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The rewards of giving - Bangkok Post

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  • Antony Woods
    The rewards of giving Nature gives without expectation of return _ and we should too, says noted monk Phra Santikaro Story by KARNJARIYA SUKRUNG, Picture by
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2004
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      The rewards of giving

      Nature gives without expectation of return _ and we should too, says noted
      monk Phra Santikaro

      From the Bangkok Post

      "I helped her with her work when she asked. Now that I need help, she
      brushes me off ..."

      "I've given my children everything they wanted, but they are still
      disobedient ..."

      "I've always made merit and given lots of donations _ why was I robbed? Why
      do bad things happen to good people?"

      These sentiments are not at all uncommon, and they speak of the frustration,
      anger and suffering of those who feel their kindness, generosity, and love
      for others has gone unappreciated, unreturned, unrewarded.

      Why were the recipients of their good acts so ungrateful? Was our altruism
      given to the wrong persons? Did we not give enough?

      Ask such questions of Phra Santikaro Bhikku, and the monk would probably
      reply that the problem is rooted in our own ignorance.

      "Today, consumerism has shaped the way we give. Our giving has become an act
      of exchange, or an investment," said the outspoken American-born monk.

      "True giving must be free from expectations of anything in return. If you
      expect to get even a word of appreciation like 'thank you' from receivers,
      then it is not a free giving, but an exchange."

      Gratitude must be voluntary, he added. So must an act of giving.

      Sadly, many people today believe in the "no free lunch" or "good begets
      good" maxims. We give alms or donations to monks with a belief that the boon
      (merit) will reserve us a place in heaven and bestow on us happiness,
      success, and luck in the present lifetime.

      More often than not, we give material goods, support, and help to others
      with certain expectations: either to be noticed, to be repaid, or at the
      very least to be appreciated.

      When done this way, Phra Santikaro said we have used giving as a tool to put
      others in our debt, or control others to suit ourselves and our own desires.

      Consequently, both givers and receivers will not feel free, and will
      subsequently suffer, the monk said.

      Phra Santikaro urged us to weed out the consumerist spirit of giving that is
      based on the sense of self and accumulation for the self, and to cultivate
      the genuine value of giving. He suggested that we take a close look at
      nature and how it works.

      "Observe our breaths," the monk wrote in a booklet called Dana: The Way of
      Nature. "We breathe in and we have to breathe out, otherwise we will die.
      Likewise, life is about give and take."

      The natural law of interconnectedness works on a give-and-take basis.

      We live and feed on the "free and unconditional" giving of Nature _ the sun,
      water, wind, trees, rocks, animals and our fellow beings.

      "Giving is indeed a duty in nature. Without giving, there would be no
      living," he said.

      "Accordingly, we should give as we are given to. Giving should be free and
      unconditional. Trees give us air without being forced to or forcing us to
      repay their gratitude."

      Phra Santikaro suggested that we give more consideration to the recipient of
      our giving, that we give what is really needed.

      Phra Santikaro
      "We should give food to those who have none to eat. Give medicine to the
      sick. Or give time and care to the elderly, for example."

      Giving things that receivers do not need is a waste, he said. This can be
      seen at many temples: Huge amounts of surpluses from donations, especially
      the yellow "sanghadana" buckets with food and daily consumer products, which
      collect dust at monastic residences.

      Giving plays a key role in keeping our social relations alive and healthy,
      he said. "Like blood circulating in our body, giving helps nourishing our

      In practising right giving, we are naturally following sila (the Buddhist
      precepts that prohibit killing, stealing, adultery, lying and reckless
      intoxication), the monk said. "Sila is a code of conduct contributing to
      communal livelihood and peace. So is giving.

      "Communities where people are generous and kind to one another will be happy
      places to live and violence will be scarce. In such a society, youngsters
      will be taught to give at an early age.

      "But in today's market-driven society, we take more than we give.
      Competition is high, be it in education or career. In this social climate,
      people are in search of power, money and higher status, thus violence is
      easy to come by," he said.

      The Lord Buddha always placed an emphasis on Sangha (monastic and lay
      community), so much so that he said that "sanghadana" _ a sort of
      indiscriminate giving which is intended to benefit a group rather than a
      specific individual _ was the greatest form of giving, higher than giving to
      the Buddha or the enlightened ones, said Phra Santikaro.

      "Giving that benefits people at large will definitely be better than that
      given to specific individuals," he said.

      But today, many prefer to make donations to famed monks or influential
      people. Also, they believe that sanghadana only refers narrowly to giving to
      those wearing the yellow robes.

      "Sangha refers to a group of people, which should include groups of lay
      people, too _ families, communities, organisations. Therefore giving, or
      making donations, to organisations that work for society can be considered
      sanghadana," he said.

      Ultimately, cultivating right giving will lead us on the path to Nirvana, he

      The Jataka story about Prince Vessantara is a case in point. The last
      reincarnation of the Lord Buddha, Prince Vessantara, pointed to the
      significance of giving as a way to find the path to enlightenment. The
      prince gave away everything, upon being asked, even his beloved wife and
      children (though people today question his right to do that _ the point was
      his ability to give, without attachment to his self, his wife and children
      considered extensions of that self).

      In giving freely, as Nature does, we learn to let go of our possessions and
      selfishness and to be detached from expectations, he said, adding that how
      we give teaches us the virtue of modesty too.

      "The act of giving should be polite and gentle, showing our respect to other
      beings. Givers should not feel they are of higher status than the
      recipients. For example, if they throw some change in a beggar's bucket, it
      reflects their egoistic arrogance _ that they think they are better," said
      Phra Santikaro.

      Ultimately, it seems that practising giving as a duty and as the way of
      Nature should help to end suffering. "In the end, we will see that there are
      no givers, no receivers, but the natural duty of giving and taking, rotating
      in society. Just like our breaths that recycle and circulate in nature. If
      we can rise to this virtue of giving, there would be no suffering."


      How then shall we give?

      Phra Santikaro suggested eight kinds of giving that we should embrace in our
      daily lives. They are:

      GIVING MATERIAL THINGS : This kind of giving is quite common. Phra Santikaro
      urges that we give only when there is a real need, and not just to follow
      tradition. Giving water to people who are working under the scorching sun is
      recommended. But giving bottles of water to monks as alms deserves a

      "People believe that they must add water in giving alms, otherwise there
      would be no water for them in the afterlife. So the monks have to carry this
      belief _ a heavy load of water _ when they go for an alms-round. And plastic
      bottles end up piling at some corner in the temple," the monk said.

      GIVING KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS : More sustainable than giving material things
      is to give others knowledge and skills they need to improve their lives. As
      the saying goes: "Teaching people how to fish is better than giving them

      GIVING OPPORTUNITIES : Each of us has knowledge and skills but we also need
      an opportunity or a place that allows us to exercise and practise those
      skills. One prime example of people in need of an opportunity are prison
      inmates. Many suffer a hard life after serving time. Having a criminal
      record, not many are willing to give them jobs, thus resuming a normal life
      becomes an ordeal. Consequently, they are likely to return to their bad

      GIVING TIME : There are two kinds of time giving. The first is to spend time
      with others, especially those who need our time. Also, giving time means
      that we give others time to do their task, or to think their work through,
      according to their skills and the amount of work they have to. We have to
      learn to be patient, to allow people to work at their own pace. Don't rush

      GIVING NON-VIOLENCE, OR NON-HARM : In order to have a happy and peaceful
      life, we all need to feel safe and secure, the monk said. People should not
      feel threatened by forms of violence or pressure. Living under pressure
      engenders stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. So giving non-harm or
      nonviolence is a form of giving that allows others to live at peace.

      However, our market-driven society constantly threatens our peace of mind.
      "We are in a society that uses force all the time," said the monk. Children
      are forced to study subjects they are not interested in. Parents use force
      or a sense of guilt to control children to do what they believe is true and
      correct regardless of the child's own thoughts or desires.

      "Parents and adults should use love and reason with children rather than
      force and order. We don't convince people, but force them to do things to
      satisfy our desires and beliefs," the monk said.

      Our economic system is not compassionate. It drives people to continually
      search for money, accumulate wealth, and compete with one another.

      Market-driven advertisements are cruel because they brainwash people into
      buying certain products and ways of seeing things.

      "These days, commercials on whitening or slimming products are so cruel and
      disgusting. They belittle non-whites and non-slim people."

      In this current socio-economic system, the monk concluded, it is hard for us
      to attain happiness. "If only we train ourselves not to force or reduce the
      use of force when dealing with others, whether by means of money, power or
      tricks, it will be the very valuable giving. We are giving others the
      feeling of non-harm and peace."

      FORGIVING : Everybody makes mistakes. So without forgiving, there can be no
      peace in human relationships and society, the monk said.

      "Forgiving is a very precious form of giving. Not only does it help to mend
      broken relationships, but it also cleanses the grief and suffering in our
      minds," he said.

      Holding grudges is a torment. So when people repent of their wrongs, we
      should learn to forgive them wholeheartedly.

      To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget, though. In some cases, the
      monk said, we should remember.

      "If a child is abused by his alcoholic father, the child should remember
      that when his father drinks, he should get out of his sight for his own
      safety. But he should not infest himself with anger towards his father _
      it's not healthy."

      GIVING LOVING-KINDNESS : Having talked to many about their deepest desire,
      most said that what they most yearned for most was love _ a thing that has
      become scarce in today's society.

      "Today, we see others as employees or mechanisms in an economic system. We
      don't see them as fellow human beings who share a similar fate to ourselves.

      "When we love others, we don't deny their existence as human beings."

      Loving-kindness was therefore a invaluable gift that we could give to
      others, he said.

      GIVING DHARMA : According to Buddhist belief, giving dharma is one of the
      supreme forms of giving for it will lead others on the path of righteousness
      and will help them to ultimately attain Nirvana. Therefore, many like to
      give dharma books or lectures or to share dharma wisdom. Phra Santikaro
      suggested another, perhaps higher level of giving dharma.

      "The best way to teach dharma is not through theory or dharma lessons, but
      through our daily life. Dharma is not a word, it's a life.

      "Live your life as dharma so that people can look and learn from it. That's
      the best way to give dharma."

      He cited as an example the late Buddhadasa Bhikku, whose life served as an
      exemplar of dharma, inspiring both monks and laypeople to follow in his


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