The best giving

The best giving

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • How possessiveness manifests
  • Examining what makes something or someone “ours”
  • Being “special”

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: The best giving (download)

The best giving is the absence of possessiveness.

Possessiveness is the mind that (says), “It is mine. This is mine. It belongs to me. It doesn’t belong to anybody else.” It’s very easy to see this in terms of possessions. “This wooden spoon is mine. These chopsticks are mine. They are not yours. This blanket is mine, it’s not yours. I want to take it with me when we change rooms. Sorry, you can’t, it’s not yours. What? It’s mine.” It’s quite easy to see the possessiveness regarding physical things, and how difficult it is to give up the material items.

But possessiveness has many other kinds of manifestations. We possess knowledge, and sometimes we don’t want other people to know what we know because then they might be as good, or as knowledgeable as we are, and we don’t want that because then our reputation may go down.

We feel possessive towards people. “This is my mother, my father, my husband/wife/brother/sister. Cat. Pet frog. They’re mine.” And we possess them.

We can get very possessive about other people, and it’s quite interesting to ask ourselves, “What about this other person is mine?” Because just as with an object, you can totally dissect the object and there’s nothing “mine” inside the object. There’s also nothing “mine” inside the other person. Now somebody can say, “Well, we have the same DNA. Or similar DNA.” But our DNA is not ours. Our DNA came from many, many ancestors before, back who knows how far, when there began to be DNA. So our DNA is not ours. And anyway, DNA is material stuff. It’s not quite “mine.” I mean, “my DNA…” Do you take your DNA out and “oh, that’s so beautiful because it’s my DNA.” No, I don’t think so. So, what about the other person is really ours? Why are we possessive of other people? We don’t want to share them with other people. We want to be special in their eyes.

This whole thing of possessiveness regarding people has to do with being special. They are special in our eyes, we are special in their eyes. Actually, what’s all that about? All that special-ness? Does it exist objectively? Or is it just our mind making up special-ness? Kind of our mind making it up, isn’t it? Through certain contact, seeing somebody a lot, certain interactions, maybe you even have a ceremony, then “they’re mine.” But what really about that other person is “mine”? And what really about that other person is “special”? If I look inside of them, is there special-ness somewhere? Well, they’re often special–to me–because I’m special to them. And we all like to be special. But being special is something created by the mind. It’s not an objective entity. We create special-ness.

Because that living being has not always been special to us. Previous lifetimes we didn’t even know them, probably. Or maybe they were special to us because they were our enemy in a previous lifetime. So this thing of possessing people, special-ness, we have to look at that.

We may feel possessive also of our Buddhist tradition. This is *my* Buddhist tradition. Or in a more general way, “This is *my* religion.” “It’s MINE. I possess it. And I don’t know if I want people like you hanging around my religion. Unless you root for it like a football team and we have more people than the competing religions. That’s good.” [laughter]

This whole thing of possession is quite strange, isn’t it? When we really look at it. And to realize that in actual fact…. In conventional speech we say, “This is mine, this is yours.” But in actual fact, once we probe a little bit there’s not really anything that’s ours. When we came into this life we didn’t have anything. You can say, “Well, I had a body.” But again, our body came from our ancestors who went all the way back to the monkeys and whatever. And our bodies came from all the food we’ve eaten. You can say, “Well, I had a mother. My mother’s mine. I had parents. My father is mine.” What’s “mine” about your mother and father? If you have brothers and sisters they also belong to your brothers and sisters. Does that mean when you have five or six brothers and sisters you only have a fifth or a sixth of a mother and father? Because you have to share them. What is really “mine” about another person?

Quite interesting to think about. And to see that there’s nothing, really, that is inherently ours. Things come, things go. Relationships come, relationships dissolve. If they don’t dissolve this life they dissolve at death time, and we become new people in our next life.

The best giving is the absence of possessiveness.

That doesn’t mean that we give away the people that we’re close to. It means that we can stop being so possessive of them, so jealous, so clingy to them: “You’re special to me, I’ve got to be special to you.” We can give them–when we let go of our possessiveness–we give those other people freedom. We stop pressuring them to be what we want them to be. So, the best giving is the lack of possessiveness.

When we think of this, that we don’t really own anything–either other people or even our bodies or our possessions, or whatever–then sometimes we get quite afraid like, “I don’t have anything.” And this incredible craving and clinging come: “I’ve got to have something.” Because we define ourselves in relationship to external objects and people and societies. And of course we need to be somebody, otherwise we may not exist. So if we think we don’t have anything, instead of feeling free we feel fear.

Now somebody can say, “How in the world would you feel free by not having anything?” Because fear itself, that mental state is so narrow and so limiting. Isn’t freedom more desirable? And when you have that sense of freedom then there’s so much possibility, there’s so much flexibility, you’re in tune with impermanence. When we’re clutching onto things we want everything to be fixed and permanent. When we aren’t possessive we’re more in tune with the reality of things arising due to causes and conditions and disappearing, changing into something else due to causes and conditions. The more we can accept that flux the more at ease our mind is, the less fear we have, the more peaceful we are. Because then every time we look at something, as they say, we realize….. You know, we have our special cup that we like so much, but if we say to ourselves, “My cup is already broken,” then we’re realizing that we’re not always going to possess the cup, it’s already broken. I use it before it breaks, but its being broken is in its nature because it’s not going to be permanent and stay there forever. Same thing with people. We’ve already separated, so let’s enjoy each other while we’re together, instead of possessing each other, confining each other, having demands and expectations and possessiveness of each other. Let’s just accept that, like I was talking last night, people are karmic bubbles, come come, go go. Then the mind is so much freer to appreciate individual beings, because we aren’t always wanting something from them. And the possessiveness is very much we want something.

So, let’s release fear.

Audience: I understand what you’re saying intellectually, but basically it makes me a little nauseous. [laughter] Where my mind goes, it flips to completely disconnected.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Yes, so we go to this thing that then the only thing I have is me, so there’s this big, solid, concrete me that is inherently existent and permanent, and that’s all I have. And everything else, which is already gone and changing. But whenever we feel this kind of [tension[ we have to look at that feeling, what’s the conception behind that feeling. It’s a totally wrong conception, isn’t it? There’s no concrete me there that’s disconnected from everything else. I am simply affected by causes and conditions and the environment, and whatever I am in any particular moment is just the sum of the effects of these causes and conditions upon what was there the previous moment. We’re definitely related to everything and everybody. So don’t take that thing of….. It’s very interesting, when we get into emptiness sometimes, what we do is, “Okay, none of that exists inherently, but there’s ME. And we’ve got to challenge that one, too. Because there’s not that solid ME. There’s a ME, but it’s something momentary that’s changing, that doesn’t have one identity all throughout life that “that’s who I am.” And it’s weird when you start to think like that, just even on a physical level, how much our body is changing. Every time we breathe in and breathe out our body is different and we’re being influenced by the environment. Every time we eat food, or every time we pee, our body is changing, we’re being influenced by the environment. There’s not one permanent body there.

And, my goodness, our mind. Is your mind the same as when we started the talk? No. Our mind is different, it’s influenced by the things that we’re hearing, then thinking about, then processing and mulling over. The body and mind are constantly changing, how in the world is the person going to be fixed and distinct and inherently existent? Impossible.

We have to kind of relax into that. We tend to clutch, cling, and that’s exactly what we do at the time of death. All of this is practice for the time of death, when you see that wrong conception clinging come in your mind, then process it and realize there’s nothing there to cling to. There’s something there, but it exists only by being conceived and named, but that’s it.

[In response to audience] What I mean is, okay, we see this feeling of there’s this real me and I’m separate from everybody else, and I feel threatened. And then to say, “Is that true?” Just because I feel that, is it based in reality? We feel lots of things that have nothing to do with reality, and that’s why we have so many problems in this world. That’s why “don’t believe everything you think.”

[In response to audience] When you’re dreaming there’s a dream body, but your dream body isn’t this body. There might be another feeling that comes because you just dreamed. It’s like when you imagine things. If I imagine being with a certain person I’m very attached to my whole feeling inside changes, even physically how I feel. But that’s a product of, I’m relating to that imagined object. We can feel things without there being an external object making our body feel something. If we focus on something being painful, it becomes really painful. Just as when, if you have pain, if you imagine light going into that area it can help lessen the pain. If you do tonglen meditation it changes how you relate to your pain. So all these things are dependent on many other factors.

Even our body, even physically, if the cat scratches me, later, even the cat is no longer scratching me, I feel the scratch.

You hit yourself with a hammer, it doesn’t just hurt the moment after you hit yourself with the hammer, it hurts a long time after that, even though you are no longer hitting yourself with that hammer.

What I’m getting at is things change and there’s a variety of causes and conditions involved.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.