One aspect of the true nature of giving is renunciation of the ego that is at the root of suffering. Giving is necessary, however, for more than just freedom from attachments.
Giving is one of the most important practices of Buddhism. Although Shakyamuni Buddha was born some 2,500 years ago into a royal family in ancient India, he abandoned his privileged position and family to seek enlightenment. Later followers of Buddhism have called this "the Great Renunciation." This "Great Renunciation" is the very reason that Buddhists today are able to study and practice the great teachings that were revealed by the Buddha.
"Giving" is a word that has many underlying aspects, but I think that the most important is "renunciation." This is because renouncing those things to which one has a deep attachment is the starting point for attaining wisdom, which is the final goal of the Six Perfections.
Money and possessions probably are among the things to which people in any era have been most deeply attached. Although money and some possessions may be necessary for daily life, the root of suffering is having more than what is needed for that purpose. This is why Buddhism teaches that "material donations," together with "donations of the Dharma" and "donations of the body (removing the anxieties or sufferings of others through one's own effort)," are important forms of giving.
In the same way, we humans also have egos to which we cling. Day after day, most people cause friction and conflict with others because of their self-assertion and their selfish pursuits, which then brings about suffering. One meaning of giving is the renunciation of the ego that is at the root of such suffering.
Giving is necessary, however, for more than just freedom from attachments. It is a fact that all people have an innate desire in their hearts to be helpful to others and to make others happy. When we do something that makes others happy, the smiles that spontaneously appear on our faces occur because somewhere within us there is already the seed that blossoms and causes us to feel happiness when giving.
In Buddhist terms, this could be called the workings of the buddha-nature. But in reality it is difficult for the buddha-nature to manifest itself on the surface, because our implicit egoism, that is, the thought that "I am all right and that is enough," masks the buddha-nature. That is why in Rissho Kosei-kai the practice of giving is our number one objective, for which "putting others first" is our slogan. By putting the happiness of others above our own interests, we polish the surface and bring out our true buddha-nature.
Today, the nations of the world, riding the wave of globalization, are connecting economically and politically as never before. As a result, the poor everywhere are suffering because of competition for food and natural resources and the pursuit of financial returns driven by a kind of "money game" that is completely disconnected from economic reality. The true situation is that nations pursue profits only for themselves, ignoring the poverty in other lands in favor of rampant exploitation. This may differ from egoism at the individual level, but the origins are the same. It would not be wrong even to say that it represents a globalization of the type of egoism that says, "I am all right and that is enough."
It is absolutely essential that nations cooperate in such areas as redistributing wealth and providing humanitarian aid for those suffering from hunger. Rissho Kosei-kai, in its humble way, has been aiding those suffering from hunger by conducting such activities as its Donate-a-Meal Movement. This is certainly putting giving into practice.
We must not forget, however, that the basic premises of such aid activities are expressions of the spirit of Mahayana Buddhism and bodhisattva thought such as, "We cannot be saved if others cannot be saved," or "If there can be no saving of the entire world, there can be no saving of individuals."
It may be that the spirit of giving that Buddhism offers is but a ripple compared with the huge waves of globalization and the principle of economic supremacy. But there is no way to transform those small ripples into larger waves without a steady increase in the number of people who understand and practice Buddhism. In that sense, Buddhism is now being called upon to teach the spirit of giving within the global perspective of "If there can be no saving of the entire world, there can be no saving of individuals."
Yuji Numata is director of the Dharma Missions of Rissho Kosei-kai at its headquarters in Tokyo.
This article was originally published in the October-December 2008 issue of Dharma World.
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