illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
– and recognising some mental patterns hindering the practice
The ignorant mind uses many narratives to cling. Most people would rather postpone Enlightenment if it allowed them to cling a bit longer, but they feel the need to justify such a choice (because they'd like both really —the Awakening while still clinging— so the justification is an attempt to bargain for "clinging without giving up on Awakening").
Last month (gplus.wallez.name/TT3LJxKmz6e), I listed a few narratives commonly used to opt out of the first pāramitā ("perfected wholesome manifestation"): generosity.
Below are a few more of these common narratives. If you recognise a pattern you follow, you know what to work on, here & now, in practical terms, for your spiritual growth.
I gave to other causes in the past…
A variant of the "others first" fallacy is the idea that one has given to other causes (or similar causes, but other specific projects / implementations) in the past… but it didn't play out as expected. It is considered that, as a result of the previous failure or simply of the previous generosity, this time, "others first" should shoulder the (new) effort.
For a start, this is a projection that any past disappointment would repeat itself. This projection might be convenient to justify not giving now, but it is merely a sign of reifying reality, endowing it with 'permanence' and not seeing (usually out of not even wanting to look) what's different now that could make it 'work' better for everyone.
The fallacy is also often based on refusing to look at what was achieved, and focusing on what was expected (gplus.wallez.name/eZKfosSm3v4).
Charities and governments are often blamed for 'wasting' (e.g. money), except that as long as the money circulates (instead of being hoarded in a safe, or on one's bank account —no matter how 'small'), the said money participates in fuelling the economy…
Now, of course, particular projects regularly fail. Generous projects are no exceptions! But to look at the dissatisfaction only, due to focusing on the initial target and without seeing the un-intended consequences, is not "seeing reality as it is" (this is directly the first and second Noble Truths: unsatisfactoriness, based on clinging to mental representations!).
Growth relies on circulation, not accumulation: this is true about emotional growth, spiritual growth, economic growth… To only focus on 'tangible' results from past donations is a projection that generosity only counts if it accumulates into something 'visible', except accumulation is often a bad sign! Circulation is what counts! The only accumulation that may be 'generous' is the one that creates infrastructure (e.g. a school) for more circulation (e.g. of knowledge). Anything 'generous' beyond infrastructure is likely to be intangible!
Lack of trust
Another variant of the "others first" fallacy takes the form of lack of trust: the narrative is that, if someone asks for help, it is to fill their pockets without producing an effort. It states that people in need of one's generosity should "help themselves first"!
Obviously, should the person so happily justifying stinginess be later in need of help, (s)he is likely to consider "totally unfair" any similar suspicion of their intentions… Funnily enough, they probably needed help on a past situation or another already, but they conveniently forget the lesson in order to cling now.
It is often easy to notice the cyclical perpetuation of saṃsāric existence in people's constant internal debate between stinginess and generosity, between clinging to and loosening their grip on what is “theirs.”
As soon as they give, they easily start narratives about fairness and put limits in place in order to teach the receiver “how to fish” rather than endlessly sharing their ‘own’ catch… They easily fall back on ‘their’ needs and the needs of ‘their’ family.
There is value in teaching someone to fish for themselves… but the value is negative if it's out of not wanting to cling to one's 'own'! If the intention is to give education and potential (regardless of the fact that the recipient might become a competitor of yours) then this is generous. Unfortunately, the use of this narrative is rarely generous.
Last but not least: the double-standards
Many variants are found, about artists, writers (not just of art), neighbours, people having many kids… The list is endless.
It tends to be based on accusing others of living "beyond their means" (even if they have less than the average, possibly much less)… or on simply imagining that the potential giver is entitled to have more (and thus has no moral obligation to share!). It often takes ridiculous justifications, e.g. "I worked hard to have what I have", which might be true but a priori denies the perspective that the very same argument might be equally valid for the other person (e.g. who worked equally hard, maybe even harder!).
What's particularly interesting is when people justify that people below the poverty line live beyond their means…
Giving more than others
This variant of the double-standards is comparative but usually delusional. It is assumed that one gives more, without the least evidence (or by seeking confirmation in some conveniently-selected reference, happily ignoring the comparison with less-favourable data…).
There is no ‘official’ buddhist guidelines regarding the adequacy of generosity with one's circumstances. This is hardly surprising though, since the buddhist traditions fundamentally accept the contingency of life and the moral responsibility of each and everyone.
An anecdote might illustrate the point:
« In fact, the true act of dāna pāramitā involves giving up what we cherish the most —ultimately our ego self. I know a Dharma-school teacher who encourages the practice of dāna in children by setting an example. Once he took the students to give fruits to the homeless. In doing so, he purchased the most expensive fruits at the grocery store. When one mother complained that the homeless did not deserve such extravagance, he explained two important things about true giving. First, it requires some sacrifice on the part of the giver. To give away something that one doesn't need is not dāna. Second, the act must not be condescending but must show respect to the one who receives the gift. In fact, one is grateful to the recipient who makes the act of giving possible. »
—Taitetsu Unno, “Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold”
If we look at other spiritual traditions as a measure of what communities can sustainably ‘bear,’ Mormons give 10% of their income to the community. Sikhs give the Dasvandh, also 10% of their income to the community. Muslims who have income “above necessity” give the Zakat according to the Qurʼân (the hadith collections suggesting 2.5%, or one fourtieth, of income).The Qurʼân also favours an additional discretionary contribution called Sadaqaat (whose recipients are ‘charities’ and ‘causes’ rather than specific individuals).
"Giving more than others" is never a reason not to give more, but it also is a major self-centric self-serving narrative at least up to the point where one gives 10% of what one gets (every month… or every time one gets something).
« When we give, what is it that we are giving away? The practice of generosity is for letting go of selfishness and deluded self-views. If we are lost in selfishness it shows we don't genuinely care for ourselves, don't know how to really love ourselves. But with this practice of giving such attitudes are cleansed, leaving a heart of compassion towards all being without exception. »
—Venerable Ajahn Chah
image: quote from the infamous 12'09'' TED talk by Robert Thurman "We can be buddhas" (www.ted.com/talks/bob_thurman_says_we_can_be_buddhas.html)