More than one Buddhist priest has maintained that dana, or giving, is the most important of the Buddhist six paramitas (or perfections). The others are virtue, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.
When I hear this, I think they might have a conflict of interest. Are they encouraging me to empty my wallet into the donation box?
I saw a starving kid in Mexico City, so I gave his mom money. Then I followed the mom into a church and she put the money into the donation box.
So then we give her food stamps.
Perhaps she put the stamps into the box, or sell the stamps and put the money into the box.
Once I asked a begger who had a sign saying give me money for food. I asked him if he’d like me to buy him a meal. Get lost, he said.
I went to the Bat Mitzvah today of the daughter of a rabbi. She mentioned that her dad told her that even if one in ten people use your gift meaningfully (food not alcohol) that the gift was worth giving because you had helped someone.
Buddhists say that gift, giver and receiver are one.
Buddhists give without attachment to the gift or the receiver (http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/giving.htm). And here comes the problem for me.
Given our interdependence, we are not separate. Everything we do affects others. I give to you and you give to me, for you and me are co-conspirators. So does giving even exist?
I had an Israeli philosophy professor in college who said that you shouldn’t help anyone with a guarantee.
After that I went to lunch with some people and one of them reminded me of the fact that when you give a gift you need to let go. When Barnes left his great collection to Philadelphia, he insisted it stay in the same house where he had lived. It took expensive and long legal maneuvering before his wishes could be reversed. Now a beautiful museum exists in a location closer to the population that he wish to educate.
How hard it is to give something without strings! I remember how surprised and envious I was when I heard that the University of Missouri—St. Louis hired someone with the stipulation that they’d find something to do. There was no teaching or research required. Just a paycheck and the individual could decide how to be useful. I used this as my model when I taught. I’d start up programs and courses that seemed needed and/or interesting.
But back to attachment. I gave Bill a packet of sugar, but held on to it. He could never take it. There was no gift. Finally he let go, realizing that I could not let go.
I must work on that, remembering what David Steindl-Rast, said in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, “One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”