I have come to see that giving in the American culture is one which always has an expectation attached to it. We may give to charities etc, but we always have some type of expectation attached to that act. We may think this will come back to us in kamma, or some reward in heaven, or we may expect just a sincere thank you letter. But whether large or small, we seem to always have an expectation attached to out giving. Can you imagine giving a big screen plasma TV to a friend of yours, and they don’t even say thank you? Now what if that same friend gave that TV away to someone a week later? Suppose they didn’t even ask you or tell you about it, but you found out through another person! Are you thinking how hurt, angry and offended you would be?
Now just look at this example and see if you can tell where you went wrong. You did not give in the true sense of the word. At least not in the Buddhist sense of giving (dana). You had an expectation and an attachment to your gift. There is no freedom in this type of giving, and no lesson in letting go of attachment. Your gift was the cause of suffering and dissatisfaction, all due to your own hindrances. So that while you may be very upset at your friend, the real culprit is the self and the ego.
On the other hand, dana is virtuous, noble and wholesome. Dana is a gift of yourself and for your own benefit. Not because of what you will receive by giving, but what you receive by letting go. Each of us gains wisdom (pañña), sympathetic joy (mudita), and elimination of material bonds that only serve to tie us to that which is impermanent and are sources of dukkha. The more we give, the less we have, the greater our freedom and liberation.
But does this mean we should give everything away and live like hobo’s? I don’t think so. The Buddha actually taught that we should give the first quarter of what we earn to the aid and assistance of others. The second quarter should be used to provide for your Family and necessities. The remaining half should be saved so you will have something if hard times fall on you. I see wonderful balance and discipline in this teaching for the layperson. And I wish I could tell you that I live by it! But I am a work in progress, and I am still learning every day. This is the practice, to observe and study, be instructed by a good teacher, and remain always determined in wholesome behavior that benefits the self and all other beings. With gratitude and loving-kindness, each breath presents a golden opportunity for enlightenment. Some lessons may only be small epiphanies, while others may change the course of our lives dramatically. Yes, nibbana is available. The ultimate liberation.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.