Vows, commitments and modern life: Not accepting gifts and not giving Dharma

Not accepting gifts. 

If we are given gifts and, without a good reason, we refuse them merely out of pride, anger, or laziness we incur a secondary downfall.  This also advises that we should use gifts from others in the most meaningful way.

Again, I have really struggled with this one.  I like giving gifts, but I frankly really don’t like it when others give me gifts.  Gifts are not just presents, but also it can be people doing favors for us.  As a general rule, I never ask others for favors unless I absolutely have to.  In all of my relationships I like to make sure I have always done significantly more favors for others than they have done for me.  I really dislike feeling like I owe others something or I am indebted to them in some way.  But sometimes this behavior can be taken to an extreme.  Others want to help out and they want to repay some of my past favors and to deny them the opportunity to do so is to deny them the opportunity to engage in virtue themselves. 

Likewise, there are some people – myself included – who are too proud to accept the help of others.  Sometimes we need help to get out of a situation we are in.  If due to our pride we fail to reach out to others for help when we need it, who are we helping?  We are unnecessarily bad off, and sometimes we can be in over our head and our situation can become much worse.  When that happens, we then have to ask people for help, but now we are asking for much more.  We shouldn’t be like this.  Likewise, by seeking help from others we can sometimes accomplish much more than if we do everything ourselves, and so therefore we can help even more people.  So in an effort to accomplish great things, we ask for help from others.

I think a good middle way here is a 3 to 1 or a 4 to 1 ratio.  We help others 3 or 4 times for every one time we ask something of them.  This keeps us on the side of giving more than we take but still we give others a chance to give back and seek out help when we could really need it.  There is nothing cosmically true about this ratio, rather it is just what seems to work for me in my life.

Not giving Dharma to those who desire it. 

If someone with a sincere desire to practice Dharma requests us to teach them, and without a good reason, we refuse merely out of laziness we incur a secondary downfall.  Valid reasons for not teaching include:  we do not know the subject well enough, it is not suitable to teach them, others will be unhappy, we are ill, we do not have the free time, and so on.  This also advises us that whenever we have a chance we should try to eliminate the darkness of ignorance from the minds of others by giving Dharma teachings.

Just as the greatest offering we can make to the Buddhas is our own practice of Dharma, so too the greatest act of giving we can perform is giving Dharma.  Why?  Ordinary gifts can at best help people in this life, but the gift of Dharma helps people in all of their future lives.

Giving Dharma doesn’t just mean giving formal Dharma teachings or using a lot of Dharma jargon when we talk to people.  Giving Dharma means understanding what is mentally ailing somebody else and giving them a wiser perspective on their situation.  It is giving them a new way of looking at things so that instead of their situation being a problem for them, it becomes an opportunity to grow or learn.  We don’t need Dharma words to do this, and in fact in most situations Dharma words actually get in the way.  We should try use normal, everyday speech that everyone knows and understands.  With our Dharma friends, our Dharma words are like a shorthand for quickly getting to the meaning we want to refer to, but as a general rule we should speak with others completely normally.  We all know people who come across like they are a religious fanatic or somebody who is brainwashed.  We usually reject them and everything they have to say.  Part of modern skillful means is learning how to transmit Dharma meanings using normal modern words and references.

If we do have the opportunity to give formal teachings, we should most definitely do so.  If we look at things from a karmic perspective, there really is no higher job than that of a Dharma teacher.  Sure, the external rewards are virtually non-existent, but the internal rewards are eternally flowing.  Every time you help somebody else understand the Dharma, you create the cause for somebody else to help you easily understand the Dharma in the future.  We all know those people who the Dharma just comes easily to, and they almost instinctively understand at a very deep level everything they are being taught.  Why is this?  Because in the past they used to be Dharma teachers and they helped others understand the Dharma. 

Ultimately, there is nothing to do in this world other than wake up.  If we have wisdom, we will realize there is no point in pursuing any other goal.  This does not mean we need to abandon our jobs and families, rather it means we need to view our jobs and family time primarily through the lens of the opportunities these activities afford us to train our mind in virtue.  Every external resource we have finds its meaning when used for the sake of realizations, either of ourself or of others.  This does not mean just Dharma realizations as gained through a formal Dharma class, but instead can take the form of learning about training through piano lessons, learning about overcoming discouragement when learning a hard language like Chinese, gaining skillful means when dealing with problematic co-workers etc.  On the outside, these may not appear to be Dharma classes, but for the modern Kadampa every day is a class.


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