precepts or five mindfulness trainings), patience (inclusiveness), joyous effort (diligence), concentration (meditation), and wisdom. Paramita means leaving behind suffering from poverty, attachments, narrow-mindedness, fear, ignorance, hatred, sickness, and death to reach the shore of freedom, compassion, and joy.
Giving is lovely and deep. It’s interconnected with the other five paramitas – none exists without the others. For example, when we practice the meditation paramita, we practice mindfulness. When we give with mindfulness, we’re aware of the Buddha nature within us and in the receiver. With this realization, the act of giving manifests effortlessly with serenity, loving kindness and compassion. It fosters harmony at home, team work in the work place, and cooperation in societies and among nations. It bridges the gap between the rich and the poor. As this gap has become wider and is accelerating, the need for global compassion is now critical. It’s encouraging, however, that compassion can be taught.
The act of giving has three components:
In the context of no-self, there is no giver, receiver, or act of giving. There’s no “I”, “Mine”’, “Her”, or “It” owing to the fact that all of these phenomena lack an independent and separate self. The act of giving is beneficial to both the giver and the receiver. The giver is happy from performing the act. She also makes progress in letting go of attachment to her possessions, and to the notion of self besides accumulating merit. The receiver is relieved of the suffering. As everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to suffer, when we give we don’t differentiate social status, friends and enemies, past reputations, or harm being brought our way. Our purpose is to relieve suffering; it’s universal and we give equally. It should be noted that we have to take care of ourselves adequately before we can take care of others. This is self compassion.
According to Mahayana Buddhism, there are three categories of gifts:
Material resources include physical properties external to the body (money, cars, etc.), and body components. Dharma includes teaching the Dharma, Dharma applications such as mindfulness, loving kindness, compassion, and proven practices. No-fear is the safety and peace of mind that we afford those in need. It’s the greatest gift of all. In Theravaden Buddhism, there are only two categories of gifts: material resources and Dharma.
According to the World Giving Index, Americans are one of the two most benevolent peoples in the world in 2014, an honor we tie with the people of Myanmar. The US is the only country that ranks in the top 10 of the three measuring categories. We lead in “Helping Strangers”, jointly rank 5th with three other countries in “Volunteering Time” and rank 9th in “Donating Money”.
It’s gratifying that Mayor Denise Parker recently proclaimed Houston a Compassionate city, one among 20 in the world. There will be a city wide service project in April called Give A Day that I urge everybody to participate. It’s modeled after Louisville city, KY. Louisville leads the nation in the compassionate initiative owing to the leadership of its mayor who campaigned on this platform.
Let’s now explore the three categories of gifts.
Oprah Winfrey used her money to help Morehouse College students in their education (Morehouse is a private, historically all -male African American college in Atlanta). Her original goal was to guarantee that 100 students realized their aspirations. A total of 415 did thanks to her 12- million- dollar donation. They are now doctors, bankers, lawyers, Rhodes scholars, artists, etc. who would have had to drop out of college had it not been for her scholarships. They in turn have pledged to raise more than $300,000 for scholarships of their own. By helping these men, in her own words, she “improves generations to come”. Her statement resonates with me. I’m here thanks to a Canadian scholarship. My wife and I were able to bring my mother and three sisters to Houston. Their children have become professionals and contribute to the society. My brother-in-law in turn brought over three of his brothers and their families. Their children have become well trained professionals too. At the end of our lives, these families and our children are what my wife and I will leave behind.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVnTBt0UONU. Starts @min. 1:04. Stops @ min. 7:30
Other wealthy people such as Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet have also been donating money for education, medical research, and social services, etc.
Since leaving office, presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have been effective agents of change for education, healthcare, democracy, and freedom around the world. President George H. W. Bush’s program helps people at home
H.H. the Dalai Lama and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh have brought peace and happiness to millions of people worldwide through all three categories of gifts. Some of their material resources come from book royalties. The Catholic sisters of the order of Missionaries of Charities in Calcutta are carrying on the work of Mother Teresa in caring for the destitute. The Church of Christ Cathedral in Houston feeds about 700-800 homeless people a day. The Rev. Betty Adam, resident canon theologian at the church, championed the idea of getting Houston recognized as a Compassionate City.
Human rights, environmental, medical, and other NGOs,etc. care for the sick, defend the poor and oppressed, and protect the environment, even risking their lives in the course of their work.
All this sounds impressive, but the fact is that it isn’t enough. We all need to be more generous.
What can we give if we don’t have the resources and prestige of ex-presidents, billionaires, religious leaders, or NGOs? We give what we can – our money, love, compassion, skills, and time. Ginger teaches us Vipassana. Pam and Illana give me rides to the weekly sit. Mark and Pam edit my talks. In giving it’s the thought that counts. Even in a situation where we cannot give, but another person can, we can dwell in sympathetic joy for the giver for having the capacity to give while witnessing the compassionate act. Similarly, we rejoice when others make bigger donations than we do.
Sometimes the resources are available to us indirectly. We can look into obtaining donations from our employers. Large companies usually have a budget for charity. We can reach out to friends and relatives for help; they may be able to obtain donations from their employers.
We can share our bonus with our coworkers and promote the practice in our organization.
Another way to have an impact is to become representative of the company on civic organizations. When you take on this responsibility, you can influence the budget for charity and it’s at your discretion.
Those are some of the examples that have worked out for me. We have a group of talented and kind hearted people here. I hope that we’ll be able to share with each other our charitable activities, and discuss how we can leverage the synergy of the sangha as a whole.
Body components is a category of material resources that’s invaluable. This includes organs and bone marrow that are necessary for transplants. They’re gifts of life.
Human suffering is immense. We discussed during the last session the suffering of the addicts and its reverberation to their friends, families and the society. In the US, one in 10 adults suffer from depression, half of the marriages fail, 9% of students grades 6-12 experience bullying, and one person dies by suicide every 12.9 minutes. These are just some of the statistics. What can we give in the category of Dharma, besides teaching the Dharma, to sustain people and help them flourish?
We can apply the appropriate elements of the other five paramitas, the four Brahmas Viharas, the Eight Folds Noble Path, and scientifically proven remedies. Some highlights are as follows:
Presence. Our mindful presence signals to the other person that we’re there for her. Sometimes material gifts are no longer sufficient. My youngest son played soccer when he was a child. I couldn’t bring him to his games often during Fall and Spring due to work, and severe allergy problems. When he grew up, he told me that I was a good provider, but I wasn’t there for him. I apologized for letting him down. I hope he’ll transform the seed that I’ve sown in him.
On a happy note, our family was blessed when the Buddhist monk Thich Giac Thanh came to visit us for several days.. His smile was contagious and he smiled often. He was always mindful in his speech, sitting, walking, and eating. He looked graceful and light. There was an aura around him. His enjoyment of the present moment brought about serenity to our home during his stay. He knew that I worked a great deal. When he heard that I was also going to an evening meditation at the temple once a week, he told me to stay home and I did. He brought us joy and peace; we were grateful for his presence.
Compassionate Listening. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is always on alert for the cries of those who call her name. She has the ability to listen attentively to what is said without prejudice, judging, or reacting. Her listening calms their fear, and alleviates their suffering. This skill is the bridge to understanding people on the other side of the divide to whom we want to communicate. It heals individuals, families, and nations. The hearings conducted by The Truth Commission under the leadership of Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa are an outstanding example. Research to date indicates that doctors are inadequately trained in listening skills resulting in low patient’s satisfaction, poor treatment results, and higher cost. This is just one of many areas that need improvement.
I would like now to show you how the suffering of a contestant on the Master Chef Australia series was quickly transformed through the compassionate listening of H. H. the Dalai Lama. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw7K-SypLHw starts at min. 2:30. Please note his respectful manner.
Understanding. Understanding removes wrong perception, suspicion, distrust, fear, and hatred. It creates trust, and opens up the dialogue for identifying the root of suffering and finding appropriate solutions. True love is not possible without understanding. Love without understanding is possessive. It doesn’t leave space for freedom. We can’t help others unless we’ve a correct understanding of their problems; otherwise, we may harm them.
Compassionate speech.is flourishing Its contents and delivery convey responsibility, sincerity, serenity, respect and compassion. It promotes understanding and cooperation. It brings peace and happiness. Harsh and irresponsible speech is destructive; it has the potential of destroying civilizations.
Steadiness. This is a form of no-fear. It can be solid as a mountain, calm as a still pond, or resilient as a bamboo. Our steadiness in the midst of suffering is a refuge for others. Ginger sings to the patients at Houston Hospice and talks to them to help them die with dignity, and Barbara rescues stray animals are good examples.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness heals. It’s a gift for us to give ourselves and others. Our well being and happiness, and those of others, are proportionate to the ease with which we give the gift. Richard Moore of Ireland was blinded by a rubber bullet when he was 10 years old. He never had any anger toward the British soldier who fired the shot. He forgave the soldier and they became good friends. He founded Children in Cross Fire to help children in the world who are caught in conflicts and hunger. Let’s listen to his words of compassion and wisdom:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSkvhvMVfPg @ min. 11:27 – 15:27
Recognition and Appreciation. We celebrate others’ joy. We recognize others’ accomplishments by expressing sympathetic joy and appreciation. We also recognize and respect others’ dignity. On the projects that I led, the team members rang the bell to celebrate their accomplishments, and the rest joined in. We also had a Quality of Life Committee that, besides handling other quality of life issues, looked after performance and recognition on the project. All disciplines were represented including secretaries and mailroom clerks. Although it was not the company’s policy, I used overhead money to allocate a budget for the committee. I empowered the committee to make all decisions and was not one of its members. On a project of 500 people in the home office, we had celebrations every week. There was a lot of laughter and smiles, and good team work. They were industry award winning projects. But it was more important that people wanted to be on them.
Laughter and Smiles. Besides being a good team building tool, these positive emotion expressions have proven to be excellent antidotes for physical pain and emotional suffering. I look forward to re-activating laughter yoga after this series of talks is over.
Now, please relax and enjoy these two short doses of laughter from H.H. the Dalai Lama and then tell me how you feel:
What else can we give in the category of Non-Fear?
In December, 2014, Pope Francis and leaders of different religions in the world convened at the Vatican. They pledged to work together to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking by 2020. Currently, there are 21-36 million men, women, and children living in servitude across the world. This is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21 st century. The production of seafood (caught, transported, and packaged) in Thailand that you and I buy at stores such as Costco and Tesco is performed by Cambodian slaves to the Thai food industry. Here are some additional worldwide statistics on modern slavery and human trafficking:
There are 60,000 victims in slavery in the US today. 71% entered the country with a passport. They paid recruitment fees range from $1,750 to $25,000.
Anger and indignation have their places in compassion. We have to speak up and act to abolish modern slavery and human trafficking as well as political oppression wherever it exists. We intervene in these situations and in protecting indigenous people even when our safety is at risk.
Although time doesn’t permit discussion on no-fear applications to animals and the environment, we must be vigilant in protecting them from hunters, loggers, and in protecting animals from cruel treatment practices.
Giving begins with loving kindness and compassion for our well being and happiness so that we’ll be able to help others.
We’re interconnected to other human beings, the animals, plants, and minerals. Our survival and happiness is theirs; their survival and happiness is ours. It’s essential from these considerations that we do our best to give what we can when others need it. We give without discrimination, free from expectation, and with respect, joy, and kindness. We feel good after we do this. Vietnamese Buddhism teaches its followers to aspire to bring joy to a person in the morning and compassion to another person in the evening. It’s a beautiful aspiration.
It’s a grave social concern that within the US, the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer. Globally, there are also gross disparities between rich nations and poor nations. In some countries, a human life is cheaper than a bottle of wine. The data from the 2014 TIP (Trafficking In Person) report on modern slavery and human trafficking illustrates one aspect of the problems. This gap is accelerating. It’s morally corrupt, socially demeaning, politically explosive, and economically unsustainable. As a nation, we’re not happier despite the rise in NGP. In fact, the decline in civility in our national dialogue is apparent. We’ve become a malnourished nation, hungry for love, compassion, and cooperation. The question is not whether to defend freedom of speech, but whether will we detox narrow-mindedness and selfishness with love and compassion to preserve happiness which is also our inalienable right. At the rate we’re going, we risk losing both.
There are seven billion human beings on this earth. The majority belongs to several major religions while the minority are atheists. It’s essential that compassion be secular for it to be universal. Both H.H. the Dalai Lama and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh strongly advocate this approach. It’s consistent with their teachings. Both want to see such a curriculum taught early in schools. The Dalai Lama donated seed money to Standford University to set up CCARE and Emroy University to set up CBCT secular compassion training programs. Both programs are generating good results. Thich Nhat Hanh set up University of Applied Buddhism in Germany and Thailand. Richard Davidson’s Preschool Kindness Curriculum highlighted under the Second Realization does report improvement in prosocial behavior.
It’s not clear why some give to strangers while others don’t. The Dalai Lama believes that a road map of human emotions will facilitate research into the science of compassion. Through a series of dialogues with him, Paul Ekman, the famed psychologist who did extensive study on facial expressions, is embarking on such an undertaking.
Until scientists figure out universal training programs in schools, we must step up and give what we can. Rich nations also must share more with poor nations. Giving is beauty, serenity, joy, loving kindness, and compassion. It’s refreshing, sustaining, and flourishing. Let’s follow up and share experience on how are we doing in giving ourselves and find out what we can do as individuals and as a sangha to help others. For now, I’d like to leave you with the following wise words:
Is it just for me, or for others?
For the benefit of the few, or the many?
For now, or for the future?