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Not giving  is harming
August 19th, 2015

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

Not giving  is harming
— "do not harm", not even by negligence

   A particular theme in Japanese folklore is around objects we have wasted coming back to haunt us: objects ignorantly discarded may turn into ghosts [Non-japanese might simply replace 'ghost' by 'lingering guilt']… We have an ethical obligation —not just to people, but to things themselves— to avoid waste: all phenomena have buddha-nature.

   One way not  to waste is to repair  things, rather than embracing the "just throw away and get a new one" diktat from programmed obsolescence, thus leading to the Japanese tradition of mended ceramics (kintsugi  金継ぎ or kintsukuroi  金繕い).

   Another way obviously is to give,  to whoever could make good use of the given.

   As noted recently ( and thread), the appreciation of any (residual) potential in things, of any energy which might be harvested by the gift of mindfulness rather than wasted by the ineptitude of absentmindedness, is wholesome.

   Few meditators would consider "mindfulness" to be an easy skill to cultivate though: as experienced "on the cushion", the ordinary mind has strong tendencies to drift toward obsessions and narratives (of past and future), "being present" takes "chipping away" skills. But this is no reason to take for granted that we'll forever remain selfish and biased by ordinary blind spots: on the contrary, it's a reason to persevere in our efforts to carve ignorance out.

   Like any training, perseverance in cultivation is what makes things easier, what makes subtler the sensibility to errors, what makes more profound the understanding of how to respond constructively to any difficulty that arises, and ultimately what allows one to reach one's full potential!

   Generosity is a Perfected  Quality, it takes patience and effort. And, by contrast with the mere impostor, a practitioner has to walk the talk, has to be generous and give (in practical terms)… as part of the learning, as part of the very idea of 'practice'! "It takes patience and effort," it also takes doing  or embodying.

   Any view pretending that karma is intention and therefore amending one's intentions is enough (without embodiment) might be dangerously misleading: an intention is 'karma' only if  it has causal  efficacy!

   Of course, an intention doesn't always  have consequences: not all  specific contexts will be supportive for its actualisation. But given (time and) a multiplicity of contexts, an enduring intention will  meet some  circumstances in which it makes a difference in the unfolding of phenomena! Or it's not an intention: it's just a delusional view, a story or narrative which distorts reality.

   However, given the various needs we're all surrounded by, not giving  is harming… It's not 'just'  a question of specific context which isn't supportive of a manifestation of a wholesome intention!
   Not only not giving  is harming others by negligence or selfishness, but also it is harming ourselves (in various ways: from guilt to missing opportunities for peace, from cultivating bad habits to setting up an example that could harm us when our circumstances will evolve) and overall harming the world we belong to (to which we provide a poor example, which might be appropriated as socially acceptable once enough similar precedents occurred, pushing all toward the "law of the jungle", more characteristic of the animal realm than of the human realm!).

   Regularly, some people take the perspective that not doing  incurs no blame, but in fact negligence and laziness are unwholesome (a case of 'ignorance' of the consequences).

   In a buddhist context, this erroneous "no blame" belief often stems from an erroneous view of karma: if people face difficulties, they 'must' deserve so, it's "their" karma…
   But even if one considers such a view to be partly true, it is grossly incomplete  (due to a self-serving narrative biasing the view!): if people deserve the difficulties they face, they also  deserve any help that might arise on the way: « it's their difficulty, but it's my help » would be strikingly dualistic and based of the erroneous belief of independent existences. Instead, "right view" is "complete view" (

   If you adhere to a rather 'deterministic' interpretation of karma, then it might be 'their' karma when they experience their difficulties, but it also is 'your'  karma when you meet people you might help! Meeting such people in need is an opportunity  you created for yourself to practice and embody Perfected Qualities (including Generosity), to realise inter-dependence, to participate in "saving all beings"… Or maybe it's an opportunity to finally 'fix' an unwholesome causal chain you were involved in!!!
   You're facing an opportunity, you're facing a choice: what tendency do you want to embody today? (
   Whatever the causes for this opportunity to arise are, wasting the opportunity would be wasting any good deeds you previously performed to create this opportunity, and this would mean falling back into ignorance after building stairs to progress! How wise would this be?

   Withholding the help we might provide is not  "merely letting the karma of others unfold", it is not  "refraining from interfering" (pretending we are "not yet" involved even though we're inter-dependent enough to know of the need!).
   Withholding the help we might provide is  actively creating bad karma for ourselves, by voluntarily letting the situations of others worsen (others who could have counted on us if only we had been wiser, less clinging to "me vs. them", more awakened, less selfish…).

   Buddhas are selfless: they don't play games of "my karma vs. their karma".  They equanimously help all  sentient beings… not by craving and seeking to be 'saviours', not by righteousness, but by appropriately  responding to the situation at hand: when help is needed, the help which may wisely  be provided is  provided.

   There's a Christian pedagogical joke, based on the same Wisdom, which goes thus: « Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it… but I’m afraid He would ask me the same question. »

#Buddhism   #Dharma  
Photo: example of kintsugi  金継ぎ. For the practitioner prone to feeling low due to self-criticism of one's practice, it may be noted that mending doesn't apply only to objects: misunderstandings and erroneous views may be mended, broken or forgotten intentions may be mended… and not only they might turn wholesome and functional, but also they might somehow convey a new sense of beauty.