Monday, May 26, 2014

Dana, and Gratitude for Bill Gates

One of many examples of unintentional giving

“As in Judaism, the dynamics of sacrifice is interiorized and spiritualized in Buddhism, which goes all the way in emptying sacrifice of its physical substance. Thus the perfection of giving, when grounded in the perfection of wisdom, is marked by the disappearance of giver, gift, and receiver. The objectification of any of the three taints the pure freedom of emptiness.”
http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/11/sacrifice-and-self-immolation-in-buddhism.html

When I hear the idea of “not separate” I think of the giver, gift, and receiver as being indistinguishable from each other. The giving that Bhante (our Burmese monk who teaches us the words of the Buddha) was referencing in his discussion of giving (dana) was lay giving, as opposed to enlightened giving (as he noted).

Here's an article on the Charitable-Giving Divide
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-wwln-t.html
“In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”

I think the fallacy here is that one is talking about percentages rather than looking at both percentage and amount. I assume that much of the giving of those who make less than $25000 is to their churches. 4.2% is $1050 or $20 a week. For many churchgoers, this is the cost for being in a religious community. Many would be embarrassed not to put money in the bowl as it is being passed. Those making $75000 give $2025, almost double. Who is the more generous? Who worked harder or more hours to earn their money? Who invested four to six years of their time and money to get a higher education to earn more? Some look at the person who earns $1,000,000 and asks why they only end up paying 20% of their income in taxes ($200,000), where someone making $100,000 might be paying 35% ($35,000). Is it fair to say that the millionaire isn't paying enough, even if it is 5.7 times what the one who earns less pays in taxes?

The biggest issue I have with the discussions of "dana" is that they seem to gloss over the fact that most of our material world and infrastructure wasn't generated from "an open heart" yet gives us innumerable pleasure and freedom. Artists, for example, create beauty because they have the urges and abilities to do so. Their motivation might not be to enhance our lives, yet our lives are enhanced by their actions. Picasso may never have given a penny to charity, yet our lives are enhanced immeasurably by his actions. Grande Communications, in an effort to make more money and compete with Google, now provides 1 gigabit Internet service. A great gift, in my book, though perhaps not done from any altruistic intention. Are their efforts deserving of gratitude?

I forever return to Milton Friedman as he describes the lesson of the pencil. Numerous people with numerous skills all work together to creates a pencil, making it possible for me to make a drawing. None might have had the slightest ambition to “give” yet their gift enables many to have richer lives (monetarily and emotionally). Are they bodhisattvas? Perhaps.

I've created my own parable about giving. Imagine that Schindler had only one ambition in hiring Jews for his manufacturing company, and that was to earn greater profits. He discovered that he could hire Jews for less money, and that they worked hard. On the other hand, Schindler (in my parable) had a brother who was a good Samaritan. He wanted to save as many Jews from the Nazis as possible. In my parable, Schindler was very good at making money, and in his “greed” to turn a profit, he saved hundreds of Jews from the death camps. On the other hand, Schindler's brother was klutz. For every Jew he saves, ten more are shipped off to the concentration camps. I now ask, who is the better person? Many say that it is Schindler's brother. And then I ask, if you were on a space ship taking you to one of two planets where you'd live your life out, and one planet was full of Schindlers, and the second was full of Schindler's brothers, which planet would you choose? Here I usually get the answer of Schindler.

Yes, Bill Gates gives a lot of his money away. But that is a minor part of his humanitarian gestures. His greatest gifts are his contributions to enable us to learn and communicate easily and efficiently. He deserves our gratitude for that. 

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