Gifts are offered into the Buddhas hands…
This print of a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh arrived in the mail today. What a gem! It’s a gift from a chap who got in touch via this site inquiring about a beautiful calligraphy he has. We corresponded back and forth and it was gratifying to be able to find out some historical details and pass them on to him. Then came the offer of a gift, which I accepted. It was a welcomed surprise, coming all the way from Canada.
If you go to the monastery or small church/priory you will most likely see items of food and other offerings placed temporarily on the altar. This is a practice I follow personally. It is a way to offer up the offering into the infinite hands of the Buddha, or however one chooses to speak about that which is ever present. Uh! just like the calligraphy says: the pure land which is now… Why put offerings on the altar you might ask? Let me try and explain.
Giving and receiving are one flow and at the same time, in a practical sense, there is a giver and one who receives. Putting offerings on the altar takes them out of the individual hands, so to speak, of the giver and receiver and signals that the flow of generosity is fundamentally not personal. This is difficult for people to understand since we are so used to functioning within the money economy. Goods are bought and services are sold and everything has a price or a value. What is given, or asked for, is most often thought to require, or expected to have, something given in return. This is well within our culture and the exchange of gifts forges personal bonds and helps to keep them alive over time. There is an assumption of exchange, where a return gift, or thank you note, is an acknowledgment of the underlying connection of the individuals concerned. We teach that the underlying connection is not two. Nothing separate.
In my tradition we show our appreciation with thank you notes and the like and, as a monastic, the living of life is intended as an offering and only made possible by offerings. This blog is an offering. Even as that is all true the greatest acknowledgment of offerings is shown through ones actions. That’s making manifest the flow of generosity, which is ever present. Now. The placing of items on the altar is simply showing and acknowledging that ever present flow. The heart of our lives.
I am working on answering a letter sent in by a reader on the subject of giving. In particular the struggle that can be there when, with the best will in the world, strings seem to become attached to gifts. Personally I feel the quick answer is that acknowledging offerings is how generosity keeps flowing. And strings attached, fall away.
Thank you once again for this opportunity to talk about generosity.