Dear Still Water Friends,
Thursday night we will discuss the second mindfulness practice. The following reflects some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s thinking on a part of the second mindfulness practice.
“I undertake to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.” This sentence is clear. The feeling of generosity and the capacity for being generous are not enough. We also need to express our generosity. We may feel that we don’t have the time to make people happy – we say, “Time is money,” but time is more than money. Life is for more than using time to make money. Time is for being alive, for sharing joy and happiness with others. The wealthy are often the least able to make others happy. Only those with time can do so.
I know a man named Bac Sieu in Thua Thien Province in Vietnam, who has been practicing generosity for fifty years; he is a living bodhisattva. With only a bicycle, he visits villages of thirteen provinces, bringing something for this family and something for that family. When I met him in 1965, I was a little too proud of our School of Youth for Social Service. We had begun to train three hundred workers, including monks and nuns, to go out to rural villages to help people rebuild homes and modernize local economies, health-care systems, and education. Eventually we had ten thousand workers throughout the country.
As I was telling Bac Sieu about our projects, I was looking at his bicycle and thinking that with a bicycle he could help only a few people. But when the communists took over and closed our school, Bac Sieu continued, because his way of working was formless. Our orphanages, dispensaries, schools, and resettlement centers were all shut down or taken by the government. Thousands of our workers had to stop their work and hide. But Bac Sieu had nothing to take. He was a truly a bodhisattva, working for the well-being of others. I feel more humble now concerning the ways of practicing generosity.
“I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.” When you practice one precept deeply, you will discover that you are practicing all five. The First Precept is about taking life, which is a form of stealing — stealing the most precious thing someone has, his or her life.
When we meditate on the Second Precept, we see that stealing, in the forms of exploitation, social injustice, and oppression, are acts of killing — killing slowly by exploitation, by maintaining social injustice, and by political and economic oppression. Therefore, the Second Precept has much to do with the precept of not killing. We see the “interbeing” nature of the first two precepts. This is true of all Five Precepts. Some people formally receive just one or two precepts. I didn’t mind, because if you practice one or two precepts deeply, all Five Precepts will be observed.
The Second Precept is not to steal. Instead of stealing, exploiting, or oppressing, we practice generosity. In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.
The Second Precept is a deep practice. We speak of time, energy, and material resources, but time is not only for energy and material resources. Time is for being with others — being with a dying person or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money. It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear.
When we read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, it is hard to disagree. Our experience tells us that we feel good when we practice loving kindness and we feel uncomfortable when we allow greed and envy to control us. We will talk about why we choose one path or the other in our daily lives.
I hope you can join us,
We have to go back to our society with the intention to rebuild society and enrich its life by offering the appropriate therapies for its illnesses. I would like to offer an exercise that can help to do this.It is called Touching the Earth.
In each of us, there are many kinds of ideas, notions, attachments, and discrimination. This practice involves bowing down and touching theEarth, emptying ourselves, and surrendering to Earth.
You touch the Earth with your forehead, your two hands, your two feet, and you surrender to your true nature, accepting any form of life your true nature offers you. Surrender your pride, hopes, ideas, fears, and notions. Empty yourself of all resentment you feel toward anyone.Surrender everything, and empty yourself completely. To do this is the best way to replenish yourself. If you do not exhale and empty your lungs, how can fresh air enter?
Thich Nhat Hanh