One Thing Clear Through by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (extracts)
- "So it's important to keep this principle in mind: that the practice here is a practice of generosity, of gratitude, of goodwill and kindness, all the way through. Look at the Buddha's teachings on the four noble truths. What are they motivated by if not goodwill? The desire for an end of suffering, the desire for happiness that doesn't place any burdens on anyone else: What is this if not compassion?
And look at his teaching career. Wherever there was anyone ready to learn the Dhamma, he would go there. In those days, that meant going on foot. He traveled all over northern India on foot just to teach. Even the very last day of his life, he knew there was one more person he had to teach before he entered total nibbana. So, even though he was suffering from dysentery, he walked all the way to Kusinara a full day's walk because there was one more person, Subhadda, he had to teach.
What this means in our practice is that we should value all levels of the practice. It's not that you put in time with the elementary levels and then drop them as you move on to the higher ones. You simply add more and more levels of subtlety to your practice, more and more levels of generosity, goodwill, and gratitude. The Buddha started his teaching with very basic mundane right view: the teaching on kamma. And he introduced kamma with two teachings: one on gratitude, one on generosity.
The Buddha started out by saying that generosity is real. The gifts you give actually benefit you and the other person. This is something of real value. And you can think of the whole practice all the way through the abandoning of greed, anger, and delusion as an act of generosity, an act of goodwill. The less greed, anger, and delusion you have, the better off not only you are, but also everybody else. Think of all the suffering you've inflicted not only on yourself but also on other people through your anger, your greed, your delusion. You give these things up not only for your own benefit but for the benefit of the people around you as well.
And it carries you all the way through. This is why we're generous; this is why we practice the precepts, why we're harmless. We meditate to train the mind so that it's harmless. Not only harmless, but also more energetic. If you're not weighing yourself down with greed, anger, and delusion, you have a lot more energy to help other people. And even though there's that popular conception of Theravada as a selfish path, as someone who had studied Buddhism both in Japan and in Thailand once said, you won't find that Thai people are any more selfish than Japanese people. In fact, it can often be the other way around.
The example of the Buddha in the Pali Canon is not a selfish example. Sariputta and Moggallana were extremely helpful not only in teaching other monks but also in teaching laypeople. And look at all the rules in the Vinaya for the monks to look after the monastery. Basically, the monastery is pure generosity. If you were to open your eyes right now and look around, everything you'd see would be somebody's gift. And as for the monks, the longer you live as a monk, the more and more the very bones of your body are the results of somebody's generosity. They say that after seven years all the cells in your body have been changed, so once a monk has hit seven years, his whole body is somebody else's gift. So you've got to use it wisely, generously, in the same spirit with which it was given to you. And as for the monastery around you, you're trained to look after the place. The Buddha encouraged the monks to be clean, to be careful in the way they use things, to put a lot of energy into looking after the results of other peoples' generosity.
In the forest tradition, there's a very strong tradition of keeping alive the protocols that the Buddha gives in the Khandhakas. There's a Vinaya textbook that the monks in Thailand are supposed to study, written by a city monk back at the beginning of the twentieth century, and he cut back on a lot of these rules. This textbook was never popular with the forest tradition. They preferred an older book that went into a lot of detail, particularly on the 14 protocols, most of which deal with looking after the monastery: when you come to a monastery, how you're supposed to set things in order; when you leave, how you're supposed to leave it in good shape; and while you're there, how you keep it clean. A lot of energy should go into keeping the monastery in good shape because a lot of energy went into giving the monastery in the first place.
So the Buddha never discouraged people from being generous. He never discouraged people from being energetic. Ajaan Suwat liked to make this point again and again: There's no place where the Buddha encourages laziness. Even though he teaches contentment, it's contentment with the material things you already have, so that you can devote yourself to building on that, and especially so that you can devote yourself to the training of the mind. But contentment doesn't mean that if you find the place dirty you leave it dirty. Contentment means that if you just have a little shack, you're content with your shack, but you make it a clean shack. You keep it spic and span, in good repair. Utthana-sampada is the word in Pali. It means that you take initiative, you're energetic.
And this translates into your meditation. The sort of person who's energetic in keeping the place clean tends to be more energetic in meditating."
For Free Distribution, as a gift of Dhamma, from Access to Insight and Thanissaro Bhikkhu
With metta / Antony.