The First Paramita

In recent weeks I have been stockpiling posts – there are currently forty-five lined up through to the end of May. This is mostly so that I can spend a month in England and not worry about updating the blog (maybe I will try to write on the road this time, as I did not manage to in the autumn). I leave some unscheduled days to add in some thoughts, assuming that at least some of you like to hear something from me, and today was left open to write something about the upcoming Roaming Zen.
This will be happening on Saturday, and the tides are lining up perfectly for us to try out the Batteries to Bluffs trail. I am even optimistic about the weather: after the constant stop-start rain, which even turned into hail, over the weekend, the weather has settled; on Tuesday night I watched the end of a tranquil grand sunset from the train, and Wednesday was perhaps the warmest morning of the year.

Following up on suggestions that people have made, now that I have the spring season dates set, I submitted Roaming Zen as a Meetup, and also as an Airbnb experience (though the approval process for that takes longer, so it is not live yet). Last year I put the series on Eventbrite, but it did not bring many people my way, nor, did it seem, did creating events on Facebook, since I don’t have an existing network on there, so those things won’t be happening this year.

This week, since I was being quite productive, I also signed up for Patreon; this did not come naturally to me, as I don’t feel that I am especially creative, but one of my major benefactors prompted me to do it so that they could offer regular support. It feels like a step up from the ‘buy me a coffee‘ button you can see on the sidebar (I moved it up as a couple of people said they couldn’t see it); that was something I saw on another blog and thought it was a charming and subtle way to ask for support. Looking at my page on that site, I am surprised how many donations I have received through that button. In due time I hope to have a Patreon button there as well, but I was not finding it easily on their website – I was also trying to add an email sign-up form for Roaming Zen and getting equally frustrated in that realm.

Since money has been tight in the past few months, donations have actually made a huge difference in my ability to pay my rent and bills, and I have been reflecting a lot on people’s generosity.
Traditionally in the Buddhist way of thinking, there are four types of generosity, or dana, which represents the first of the six perfections, or paramitas: ahara-dana (donation of food), ausadha-dana (donation of medicine), jnana-dana (donation of knowledge) and abhaya-dana (giving of protection or freedom from fear, asylum to someone under threat)  – this list comes from Wikipedia, which I have been grateful to on several occasions for its summaries on key topics.
In the old days monks would not be handling money, so food and medicine were valuable gifts; in exchange, the monks could offer the teachings, and hopefully imbue lay-people with freedom from fear. This system has not translated so well to the west, but the sense of exchange still persists; my YUZ colleague Simon often used the saying, “what is freely given can be freely received,” which to me means that there is no set value or expectation assigned on either side. I hope that what I offer on these pages is useful, and I don’t expect to be rewarded for it, but it is always nice when it happens.
I am on the receiving end of other forms of generosity as well: a person I have only met twice has offered me use of their van to travel up to Wilbur when I need, which makes it possible for me to go without renting a car or needing to find a ride with someone. I have been touched by the continued kindness that is being readily offered.

One traditional verse has been floating through my mind a lot as I ponder this topic – it is from our oryoki meal-times, as the soku makes the food offering at the altar (the idea being to offer food to our benefactors, represented by Manjushri in this case, before taking any for ourselves):

Now we set out Buddha’s bowls.
May we, with all beings,
Realize the emptiness of the three wheels:
Giver, receiver, and gift.

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