Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last week, I suggested we should be suspicious of any charitable act that makes us feel warm and fuzzy about ourselves.  There is a corollary to this:  do not withhold your charity even if it the act of giving makes you feel good about yourself.  

At the Zen Center, I used to hear some senior members state that sometimes it is more compassionate and kind to be honest than to delude a person with the reassuring words they wanted to hear, and that as a result kind speech often sounds like unkind speech.  They would have had us say, "Yes, that dress does make your ass look fat" rather than let the person walk around in unflattering clothes.  

As a result, they permitted themselves to say some of the bluntest and most hurtful things to people rather than take the time to think of a more tactful answer or even, better yet, to refrain from replying at all. They gave themselves licence to speak quite cruelly at times by their concept that brutal honesty is somehow "kinder" than soothing falsehoods.  

We can similarly fool ourselves into withholding charity on the basis of thinking that since we feel better for it, or look better in the eyes of others for it, that it's not really charity and just ego gratification that should be avoided.  That's just our mind's clever way of allowing us to practice selfishness and greed instead of charity and giving.  Remember, the mind is quite clever - in fact, it's exactly as clever as you are.  The egocentric mind will give you all of the rationale for withholding generosity that you could ever need.

Zen Master Dogen once said,
"Most people in the world want to show off their good deeds and hide their bad deeds. Since this frame of mind goes against the way, their good deeds go unrewarded and their bad deeds done in secret bring about punishment. Consequently, they conclude that there is no recompense for good deeds, and little merit in the buddha-dharma. This is a false view. We must certainly revise it. Do good things secretly while people are not watching, and if you make a mistake or do something bad, confess and repent of it. When you act in this manner, good deeds you have done in secret will have recompense, and wrongdoings will be revealed and repented so that punishment can be dispelled (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 1, Chapter 18).

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