Sunday, June 17, 2012

Buddhist Readings for Christians: Perfect Charity

From Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (pp. 63-64):
An aristocratic lady coming out from temple an...
An aristocratic lady coming out from temple and giving alms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to Christianity, every existence in nature is something which was created for or given to us by God. That is the perfect idea of giving. But if you think that God created man, and that you are somehow separate from God, you are liable to think you have the ability to create something separate, something not given by Him. For instance, we create airplanes and highways. And when we repeat, “I create, I create, I create,” soon we forget who is actually the “I” which creates the various things; we soon forget about God. This is the danger of human culture. Actually, to create with the “big I” is to give; we cannot create and own what we create for ourselves since everything was created by God. This point should not be forgotten. But because we do forget who is doing the creating and the reason for the creation, we become attached to the material or exchange value. This has no value in comparison to the absolute value of something as God’s creation. Even though something has no material or relative value to any “small I,” it has absolute value in itself. Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value. Everything you do should be based on such an awareness, and not on material or self-centered ideas of value. Then whatever you do is true giving, is dana prajna paramita.


There are perhaps three kinds of creation. The first is to be aware of ourselves after we finish zazen. When we sit we are nothing, we do not even realize what we are; we just sit. But when we stand up, we are there! That is the first step in creation. When you are there, everything else is there; everything is created all at once. When we emerge from nothing, when everything emerges from nothing, we see it all as a fresh new creation. This is nonattachment. The second kind of creation is when you act, or produce or prepare something like food or tea. The third kind is to create something within yourself, such as education, or culture, or art, or some system for our society. So there are three kinds of creation. But if you forget the first, the most important one, the other two will be like children who have lost their parents; their creation will mean nothing. Usually everyone forgets about zazen. Everyone forgets about God. They work very hard at the second and third kinds of creation, but God does not help the activity. How is it possible for Him to help when He does not realize who He is? That is why we have so many problems in this world. When we forget the fundamental source of our creating, we are like children who do not know what to do when they lose their parents. Actually, our problems should be solved or dissolved in this life.
But if we are aware that what we do or what we create is really the gift of the “big I,” then we will not be attached to it, and we will not create problems for ourselves or for others.

Dana refers to generosity or charity, and is one of the six perfections of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita loosely refers to perfection, and prajna refers to deep wisdom/clear insight. Put it all together and you have perfection of wisdom through giving. Zazen typically refers to seated meditation, a posture used to support the single-pointed concentration (on something such as the breath, an energy center, or a koan) necessary to break out of habitual thinking and conceptualizing.
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