Zen - Beggarly, Friendly and Noble Giving
Friday 3 July 2015, by
Beggarly, Friendly and Noble Giving
It is said that there are three ways to give: Beggarly giving, Friendly giving and Noble giving. Beggarly giving is offering what one doesn’t want, or no longer has need for. “Would you like this vest? It’s nice but it doesn’t fit me.” Friendly giving is sharing a portion of what one has. “You forgot your lunch? Well, here, take half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And half of my banana, and half of my cookies.” But Noble giving requires a level of sacrifice, or trust on our part. The good karma that can result from Noble giving has the power to completely change the heart.
Once, many years ago in training at the women’s monastery, my teacher picked me up at the little train station, “Kinashi”, which means “No Devils”, at the foot of our mountain. As we wove back and forth along the hairpin turns back up the mountainside to our tiny, poor temple mostly made up of up-side-down soy sauce vats, he waved to two figures, one a monk, on pilgrimage, “to ponder their futures”, he said. "They spent the night." When I reached our temple, back for a few days of holiday, my teacher’s wife greeted me, "We don’t have a single treat for you, Dai-En-san. Osho-san just gave our last 5,000 yen note (about $40) to two pilgrims."
This act was just like my teacher, who himself had been sent out with one pair of straw sandals on the 88-temple pilgrimage around Shikoku Island by his teacher, as a challenge to his resolve. I knew that having no money would not deter my teacher’s resourceful wife, and sure enough, our lunch outside in the wonderful sunny warmth of early May was fresh out of Paradise. We feasted on brown rice and miso soup, and a huge low basket lined with white tea ceremony paper, heaped with vegetable tempura. She had picked the delicate new leaves from the persimmon tree, and "fuki no to", one of the first green wild vegetables to come up, even through snow. There were other wild mountain greens like fern fronds and those I knew no name for. Covering them with a batter light as a cloud, she cooked this assortment of tender new leaves to perfection. By the day I left, all of these delicate greens were gone, or had grown so mature they were too tough to eat in this way. It was a miracle of timing, that splendid picnic.
At the end of the year I was sent to our head monastery, Eiheiji, for the Rohatsu Sesshin. In the entrance hall, I ran into a monk who had befriended me the year before. "Come step behind this canvas curtain. We’re having some coffee," he whispered. It was dark. I could make out dimly several other monks. He asked me about my year and I told him about the wonderful feast that had ensued from my teacher giving away his last donation. I noticed that, in the dark, one monk seemed jolted. I wondered if I had made yet another grammatical error in Japanese.
After the rigorous Sesshin, the monk who had offered the secret coffee saw me off. "I have something to tell you," he said. "In the same room where we had our coffee, another monk heard your story about the 5,000 yen donation and the feast. We are in practice here together, and he’s been counting the days to go back home. He’s a temple son and only wanted to stay here for the minimum requirements. He had agreed with his father to go on pilgrimage and think over to what degree he would train in preparation to succeed to his home temple, but by the time he returned, he was still adamant. He has only about three more months to go. At the end of the Sesshin, he told me he’s changed his mind, and will be staying on! I could hardly believe it and asked him, ‘Why the change? Was your Sesshin so good?’ He said, ‘That nun’s story about the last 5,000 yen note donated by the mountain priest? It was given to me’." The monk is now a leader in his temple and community.