March 25, 2009

Econo-Buddha Part II: The Diamond Heart of Shakyamuni

A familiar scene. My wife and I are walking Pearl Street in Boulder and someone asks for change. I ignore the request or give a diffident refusal. She thinks for a second and pulls the random piece of fruit from her bag, something saved for a snack before lunch, and hands it over. This isn’t charity, this is compassion. The giving of sustenance over gratification. Anyone can give change and it is as much a dismissal as the reluctant shrug. It takes a rare soul to give to someone, not what they want but what they need.

In the fourth verse of The Diamond Sutra the Buddha tells Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should not give charitably with any sense of self and other. In other words there should be no discriminating awareness. No cognizance of where the giver begins and the receiver ends. The purity of exchange expressed in the stanza boggles the mind. How can we even conceive of human relations without a sense of personal identity? Perhaps we cannot, I would prefer to leave that to the sages and not try to prop up my ego thinking it’s remotely possible. What we can do is try to see ourselves within another, to empathize through the shared experience of being human, even in the faces of those we find repugnant to our own dignity, morals, or political standpoint. If you are wondering, what any of this nonsense has to do with our very real socio-economic and political turmoil…I would say empathy, compassion, and their outward expression of charity inspire community and foster the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood when fear and uncertainty conspire to divide us.

A final note on giving. A gift need not be material and at a moment in history where everything seems to move faster and faster one of the greatest gifts may just be time. Listening is a gift as are many expressions of awareness that cost us nothing.

The Diamond Sutra, Verse 4; Translation by Edward Conze

Subhuti, a Bodhisattva who gives a gift should not be supported by a thing, nor should he be supported anywhere. When he gives gifts he should not be supported by sight-objects, nor by sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, or mind-objects. For, Subhuti, the Bodhisattva, the great being should give gifts in such a way that he is not supported by the notion of a sign.

Above passage taken from: Conze, E. 2001. Buddhist Wisdom: the diamond sutra and the heart sutra. New York: Vintage Books.

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