giving

four_treasures.jpg
Four treasures, Imperial Tea Court, San Francisco,Canon Digital Rebel

I was fascinated to discover from my friend Gene {who ordained as a Buddhist monk and lived in a monastery in Thailand for a year} something about monk life that I didn’t know.

What I did know is that it is customary for the monks to wake up every morning around 4am, collect their alms bowls and set out into the community to receive whatever offerings they get. Some rice here, some curry there, they graciously accept whatever they are given.

What I found interesting is that the monks never actually ate what was placed in their bowls. They accepted it graciously, but had plenty of food back at the monastery. This tradition was kept alive for one reason and one reason alone – to give their community the experience of giving.

So who is really giving to whom? Or as Aretha Franklin says, Who’s zoomin who?

Only after I heard this story did I realize that I do this instinctively with my parents. They may offer advice or a story (one that perhaps I have heard many times before!) but I let them tell me afresh because I know how important it is to be able to give.

Or do you remember that feeling when your mom gives you a gift and you know that in a million years of hell freezing over you will never wear it? But in that split second you imagine her carefully picking it out and spending her hard-earned dollars and you just know in your bones that the right thing to do is to exclaim, “Oh thank you! It’s beautiful!” We do this because we want her to experience the joy of giving and we know instinctively that receiving is the only way to keep the whole machine working.

To receive graciously is giving a gift.

To give graciously is really receiving a gift.

A funny little paradox.

I suppose if we follow the wisdom of the Buddhist monks, one of the greatest gifts we can give is to bow and say thank you.

38 Comments

  1. Posted March 30, 2006 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    That is a true story. As I am recovering from surgery, I have had to ask for help. I keep in mind that there is goodnes is asking and accepting help as much as there is in giving help.

  2. Posted March 30, 2006 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    yep. a good thing to remember – to bow and say thank you.

  3. freeman
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    to see how the sky moves, be still
    while still, you will also feel its whisper
    warmly,

  4. Viv
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    YES.

  5. Posted March 30, 2006 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    geez…i was just thinking about the whole giving
    thing today, while i was ironing for b. i
    realized that half of the clothes on my side of
    the closet, i don’t even wear. they are gifts
    from his family and not at all my tastes. every year on our birthday or xmas, if it is clothes….we won’t wear them. but the glow in his parents eyes as we open the gift…is the gift.
    as i ironed i was vowing to come up with a very diplomatic way of saying – please no clothes, but
    after i read this. i don’t think i can do it

  6. Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    ~thank you~

  7. Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    This is a real eye-opener. I have never really thought of giving and receiving in this manner. You are so correct about this. Thanks!

  8. Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Exclaiming “it’s beautiful!” when you really don’t think it is is much better at that moment, and it’s a gift at that moment, but what about when they never see you wearing that necklace/those clothes in the following year? With listening to the same stories again it’s different, but with presents…I think we need to find some way to be excited about the thought that went into the present, acknowledge the good intentions, but still at the same time be truthful. Because it’s going to hurt them so much when they find out you were lying.
    Kelly–that glow in their eyes is because they’re giving you a gift they think you will like, right? It’s not particularly because it’s clothes, so I think you would be justified in attempting to redirect their good intentions so that everyone comes out happier. True, this is difficult to do.

  9. Joy
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of what you’ve written, but wonder what the monks do with the food. Do they give it to a hungry person?

  10. Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I suppose I am not really saying that one should have to keep gifts that they don’t use or love (I try to give away everything that I don’t find beautiful or useful) but I am simply pointing to this impulse
    that we have as the receiver of the gift.
    Our impulse to receive graciously as opposed to rejecting the gift and taking that experience of joy away from the giver…

  11. Justyna
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the sentiment of this post.
    I too sometimes have conflicted feelings about giving/receiving, but only in terms of material gift.
    Those people giving the monks the food, what is their motivation? Is there a pleasure in giving, if the giving is motivated by a sense of obligation?
    This weekend is a friend of mine’s birthday, and I feel obligated somehow to give something. Yes, I will feel joy if he end up liking what I pick out and receives it graciously, but honestly I would prefer not to feel obligated.
    Still trying to work this stuff out.

  12. Posted March 30, 2006 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Wonderfully put….

  13. Posted March 30, 2006 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    oh!
    so
    well
    said!
    like a little blessing…

  14. tali
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve never thought of it that way, but you are absolutely right. It makes me think of my father, who after I’d spent so much time choosing the perfect gift for him when I was a young teen, he opened it, looked at it, and said he hated it. I was crushed, and to this day, I will only give him a gift certificate.

  15. Posted March 30, 2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Interesting.
    Looking back…I’ve instinctually done this all of my life; not wanting to take the gift of giving away from the giver if perhaps something they gave me didn’t quite suite me. I “ooh” and “ahhh”, knowing that this reassurance is needed. But really, I am mostly in awe of the time it took for them to think of me and wrap it up in a pretty box…so, my reactions are genuine in that sense.
    It is a funny little paradox. I learn so much from Buddhism…and you.

  16. Posted March 30, 2006 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post – thank you!

  17. rs
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    please! you are killing me with goodness. I really can’t say enough glowing things right now about your journal. I don’t really know how it is you have so much grace and goodness inside of you. seriously.

  18. Laura
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Accepting gifts, is like accepting compliments, difficult for many to do graciously. I am learning how to not say, oh you shouldn’t have, and instead to simply say thank you. There’s no need to gush, just give a genuine thank you — for the gift, for their time, for their care and attention.
    On the other hand, I am also learning how to give myself permission to let go of things that were gifts, that I no longer want or need. I dont want anyone I have given a gift to, to feel that they have to keep it, now or later. I don’t want them to feel negative energy about it when they look at it. I’d rather have them be able to separate the joy of getting the gift, from the actual gift itself. And let go of it if they don’t want it. I sometimes am too attached to the outcome and am also trying to learn this — when we give a gift to someone, it is theirs to do with as they please.
    On the other hand, when I get a gift I don’t really like, from someone who I know how important to them it is that I like it and use it, I try to make an exception, and keep it for a while. Some of these things, I even start to like. 🙂 Some of them come out from time to time and then I might let them go after giving them a try.
    On the other hand, I often give things and expect people not to like them, so when I see them using them, I am extraordinarily pleased, because it must mean that they like them. Which now I am sure is not always the case, but they want to please me, which, on second thought, also does please me.
    Goodness, so many things to think about. 🙂

  19. nadine
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    This was a perfect reading for me today. My mum arrives this evening for a 10 day visit. Your words have put me in the right frame of mind to accept her mothering, her advice and love with an open heart (which sometimes can be hard as an adult). Thank you 🙂

  20. Posted March 30, 2006 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Just a second ago, I got off the phone with my mom, who was giving me advice on childrearing that I really hadn’t asked for. When we hung up, I was thinking, “Does she think I’m a bad mother? Otherwise, why would she make all these suggestions?” But as soon as I read your post, I realized that she really is only trying to help me–there’s no other baggage attached to it.
    Speaking of my mom, she saw my copy of Eat Pray Love on my kitchen table, and thought it said, “Eat Gravy, Love.” So that’s what we’re calling it. She’ll ask, “How’s that ‘Eat Gravy’ book?” I’m loving it so far!

  21. jan
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    What a thought-full post — true words, to give and receive graciously/gratefully.

  22. Posted March 30, 2006 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    That is so true! What a lovely post
    Mia

  23. Posted March 30, 2006 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Having just begun training in lovingkindness meditation, I find a treasure in this post. Thank you.

  24. Christine
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I do so love you!

  25. thodarumm
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    You have blown me away as always. I do make it a point to talk about what I give to charities at home ( even if it is a small amount) because I want my children to get into the habit of giving too.. I think this is essential because I had to learn this habit myself.

  26. Julia
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Well said! The mere fact that someone has taken the time to think of of me, much less bring me a gift….is such a blessing. No matter how great or small, I always try to practice showing true gratitude and humility to all who bless me with their gifts, time, etc… And, being grateful always makes me feel even more awesome then receipt of the gift itself. Thanks for sharing and putting into words, so eloquently, what I feel. You Rock!! 🙂

  27. cpr
    Posted March 30, 2006 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    I had heard that giving alms to the monks in a ceremony called (tak bat) had something to do with the givers actually offering food to their dead loved ones via the monks. Maybe that is why the monks don’t eat the food. I’m not sure this is the same ceremony you’re discussing, but I saw an interesting travel show that covered the tak bat ceremony. The monks were so modest and sweet.

  28. alison
    Posted March 31, 2006 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    when giving, intention must be good. the thoughts must be happy ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ giving.
    where i come from, yes we do offer food to monks, but only in temples. we don’t offer to the dead via the monks, we share the merits of the good deeds we have done (offering food to nobles – monks) to the departed ones.
    thanks for this post! 🙂

  29. Posted March 31, 2006 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful, gentle post. Something I needed this morning.
    Many, many thanks!

  30. Posted March 31, 2006 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I bow to your giving words.

  31. lisa
    Posted March 31, 2006 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    thank you for inspiring…

  32. Posted April 2, 2006 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    i heard a preacher make an interesting point similar to this one, once. he wondered aloud:
    “people always ask why we are so blessed in north america while people in africa go without so many essentials. they question God on this point and wonder how He could be a ‘good God’.
    sometimes i wonder if maybe, just maybe, God gave us more than enough so that we could experience the joy of giving, the joy of helping others. that way, everyone would have enough; the people in need would have the immense joy of gratitude, we would have the joy in giving, and we would be tied together with one another in a precious relationship.
    maybe it’s not God who’s messed up the way things should justly be, but maybe it’s our own greed and selfishness, our own inability to give, that makes the world this way … ”
    i think about what this man said all the time and wonder …
    your post reminded me of this.

  33. Posted April 2, 2006 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    loved reading this at exactly 12:00 midnight.
    sounds like a new way for me to think about things at the start of a new day.
    thanks for giving me pause to think-
    terrie

  34. amanda
    Posted April 3, 2006 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    i skimmed this post last week and quickly went elsewhere to shake the strange feeling of “more than coincidence.” it seems that lately, i’m experiencing one of those phases when the things that are on my mind, the long-lost people that i suddenly remember, manifest themselves in my present life.
    ****
    i had been thinking about the theme of learning to receive, and how a gift goes both ways earlier in the week. i was reminscing about this lesson i learned a few years ago, when my mom was battling multiple myeloma. i was feeling so impotent as her caregiver, as i watched her suffer and struggle.
    with great difficulty, i composed a letter to our temple’s newsletter, explaining the situation and asking people to make donations to the multiple myeloma research foundation. the hardest part, i admitted in my letter, was asking for help.
    the responses i got were so heartfelt. the donations were given with such purity of heart, and i appreciated the letters expressing love despite an inability to make a donation. the most important part of this process was reaching out…and finding that you are not alone.
    ****
    i realized that sometimes it can be a mitzvah to ask for help…because you are creating an opportunity for someone to fulfill the mitzvah of responding.
    love,
    amanda

  35. Posted April 3, 2006 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What a profound post. I love it. Thanks for sharing, Andrea.
    (And yes, as they say, the check is in the mail.) 🙂

  36. Moe Moe
    Posted April 4, 2006 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    That is a great story. And actually – in Burma – most of the Buddhist monks have to eat what they are donated by the public because they don’t have any back in the monastery. But nonetheless, the ones who can afford it, still go out anyway. like you said in the story and they give the food to the poor or to the other monks who could not find anyone to donate to them.
    🙂
    Some monks also have designated houses that they go to that donate daily – that way, they know that at least, they will have some rice to eat that day.

  37. Posted April 5, 2006 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Wow. Great post and a beautiful photo to go along with it.

  38. Posted April 13, 2006 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Really thoughtful. Thank you for sharing. To receive a gift is a gift to the giver.