Spreading Joy
in Ten Directions

2 of 3


You develop trust in the strength of your being and trust in your ability to open and extend yourself to others. You realize that you are rich and resourceful enough to give selflessly.

Chogyam Trungpa

Generosity is a primary virtue in Buddhism. In the past, some teachers have attached greater importance to giving than to meditation or wisdom. According to a traditional classification, there is tentative giving, friendly giving, and princely giving. When one happily shares or gives up the best one has, whether it be time, energy, or material resources, that is princely giving. Josh Schrei, who works with the Free Tibet movement, is a member of the first generation to grow up in an American Buddhist community (his parents were residents of the Zen Center of Rochester, New York). Recently, Schrei made the following observation about his upbringing: "One of the things that I took on as a child at the Zen Center was that selfless giving is basically the highest human ideal, that I should always think of others, that I should be ready to give myself up for others."

For a specified period of time, undertake to act on every generous thought that comes to mind, even if the next thought offers a plausible reason not to act so charitably. (Some common-sense limits are acceptable.) Attempting to uphold this guideline, you may notice how often you censor your own generous impulses.

What is called "helping" is usually much more. We engage not only to address a problem, but also to connect with others, to confirm our own humanity, and to acknowledge the mysterious web of interdependence. In the process, something happens to the supposed boundary between the helper and the helped: its insubstantiality is revealed, or it dissolves altogether. Traditional descriptions of the "perfection of giving" point to this experience of oneness, though today the language sounds arcane:

Here a bodhisattva gives a gift, and he does not apprehend a self, nor a recipient, nor a gift; also no reward of his giving. He surrenders that gift to all beings, but he apprehends neither beings nor self. He dedicates that gift to supreme enlightenment, but he does not apprehend any enlightenment. Pancavimsatisahasrika

Thich Nhat Hanh says that he experiences something comparable when he translates orphans' applications for sponsorship. Before he reads anything in the file, he looks closely at a photograph of the orphan, studying the child's expression and features. Then:

I feel a deep link between myself and each child, which allows me to enter a special communion with them. I no longer see an "I" who translates the sheets to help each child, I no longer see a child who received love and help. The child and I are one: no one pities; no one asks for help; no one helps. There is no task, no social work to be done, no compassion, no special wisdom.

In such moments of nondiscrimination, contemplative practice and social engagement converge seamlessly.

When do you experience the oneness of helper and helped?