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The priceless practice of giving generously

Traditionally in Buddhism the precious Lineage teachings are a gift of unconditional love - given freely, beyond price, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Historically, Buddhist monks have no possessions, their lives an embodiment of the Teachings they have received. This Eastern custom of dana (giving generously) directly involves the community, who respond by giving the monks money and food so they can survive and continue teaching. In the East, such giving and receiving is woven into the collective-focused culture. In the Individual culture of the west, no such tradition has evolved. Western Dharma teachers must wrestle with this dilemma. The pressing question is: “How can I survive without such a culturally sanctioned custom of community support for Dharma Teachers?”.

  • I could charge for the Dharma teachings.
  • I could teach part time and make a living some other way.
  • I can ask for donations for teaching, which often provide funds that fall short of surviving.
  • I can spend time building the organization and its resources rather than teaching Dharma.
  • I can start and maintain a fundraising campaign to support the teachers, which means I divert precious time away from teaching the Dharma.
  • I can supplement teaching the Dharma with teaching other things that I can charge for.

As a lineage holder with all the responsibility to keep the Dharma pure and uncorrupted, if I create an expectation of payment anywhere in the organization, then the purity of giving generously from a heart enlightened by wisdom – absolute clarity and selfless compassion - is lost. Teaching the Dharma becomes a business. Unconditional love becomes conditional. The Dharma must be free from the three poisons: ignorance, attachment and aversion, and their cultural expressions of unconsciousness, greed and hate.

Out of this need to create a means of livelihood, in our Sangha, our community, we have created a new form of the ancient Dharma Teaching of “Giving Generously from the heart”. We have given this old teaching a new name: The Reciprocity of Generosity. It is an opportunity to receive these teachings, given generously with no expectation of the teachers receiving anything in return; and then look into your own heart and see if you have the resources and want to respond with the same spirit of generosity. This practice from the groundless ground of unconditional love is a direct way to deepen your own practice of insight and compassion, contribute positive karma, and make the world more healthy and whole. Integral Zen is a non-profit religious organization dedicated to helping all beings end war, conflict, and suffering, beginning within and expanding to our relationships with each other. Your gifts of Dana support the teachers and teachings, the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and the depth of your own awakening.

With deepest Gratitude, we practice the Reciprocity of Generosity. Remember there are many ways to give with this generosity. Some have money, others have time, others have talents and still others have important contacts. We welcome all gifts given generously from an open heart with unconditional love. We will put them all to good use in bringing these priceless teachings into these interesting times.

I recently heard Jack Kornfield ask: “Have you ever seen anyone be unhappy when they are giving generously from the heart?” What a lovely question to deeply consider.

In gratitude and service,

Doshin Hannya Michael Nelson Roshi
Founder and spiritual leader of Integral Zen.

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