The best gift of all

Black oak woodlands in the Gluepot National Park in South Australia

On the assertion that the size we become as Buddhas depends on the amount of our donations to the sangha. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, 18; CWS, p. 677)

 This is the last of the controversial issues that Yuien seeks to address in the second section of A Record in Lament of Divergences. Apart from the fact that it is another contention that is completely baseless, and has no support in the texts of the Pure Land stream, it is even more dastardly because it exploits the highest possible virtue of the Bodhisattva vehicle in order to support an oppressive argument.

Giving (dana) lies at the heart of all Buddhist practice because it is the outward aspect of the fundamental principle of not-self (antaman). In all of the sutras that discuss the Perfection of Wisdom (prajna-paramita), giving is especially a crucial part of the Bodhisattva vehicle, which includes the Pure Land school.

Giving is the first of the six perfections (paramita). It is basic, fundamental, and the only practice that is absolute and essential. In keeping with this, giving is also central to the Primal Vow because Amida Buddha gives his virtue to beings in the Name, Namo Amida Butsu.

It is said that even those who have few possessions can give by way of ‘The Seven Kinds of Giving’. These are found in the text known as The Storehouse of Sundry Valuables, which is a wonderful scripture of the Sarvastivada, a Hinayana school of northern Buddhism. If we are people who take refuge in the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we could do well to keep them in mind as we go about our daily lives.

In The Storehouse of Sundry Valuables we discover that ‘The Seven Kinds of Giving’ are: (1) giving of the eyes – looking at people in a friendly way; (2) giving of facial expression – not looking at others in an unpleasant or angry way, with furrowed brow and scowling appearance; (3) giving of speech – speaking in a way that is soft and gentle; not harsh; (4) giving of action – standing to greet people and approaching them respectfully; (5) giving of the mind – having pleasant thoughts towards others; (6) giving of one’s seat or resting place to others; and (7) giving of one’s dwelling – a place to stay in one’s home. One meets such people in both fiction (Here for example.) and real life.

But you can also see, on reading these fundamental aspirations regarding the practice of giving, why those who live in the light of Amida Buddha can understand the persistent nature of blind passions! We naturally fall far short of such essential Buddhist ideals!

The mistaken idea about the ‘size we become as Buddhas’ at the head of this section of A Record in Lament of Divergences is so wrong that Yuien says it is utterly ‘absurd and nonsensical’. Then he goes on to explain that, while the Buddha takes a form we can recognise in a conventional way, the true Buddha is formless.

After further elucidating the reasons why the proposition at the head of this chapter is so silly, Yuien reminds us of the only gift we can truly and honestly give. It is the gift of our heart!

Further, it may be possible to say that making offerings is the practice of the paramita of charity. But however precious a treasure one may offer before the Buddha or give to a teacher, it is meaningless if one lacks shinjin. And even though one may not make a donation of even a single sheet of paper or half a penny to the sangha, if one yields one’s heart to Other Power and one’s shinjin is deep, one is in accord with the essential intent of the Vow. (CWS, p. 677)

Author: George Gatenby

Shin Buddhist priest