Thursday, December 24, 2009

Test your limits . . .

"Happiness comes from cherishing others"Lama Zopa Rinpoche


Christmas morning, just finished breakfast, feel as though I’ve already put in a full day with prostrations and a long Tara sadhana . . . visions of Christmas morning, gift giving, love, gratitude, appreciation dancing around in mind . . . a special time.

I'd like to share a brief story with you . . .

As those of you who have been to the Chenrezig Project gompa (aka, my home) know, I am a nest-maker, there’s many “things” scattered about, some of them quite meaningful to me. I like to collect "stuff" . . .

The other day I was sitting at the Mahabodhi Stupa, around the back, under the spreading branches of the Bodhi tree. There are very few leaves falling from the tree this time of year, and when they do they are in much demand, people actually look up waiting for them to fall, and then race to be in best position to gather it up. For a Buddhist, there probably isn’t a more precious keepsake than a leaf from the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. And in the days I had visited the tree, I had not seen a trace of a fallen leaf.

I was reciting a mala of Shakyamuni Buddha mantra (Tadyatha Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Svaha), as I completed the mala I opened my eyes, and at that moment a leaf from the tree landed on the ground in front of me. Unbelievable.

I bent over and picked it up and studied it for a moment, it was green-turning-brown, not too large, perfectly formed. What a gift to bring home and place on our altar, heck, an heirloom in the making . . .

I then noticed a Thai nun walking in my direction, absorbed in practice she stopped at the site of the tree’s base, underneath which is the Vajra Seat where the Buddha sat and awoke, and as many people do she stopped, pressed her forehead against the altar spot, and prayed. After a few moments she continued on.

As she approached and we made eye contact, I reached out the leaf in offering. She looked at it, and then at me, and I said, “here, this just fell from the tree, it was meant for you.”

Smiling broadly she took the leaf and thanked me, and continued her slow thoughtful kora around the Stupa. Each time she came back around, holding the leaf delicately in front of her, she shared a smile. And more.


I’m not telling this story to pat myself on the back publicly, in fact, I hesitated in mentioning it. But today is Christmas, the day of giving and receiving gifts, and this moment under the tree keeps coming up, in a way that opens my heart each time it arises in my mind.

The Buddha was spot-on when he named the perfection of generosity as the first of the perfections on the Bodhisattva path, it is from generosity that all the wonderful things we are capable of doing and being arise. It is the fertile ground on which happiness blossoms, and for me that moment of giving something so precious in order to make another being happy is like a jewel whose brilliance brightens my mind whenever I gaze upon it.

What a difference from what would have been the case had I taken the leaf and placed it in my book, safely in my possession. That self-cherishing act would have, by comparison, been dark and clinging. I see that so clearly.

So, conditions occur, the aggregates come together in a moment of mind, and a few seconds under the Bodhi tree with a stranger become an unforgettable dharma learning moment.

And what's the lesson? Giving up, giving in, just plain giving -- that’s the truly transformative experience. Generosity opens our heart, frees us from attachment and is the basis of all good qualities. It’s the foundation of the Buddhist path.

The Buddha said that a true spiritual life is not possible without a generous heart. Generosity is the very first paramita or quality of an awakened mind. The path begins there because of the joy that arises from a generous heart. Pure unhindered delight flows freely when we practice generosity. We experience joy in forming the intention to give, in the actual act of giving, and in recollecting the fact that we’ve given.

If we practice joyful giving, we experience confidence. We grow in self-esteem, self-respect and well-being because we continually test our limits. It is indeed a path worth walking.


Again, it’s Christmas morning. A great day to "think and be" generosity in each opportunity that arises, whether planned or not, and to be generous not just with things, but of your attention, your listening, your caring, your knowledge, your wisdom, your love, your karmic fruits, yourself. To family, friend, neighbor, pet, stranger, and yes, if the opportunity is there, even enemy. Test your limits.

If you have the karma to understand and learn how that engenders true happiness and joy in your heart, I believe you will have given yourself the most sensible and precious Christmas present you will ever receive.

Be merry . . . be generous.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.