by Tommy Harrison

‘Tis the season.  The season for generosity.  A time of year that brings great joy for some, suffering for others, and a mix of both for many.  All around us are examples of both wholesome generosity as well as actions fueled by greed.  We get to see some of the best and worst of our fellow human beings and perhaps ourselves.  This end of year holiday season has been a cause of personal suffering over the years.  Nothing too major, but suffering all the same.  It’s only been by turning into this suffering and investigating it that has allowed for a better understanding of what was arising and how to release it.   It’s presented wonderful opportunities to pause and reflect on some of the Buddha’s teachings to guide us through the holiday season.

The Buddha taught us about our minds.  We learn about our suffering, our attachments, the cessation of these attachments, and the path to walk to support the alleviation of our suffering.  We learn to let go.  Whether it’s during a sudden a-ha moment or the gradual effect of one’s practice, learning to let go allows for transformation.  Wisdom becomes more apparent and deepens.  We see things clearer.  Loving kindness, compassion, and joy arise.  We become more buoyant, balanced, and happier.  Our appreciation of our interconnectedness grows.  Generosity – in both giving and receiving through our interconnectedness – grows.  Generosity is part of the “Ten Perfections” associated with virtues that are to be cultivated as ways of living a more wholesome life.  I found many unwholesome strings attached to my perceptions of generosity, especially during this time of year.  Deepening my understanding of generosity has helped as I’ve looked more closely at my own suffering.

The Buddha described six factors involving generosity – the giving and receiving process.  These are described below and come from the Anguttara Nikaya (Sutta).

“And how is a donation endowed with six factors? There is the case where there are the three factors of the donor, the three factors of the recipients.

“And which are the three factors of the donor? There is the case where the donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, his/her mind is bright & clear; and after giving is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor.

“And which are the three factors of the recipients? There is the case where the recipients are free of passion or are practicing for the subduing of passion; free of aversion or practicing for the subduing of aversion; and free of delusion or practicing for the subduing of delusion. These are the three factors of the recipients.

“Such are the three factors of the donor, the three factors of the recipients. And this is how a donation is endowed with six factors.

— Anguttara Nikaya 6.37 “Dana Sutta:  Giving” translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.  Access to Insight, 2009-2011.  Retrieved on 11/24/11.    

We see here in this Sutta that a donor is “glad” before giving, while giving a donor is “bright & clear” (mindful), and after giving is gratified (joyful, content, happy).  Likewise, a recipient is free from or practicing the subduing of passion, aversion, and delusion. These six factors of giving and receiving are tied to understanding our mind states.  With mindfulness, we can become aware of these mind states and nourish wholesome intentions and release unwholesome intentions.  This is part of our journey in alleviating suffering.  This is a helpful part of my journey through the holiday season.

Exploring the teachings about generosity as part of my practice has been enriching.  Through discussions with my wife and children, we have found ways together to deeply enjoy the holiday season as we celebrate life and the opportunities to share and receive with family, friends, and folks within our community.  It is something we do with intention, through debate and discussion, and with plenty of heart felt energy.  My wife and I actively move into areas of discontent to explore differences and possible perspectives that bring us closer together in terms of more wholesome action.  Once we find common ground we then share this with our children and allow them to actively explore this in their own terms.  This process has been life enriching.

As individuals, our relationship with this “season of giving” is no different than any other day – it is simply part of our journey.  By looking closely at one’s mind states, we can notice whether there are intentions to nourish or intentions to let go of.  During this season of giving and receiving, if there are inclinations that cause suffering, just being able to see this to continue investigations is a gift you give yourself through your own compassionate awareness.  What is there to let go of in the kindest way?   If there are inclinations that support the arising of joy in yourself and others, nourish this.  Both support a deepening practice.  Perhaps there is someone you can share this process with.  It can be deeply rewarding.  Exploring discontent as well as wholesome perspectives and practicing letting go of something together can bring great joy into a relationship.  This continues to be something we are grateful for as the Buddha’s teachings influences our lives.

As a community, we also have opportunities to bring joy and support the alleviation of suffering to our fellow human beings.  Times are hard for many people, and there are plenty of ways to support our families, friends, and neighbors with some of life’s necessities.  Perhaps this includes your time, your talents, and / or financial resources.  OIMG has supported The Second Harvest Food Bank for years and their need for support continues to grow.  Homelessness continues to increase here in Central Florida as well and the Coalition for the Homeless needs community support.  Closer to OIMG Sangha efforts, OIMG always offers retreats regardless of one’s ability to pay.  There’s been an increase in this need over the last two years and OIMG is always grateful for any scholarship support.  OIMG is a registered non-profit organization and donations are tax deductible.  Please feel free to discuss this with Peter or Tommy should this be something that interests you.

This is a fruitful time of year to deepen our practice and study the Buddha’s teachings knowing that it may bring out some of the best and worst of us.  Simply observing our relationship to our experiences during this holiday season is where the gift of the Dhamma starts.  Nourish what is wholesome and kindly release what is not.

Metta, Peace, and Joyful Holidays to all….

Tommy Harrison