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In the Diamond Sutra (or Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra) Buddha says to Subhuti:

a Bodhisattva should not dwell anywhere when he gives. He should not dwell in forms when he gives, nor should he dwell in sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, or dharmas when he gives. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should give thus: he should not dwell in marks.

Below the passage Venerable Master Hsuan Hua (pp.91-94 in the link) explains that this comes down to giving without being aware of or paying attention to:

  • the one who gives,
  • the one who receives, and
  • that which is given

I have read this explanation many times, have attempted to meditate on the matter, and have tried to practice such "giving thusly" actively by being kind, helpful, donating to charities when prompted and to beggars when asked on the street.

However, I cannot help but feel that the manner in which I give is ultimately still contrived and pre-meditated - not free of "conditioned deliberation".

Specifically silly thoughts such as:

  • "Do I have any change on me to give to this person in the street? - I'll make sure to have change on me at all times in the future."

seem very contrived and not in line with the idea that one must simply "give". Mindfully, perhaps, but not based on logic, not purposefully, or, for that matter, ostentatiously.

Question

Does anyone have any advice in how to practice giving thusly? (practice in the sense of "get better at")

References to relevant literature would be most helpful. We practice Tibetan Buddhism in our family, but as can be seen from the text above, I try not to be a stickler for school-purity.

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In DN33, Sariputta discusses eight reasons to give, ranging from least to most skillful. Examine these carefully. They are quite subtle:

DN33:3.1.94: Eight reasons to give. A person might give a gift after insulting the recipient. Or they give out of fear. Or they give thinking, ‘They gave to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘They’ll give to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘It’s good to give.’ Or they give thinking, ‘I cook, they don’t. It wouldn’t be right for me to not give to them.’ Or they give thinking, ‘By giving this gift I’ll get a good reputation.’ Or they give thinking, ‘This is an adornment and requisite for the mind.’

Examining the first seven, we see gifts that emphasize personal benefit. Although these gifts may benefit others, they are somewhat unskilled in that the giving is not whole-hearted.

Examining the last, we see "adornment and requisite for the mind." When we give "as an adornment", we give in proportion to others so that we do not induce dependency on the giving. When we give as a requisite for the mind, we give to benefit the recipient in accordance with Buddhist principles. Giving alms food fulfills this. Yet even quietly seeing and picking up litter fulfills this in giving the gift of cleanliness. When we give in this way, we provide benefit effortlessly to all giving as needed without paying attention to the giver, the recipient or what is given.

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    thank you for this valuable piece of insight – Uralan Mar 10 at 21:34
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Does anyone have any advice in how to practice giving thusly?

I think one needs to closely analyze the meaning of "thusly". It's valid to think of it as practicing charity with a serene, equanimous, AND wise mind. It doesn't mean one just carelessly gives to everyone, even if that means giving to evil people so that they'll have the means to carry on with their evil way. Remember the merits of giving is proportional to not only the mind state of the giver, but also that of the receiver:

[The Buddha:] "I tell you, Vaccha, even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, 'May whatever animals live here feed on this,' that would be a source of merit, to say nothing of what is given to human beings. But I do say that what is given to a virtuous person is of great fruit, and not so much what is given to an unvirtuous person. And the virtuous person has abandoned five factors and is endowed with five". ~~ AN 3.57 ~~

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  • Thank you for your answer and the accompanying reference. I will read some more of the text you cited over the next few days. I attempted giving "wisely" in that sense for some time, however I found assessing the "mind" or "motivation" of the receiver is quite problematic, at times even impossible. It was with these doubts that I discussed the matter with members of the sangha as well as acquaintances, they pointed me to the path of giving without "mark" - without concern for giver, receiver and given. I wonder if we might consolidate one manner of giving with the other? – Uralan Mar 10 at 13:19
  • @Uralan, I think the most reliable way is the Buddha's words, not other people's words. Even if Dhamma teachers say it, they will need to provide backup evidence from the Suttas or the Vinaya. And if they provide excerpts from some Commentary, the Suttas would indeed take higher precedence. We should examine the Dhamma with an objective mindset, sorta like a scientist investigating his subject of research. So bottom line is, different people will give you different advices, be objective in your assessment and only go with those with solid backup literature and references. – santa100 Mar 10 at 13:29
  • Thanks again for your valuable response. Indeed, Buddha and Dharma come before the words of the sangha. That being said, how do we navigate the difficulty of assessing whether the receiver is "virtuous" or has the "right motivation"? After all, the Buddha's words in the original implore Subhuti not to "dwell in dharmas" when giving. Here meant to mean "chaitasika dharma" or "mental dharmas/factors". Surely, Buddha was not urging Vaccha to base his actions on assumptions about others. These could well amount to "moha" (delusions), no? How do you view this practical problem? – Uralan Mar 10 at 14:25
  • @Uralan, of course there's no 100% accuracy on the assessment of the receiver's virtue unless one possesses the supernormal power of reading people's mind. However, the key point AN 3.57 pointed out is that it does requires certain level of inspection and investigation before giving as opposed to the erroneous idea of equating "thusly" to "ignorant giving", or "giving without wisdom". By at least trying to investigate first before giving, one has fulfilled all the required elements of proper giving, and hence the ball is now on the receiver's court. If s/he deceives, it's their bad kamma now. – santa100 Mar 10 at 17:35
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When something doesn't make any sense even after you considered it carefully for a long time, it might actually be because it doesn't make sense and not because you are unable to make sense of it. Doesn't matter who taught it to you.

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    Hi @ian3111 , yeah, it's not even so much that I can't make sense of it. It makes sense, it's just that I have trouble mastering the skill. That being said, you're point is a good one. Shouldn't take things to be true just because they were said by a wise person – Uralan Mar 10 at 21:33
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    Maybe the meaning of that suttas is that someone shouldn't give for reward, with attachment to what is given, or with self gratification in mind. This should be done out of pure morality and not out of vanity or of loving of the self, and without consideration for the actual value of what is offered. This would help one to become more generous and more selfless. I don't think strict emptiness makes any sense in that context. – ian3111 Mar 10 at 21:41

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