Be A Contribution To The World.
I will never forget my first meditation retreat… I walked up the steep hill to Dhamrkot where Tushita, the retreat center for westerners founded by Lama Yeshe, was nestled in the thick woods above Dharmsala. I had in my backpack a stash of bananas, which I had to hand over to the monkeys that roam the streets of northern India in exchange for my life! As I stepped onto the grounds of Tushita I was overtaken by the beauty and simplicity of the Himalayan hill country.
I was all hopped up about subjecting myself to some serious meditation under the guidance of a real live monk. My expectations of this retreat placed me in what amounted to a posh hermitage, receiving personal instructions on the highest meditations available, and surviving on a meager diet. The only one of these expectations that came to pass was my being forced to survive on a meager diet, and this failed to live up to the romantic hype I had created in my head.
Instead of intense solitude I was forced to mingle with the other retreatants. We frequently attended community teachings and group sits. We also learned the meaning of dana…
Dana is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates generosity. I was introduced to this concept, by what I thought was a backhanded way of cutting cost. I thought Tushita saved on expenses by getting retreatants to handle the day-to-day chores of washing dishes, cleaning the grounds, and preparing the meditation room- they just churched it up by calling it dana! The word dana was also displayed on all the donation boxes. I thought to myself, "These people want me to pay for a service, then donate more money, and perform the duties of a janitor!" Now, looking back on my experience at Tushita I would say the one lesson that sticks out in my mind is the lesson I learned in dana…
Initially I thought dana translated into little more than a spiritual gimmick employed to coerrce stupid westerners into driving up profits, but much to my surprise it turned out to be a wonderful lesson in responsibility. I learned that the environment I inhabit is what I make of it. If I truly appreciate my surroundings I will do what I can to express this appreciation. I came to take pride in arranging the cushions properly and enjoyed washing the dishes.
This lesson is by no means a memory. The principle of dana is an active feature in my life today. The work I do yields little-to-no financial return. I teach Buddhist meditation at a newly formed group in Shreveport, LA. However, I have the good fortune to have a friend who sees this work as worthwhile, and practices dana by offering me a home at an affordable rate. Generosity begets generosity, and I do what I can to make the atmosphere comfortable. I clean the house not because I am in debt, but because I appreciate the environment. If you are truly grateful for your home, car, or bicycle then you will take care of it- you will express this gratitude!
Now, that is not so say that gratitude and acts of generosity are the same thing. Acts of generosity are the pressing out or expression of gratitude. Gratitude is the recognition of wealth. The poverty mentality that has directed our thinking for so long, suggesting that we are always in need of something, and motivating us to constantly take from the environment is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Through simple observation this misunderstanding is resolved, and in this resolution a great wealth of potential is discovered. This amazing potential is our inheritance as human beings. Simply put, this inheritance is creative intelligence, and the transmutation of this potential energy into kinetic energy is an act of generosity!
The spontaneous expression of intelligence is a wonderful contribution to the environment. I hope that every one will find the time in their day to relax, and offer themselves as a gift to the world.
If you liked this you might also like these posts by Ben:
* A Meditation of Thanksgiving