To embrace dukkha is to fully embrace the suffering of the world. When the Buddha talks of the path, the whole business beginning with fully knowing dukkha, it’s also an injunction to compassion. When we begin to be more attuned to the tragic nature of our own existence, when we begin to wear down the rigidity of our selfcentredness, that has the effect of making us more empathetically open to the far, far greater suffering that is going on all around us; in others, in the environment.
– Stephen Batchelor, from ‘The Secular Buddha’ a talk given at a London Insight Meditation retreat, September 2008
WHEN people begin to explore the practice of meditation, more often than not it’s because they feel there’s something unsatisfactory in their lives: they believe there’s something wrong with ‘me’, with what’s going on in ‘my life’ and they want to find out if meditation will help.
If then they attend an insight meditation session or retreat, they find they’re encouraged to be generous; that while there may be a charge to attend the retreat, in addition they are asked to make a donation – give dana – to the teacher for the teachings they have received.
This could seem like they’re being asked to pay for something twice. That it’s part of a tradition, well whoopeedoo, what a cool tradition, and they reach into their pockets or their purses and pull out a coin or two or a bill with a picture of Sir Ed to put into the dana bowl.
The brave among them will ask for guidance. Consider what a night out in the city costs, they may be advised, with film tickets, popcorn and a latte, and give accordingly, or they might be asked to compare an evening with a meditation teacher to a yoga session.
Generosity of spirit is rarely instilled in westerners as we grow up. While well-off Victorians had the practice of charity as a way of easing their conscience about the injustices around them, generations X and Y learn with some difficulty sometimes that there is a world beyond themselves.
For our part, we need to be patient, using these opportunities to assist them develop generosity as an important and integral part of the way of meditation, supporting them as they work with their dis-ease.
So, following the injunctions of the four ennobling truths, as we embrace suffering, let go of grasping, experience stopping and create a path, this we do in the hope of curing ourselves of this sense of dissatisfaction.
Those who persist with the practice of meditation discover that this sense of dissatisfaction, or dukkha, is more about ‘us’ rather than ‘me’. We become hugely more aware of the suffering of others, that our own suffering is so tiny by contrast with the suffering of the world, and that there is a direct and very real connection between the world and ourselves. And that’s the point that generosity becomes a significant part of the path.
As repeatedly our heart goes out to all beings in metta practice, it becomes a felt sense rather than repetition by rote and, surprise, we come full circle. We discover the joy that arises out of generosity, from being there for other people, and for other beings.
And from that generosity the ‘me’ actually grows and gains so much. As practitioners, how can we enable others to become aware of this process? As well as the injunction to practice, those of us committed to a buddhist path need to ensure that our communities offer newbies a number of opportunities to practice generosity.
With this in mind, four dharma buddies from around the country have come together and started a charitable trust, Aotearoa Buddhist Education Trust, the object of which will be to raise funds to bring overseas insight meditation teachers to this country.
Our initial aim will be to ask Aotearoa’s insight meditation communities to help us to at least cover a teacher’s air fares. New Zealanders would then be able to taste of Buddha’s teachings more affordably, leaving more in their pockets and purses to offer as dana.
When the results can be seen clearly, we hope that enough of you will feel the value in donating to the trust, and we would hope to be able to cover more of the cost of running retreats. Perhaps all? We would hope so.
– from the July 2009 INSIGHTAotearoa newsletter