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August 4th, 2015

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)


   Buddhist 'wanderers' looked for food, and the Dharma  was indeed 'freely' given but… it was given where food was available… or the wanderers simply kept walking to a more supportive context!
   This is to say that, if someone wanted to hear the Dharma,  one could either  join the Saṃgha  in its wandering… or  invite senior practitioners for lunch!
   Either way, some effort (‘freely' chosen, and within one's own means) was understood —rather than imposed/demanded— as a necessary condition to receive the teachings.

   "Freely given" did certainly mean "no predefined price tag"  (i.e. any meal would be equanimously accepted —cf. the monks instructed not to cherry-pick the houses where they beg for alms; cf. the Buddha  accepting Ambapali 's meal and, as a consequence, later refusing the invitation of the Licchavi  princes).
   It did also  mean that the wanderers were free to choose  who, where, when and what to teach, for the transmission to be wholesome for all beings!  One might look at e.g. the Cula-Malunkyovada sutta  (MN 63); it is famous for its rejection of metaphysical questions irrelevant to Awakening, but it may also be read as a warning against presuming what a teacher 'should' teach. The Buddha  did not hesitate to question « Then (…), foolish man, who are you to be claiming grievances/making demands of anyone? » Even joining the Saṃgha  in its wandering (the stronger commitment, when compared to offering a meal) doesn't let one make demands (doesn't let one choose which teachings should be given)!

   The naïve interpretation of the Dharma  given ‘freely’ as in "at no effort whatsoever by the recipient"  (i.e. 'free' in relation to cost, instead of 'free' in relation to freedom) mostly is a modern consumerist delusion. Asian traditions do not equate "Dharma  freely given" with "no need for alms/support".
   Sadly, most consumers find 'normal' to give for what they crave for, i.e. find 'normal' to fund whatever they use to enslave themselves into saṃsāra…  while many will struggle to "pay forward" and to generously give (time, effort or money) out of compassion, many will keep looking for narratives justifying not to give "too much"…

   Even the staunchest capitalists forget that the health of an economy is tied to circulation: circulation is improved even when giving to those who already  have, as long as they will use the donation rather than hoard it!
   A question when giving wisely  (and one of the criteria used by is whether what's given might  be 'effectively' put to use, or not, i.e. a relevant question is scalability: can a program be expanded? [This is not always obvious, e.g. in relation to a rare disease, at a particular point in time, one might have no  identified lead for further research… Maybe previously-funded streams of research need to reach their conclusions before further ideas arise.]
   A pointless question is how much has been received already. Just like with perseverance (cf., what's relevant is the potential for further development, for further cultivation of the wholesome and further restraint of the unwholesome, not the past: the past participated in bringing the potential into existence, or lack thereof, but the present potential is the relevant measure.

   The naïve interpretation of the Dharma  given ‘freely’ as in "at no effort whatsoever by the recipient"  is deviant consumerism… and turning the naïve interpretation of 'free' into blind ignorance is a well-known phenomenon, extensively studied for businesses and notably for e-commerce:
• a "free shipping" offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10, which perfectly shows there's no economic rationality here, just the context-less (i.e. caricatural) view "free is good";  
• nothing kills 'conversion' as effectively as a shipping fee: 47% of people indicated they would abandon a purchase if they got to checkout and found that "free shipping" was not included. The expectation of 'free' is so strong (and so context-less) that "reality not complying with one's expectation" will bias even very sensible purchases;
• once Amazon implemented the "free shipping" offer, sales went up in each country except for one. Why? This country charged ¢20 instead of free. While ¢20 is almost free,  it sure didn’t seem that way to people. Once Amazon changed it to free,  sales finally went up there too;
• many apps now come 'free', targeting you with "in-app purchases" instead, a pattern traditionally known as the "foot in the door" (FITD) marketing/manipulation trick. Even well-known 'mindfulness' apps use this cheap trick ;-)

   Even if no price tag is associated to Dharma  teachings, so that even the poorest can ‘afford' access,  a virtuous circle of mutual support is necessary for teachings to be kept accessible.
   Wisdom lies in discerning the causes/intention for the "no price tag associated" and responding appropriately, rather than in irresponsibly rushing on "free" while forgetting inter-dependence.

   When a "free shipping" offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10, one has two choices:
• pretend to be superior to the average customer (most likely a prejudiced opinion, without any serious evidence to back it up —cf., or
• be mindful of socially-influenced thought patterns, and further cultivate the ability to step back from such preconceptions.

   Automatic (i.e. 'ignorant') preference for "free" may lead you to save $6.99 instead of $10, i.e. can lead you to give up a 43%-improved saving!
   It may lead you to pressure a reliable provider into bankruptcy, for the sake of a short-term win (e.g. blinding you from future costs of maintenance/repairs, which the 'cheap' provider might now over-price since the competition has ceased).
   It may lead you to discard as merely "self-serving bullshit" any information on how a specific service differs from another, any explanation on why to pay money to preserve a service you enjoy… i.e., ironically enough, this accusation of others for "using self-serving narratives" might blind you from your own, self-serving habits!

   The Dharma  was given where food was available… or the wanderers simply kept walking (to a more amenable situation in which the four requisites —— would be met)!
   Laypeople are free not to give, practitioners are free not to stay around; making delusional demands or debating what others 'should' do is pointless! Laypeople are free to give, practitioners are free to stay around (i.e. are no longer forced by the circumstances to keep moving: wanderers  might become monastics, temple priests, solitary retreatants  and other 'resident' hermits in forests… the label matters little): the Dharma  then spreads more freely, it blooms free from survival necessities, free from bodily limitations, free from habits of clinging and hoarding.

#Buddhism #Dharma
MN 63:
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by Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple 佛光山西來寺:
In Buddhism, the begging bowl (formally the alms bowl) is the most important objects in the daily lives of Buddhist monks. Historically, it is a bowl to collect alms (money or food) from laypeople.

In Buddha's time at India, Shakyamuni Buddha lead the disciples to go on daily alms round for food. Today, not all branches of Buddhism carry out daily alms round. However, the meaning behind almsround stays unchanged. Laypeople give alms to monastics. The monastics receive food or supply and focus on studying Buddhism. Monastics teach the laypeople the truth about Buddhism.

Like Buddha stated
Householders & the homeless [monastics]
in mutual dependence
both reach the true Dhamma.... (Itivuttaka)