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The seven jewels of the aryas: Generosity of protection and of the Dharma

The seven jewels of the aryas: Generosity of protection and of the Dharma

Part of a series of short talks on the Seven Jewels of the Aryas.

  • The two other kinds of generosity referred to in the third jewel of the aryas
  • Offering protection from fear and the charity of the Dharma

Last time I was talking about generosity as the third of the seven jewels of the aryas (faith, ethical conduct, generosity). We talked about the generosity of offering material things. Today I want to talk about the generosity of protection from fear.

This is usually described as, like if somebody’s traveling and they’re lost, they don’t know where to stay, they don’t know how to be safe, then you take them in, you give them instructions, you make sure they know where they are and that they’re okay. Or when there are bodies of water and insects drowning in them, you scoop them up. Here what we want to make sure of, especially in the summer, is when we have buckets of water outside that we cover them so sentient beings don’t drown in them.

I think this also falls into protecting our kitties, when we take them outside, so they don’t catch birds and mice. And also to, especially since yesterday was the first anniversary of the Parkland massacre, protecting sentient beings also meaning getting involved in letting it be known to our legislators that we want better gun laws. They would say, “Oh, protecting sentient beings, somebody’s going to get shot, you shield them or something.” How about preventing the whole situation to start with?

I was thinking about what happened a year ago. There was one kid who shielded another one of the students, and he died in the process of it. There was another boy who leaned against the door so the shooter couldn’t get in. He took five bullets. He didn’t die. He thought he was going to be paralyzed, and he’s learning to walk now, which is really wonderful. But if you look, the number of children, and the number of people altogether in this country, dying because of guns.

And not just homicides. Suicides. Accidents. I keep thinking of, just 45 minutes away at Target or Walmart, there was a mother who was shopping (a year or two ago) and she had a purse that was a gun proof purse so that your kids couldn’t open it and get at the gun. But her toddler opened it and shot her. And the kid had no idea what he was doing. He was playing with a gun. Shot his own mother. He has to live with this his whole life. And he’s also without a mother. She lost her life.

It’s the accidents, too, and the suicides. Not just the mass shootings. The mass shootings bring our attention to it. But it’s the other ones, too.

And I just learned that about two blocks away from where my parents lived, three people just got murdered in their house.

So I think when we talk about the generosity of offering protection and fearlessness, in our day and age I think that means we need to get involved in this kind of issue. I think it’s quite important. Otherwise, we save a lot of insects in the water, but how about saving some human lives, too. I think that’s quite important for us.

Then the third kind of generosity is the generosity of the Dharma, which they say is the highest generosity, because when you know the Dharma and you have the possibility to free yourself from lower rebirth, from samsara, from the limiting effects of your own personal peace, your own nirvana.

We think, “Oh, that means I have to become a teacher and teach the Dharma.,” and many people don’t want to teach the Dharma. It’s just not their way. But there are many ways to teach the Dharma. You don’t have to be sitting up in front of a group going blah blah. Like me. There are ways of teaching the Dharma where maybe the people stay awake.

For example, when your friends come and maybe they have some kind of personal problem, they’re upset, they’re angry, whatever it is, and you sit down and talk to them, and you can talk about Buddhist methods to handle upset and anger and so on without using any Dharma words. There are totally secular ways, and non-religious ways, of explaining a lot of the teachings that the Buddha gave because they’re just common sense. They’re nothing religious at all. When you help your friends, counsel them in this kind of way, that’s teaching the Dharma.

When you say your prayers out loud so that the bugs around you, and the kitties around you, hear them. That’s why we have the kitties coming on Thursday and Friday nights, so that they can get the teachings, that’s also the generosity of the Dharma.

Helping to publish books for free distribution. And I would say also everybody here does a lot of work proofreading books, and a lot of our volunteers in other places do, too. And that’s also a way of making the Dharma available to other living beings. So many ways, also, to give the Dharma.

It’s important not to be stingy with the Dharma. And yet it’s important not to tell people things that they’re not really interested in or ready to hear, too. It’s kind of a delicate process.

I think, especially with people like family or friends that we had before we ordained, and they’re kind of wondering, “Well, what happened to you? You don’t look like you did before. You don’t act like you did before. We used to go out and drink and drug and go to the disco, and now look at you.” That sometimes the way to give the Dharma to those people is just by being a kind, friendly person. Because people learn by looking at examples. And if we’re kind and friendly and treat people well, then it’s teaching the Dharma.

I don’t know if any of you knew Cindy from DFF. She may have been before most of you were there. Cindy had lupus. She was in a wheelchair. She had bright red hair, and she worked for FAA. She was renowned in her office for having quite a temper to match her hair. They used to call her hellfire on wheels, apparently. And one of her colleagues–these are the days when we had cassette tapes with the teachings, and she would have the teachings in her little cubicle, and she started by listening to the teachings, becoming a much nicer person and more cooperative at work, and one of her colleagues (more than one, I think), started saying, “Well what happened to you that you’re changing?” She said “Oh, it’s because of the Dharma. Do you want to borrow one of my tapes?” And one of her colleagues listened, it was a series of about 150 tapes, and he listened to all of them. So there are many ways to give the Dharma.

I remember one of my other Dharma friends, she was telling me that her sister was a Jehova’s Witness, and she just accidentally left a Dharma book lying around the house when she was visiting, and her sister picked it up, and then came to her afterwards and said, “Wow, you believe a lot of the same things we believe in. Kindness and compassion.” Yes, right. That’s the charity of the Dharma. Just any way we can expose sentient beings and plant those seeds in their minds.

I think of His Holiness. A few years ago (2014), they invited His Holiness to speak, I think it was in the Senate, and he spoke for fifteen minutes–just something short–but I thought, “Wow, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, they saw His Holiness, they heard some words of compassion.” This may be the only seeds of any connection with the Dharma that they have for countless eons. The charity of the Dharma is quite important.

Audience: I was thinking a little bit about the order. You were pondering why the seven jewels are in this order. And also I think when you taught the 41 prayers of bodhicitta, there was the order learning before generosity, and ethics before learning. And I was thinking because from the Letter to a Friend from Nagarjuna to a king, so he may not have had the conditions…for the six paramitas. So if you, for example…I was thinking about the learning. But if you practice generosity, but your ethics are impure, I was thinking…. I put different examples, for example, a politician…not protecting people. So he may be generous, but the generosity doesn’t have the same merit….

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): It’s like our cats. They practice generosity, but not ethical conduct.

Audience: And if you don’t learn the Dharma before you practice generosity, you may also not be able to judge who is the best to give to. You may give to somebody who is seemingly every learned, but you don’t give to a yogi who is meditating.

VTC: Yes, that’s why it seems to me that learning should be earlier.

Audience: When you were talking about the people who help to proofread, it made me think of all the volunteers who help to give the Dharma through your website and the Abbey website, some of whom have been doing it for decades, all with a very sincere motivation because they’ve benefited, they want to give back.

VTC: Definitely. The people who built the websites, who keep them up, who do the articles and post things. Yes, so much help.

Audience: I was thinking to have faith that’s not faith without investigation, learning needs to be there, too. I think we need learning through all the stages, no matter which order you list it in. But I was thinking with the generosity, it takes our focus away from ourselves to others, and that and not harming others is the basis of ethical conduct. So I was thinking about it that way when I was looking at the six perfections, because that’s the order it’s in. You learn to get out of yourself a little by being generous, and then that focus of other is a big basis for the next.

VTC: I think ethical conduct would focus on others, too.

Audience: That’s what I’m saying. You’re building a foundation for ethical conduct by getting yourself out of…you start to learn to give. You start to be concerned with others. And then the whole ethical conduct is concern for others.

VTC: It’s interesting, because when you look at all of these, and start thinking about the order, you begin to see that actually the order could be changed because this one leads to that to that, but also the latter supports the former, and we begin to see how all these aspects of the path are quite interrelated.

Even though, with the lamrim, they say it’s the gradual path, and they even say people learn one meditation and don’t get teachings on the rest of it until they’ve actualized that one meditation. I don’t think that’s for everybody, because I think you need to have a whole understanding of the path at the very beginning so that you understand where you’re going and what it’s all about. And the more you look at the different meditations, the more you see, not only do the first ones act as the basis for the ones after that, but the ones after that are what give a lot of meaning to the initial ones, too. Once you start hearing about the six perfections, that makes having a precious human life much more precious than before you heard about bodhicitta and practicing the six perfections.

The point is that all these things really are interwoven.

Audience: Even in terms of faith, what I’ve been thinking about is how important the step of “admiring faith” is. It’s the spark that gets you going. And it takes a long time to get much further in faith. You have to go through the whole seven, and all the six, and the whole lamrim, in some ways, before you even get to a deeper level of aspiring, much less having that conviction. So to have the seed that’s able to admire, that being so very precious.

VTC: Yes. I was just reading something. Someone was saying that in Asia people have this automatic kind of faith. Which is quite beautiful, and it opens the door for them to really learn the Dharma. Whereas in the West we tend to be much more skeptical and we hold back.

On the other hand, in Asia, because they have this automatic faith, then they can be exploited by people who are not so ethical. Not exploited, but maybe gullible? In that way Westerners, we want to check things out and observe first, can be very helpful, that kind of critical thinking. So you see, faith has one benefit, but the admiring faith can also, if it isn’t hooked up with other qualities, it can have a detriment. Wanting to check things out and investigate has many good qualities, but if it just becomes cold and cynical, then it shuts you off. Here we have the famous middle way, again.

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.

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