Karmic Economics, Upaya Zen Center, Zen & Dharma

The giving muscle

There’s this old Zen chestnut where the monk asks, why does the Bodhisattva of Compassion have so many eyes? The master replies: it is like a hand reaching for a pillow in the night.

I love that image, of compassion or generosity as an autonomic nervous response, as natural as breathing. Every cell like an eye, that sees a need and responds to remedy the situation. We see with any one of our thousand eyes and respond with any one of our thousand hands, in maybe the smallest of gestures, to activate comfort—not only for epic wide-screen suffering but also for the most subtle and personal pain, which is equally deserving of attention and care.

I know I wasn’t born with a thousand eyes. Or if I was, then every eye is wearing dark glasses. I understand the theory that service is the highest form of happiness, and when I check back I see that it is true—my deepest pleasure really does come from being genuinely helpful. But that doesn’t stop my impulse to generosity from being blocked at every turn. When the pillow slips from my head or I am asked to lend a hand, everything in my consumer capitalist world conspires to warn me, wait! Hang on a second…do I have time for this? Do I really deserve that pillow? Will anyone be impressed? Would they do the same for me? What about me! Can I really afford to help?

When I know full well that the reality of karmic economics is, can I really afford not to help?

I walk the monk’s path, accepting what is given and giving where I can. It’s not a simple give-and-take equation but the giving part is important, and when I am asked, I usually give. Sometimes it is a struggle but it’s getting easier. It used to be hard and painful but just as a bicep gets stronger and can lift a bigger barbell, I am finding it easier to give.

Back at Upaya, when Keizan the temple coordinator gave the ‘dana pitch’ at the end of each dharma talk or program, he would urge people to think about what they could give. And then, he would say, when you open your wallet or pull out your pen to write the cheque—give just a little bit more. Give til you can feel the burn. Keizan is a weight-trainer and he knows how muscles work. Every time you flex, you get stronger.

I am on a training program. Buffing up my giving muscle and growing myself a few more eyes.


One Commnet on “The giving muscle

  1. YEAH YOU! Give till it burns…ah, a new outlook on being baptized by fire, as some ascensionists call it. Like it!

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