When Generosity Motivates Our Practice

Ajahn Yatiko • April 2013

This morning in meditation I was reflecting on the various offerings that have been made to me in my life. It’s a really wonderful exercise to do from time to time. This sitting cloth was made by Ajahn Ñāṇiko. I’m wearing clothes that Dennis gave me. David’s mother, Ayya Santussika, gave the monastery this vibrating alarm clock. Ajahn Jotipālo made this wooden holder for the bell. Ajahn Saññamo gave me the socks I’m wearing, which were given to him by Tan Khemako, who received them from a layperson. The flowers on the shrine came from our friend Apple.

As monastics, it’s nice that we can name the specific person who has offered almost any material item around us. By doing this we realize that absolutely everything we have is a gift from faithful and generous people. As alms mendicants, we rely on the faithful generosity of the laity to provide us with food as well as other material supports—robe cloth, shelter, and medicine. Our survival is sustained through the gifts of others. When we reflect on this, quite naturally the result is a sense of gratitude and appreciation.

At the same time, such generosity and support can cause us to ask, Why am I allowing myself to receive all this goodness and kindness? The reason is that having faith in the Buddha’s teachings, we became intent upon being free from greed, hatred, and delusion, and so we came here to devote ourselves to the Buddha’s path—a path which takes a great deal of commitment and effort. This is why we receive so much goodness from others, which in turn inspires us to practice well.

However, this dynamic can create a problem. Many of us come from a strongly guilt-driven culture, and we can say things to ourselves like, Everyone is supporting me, so I should practice hard, I should do sitting meditation and walking meditation. I should learn the suttas. For us, the word should can mean that if we don’t do it, we’re really bad monks. That’s the completely wrong approach. Instead, we can reflect that, Since everything is given to me, even this body doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the faithful—it’s merely loaned to me by them. With that in mind, there’s still the sense that we should practice, but it comes from a completely different “should.” It’s more like a voluntary “should.” It comes from a wholesome desire to practice because we know that it’s worthwhile, a decent thing to do. We come to realize, It’s for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of others.

As we walk on the meditation path, we can contemplate the significant difference between the “should” of guilt and the “should” of the natural and wonderful activity we’re interested in doing. We can reflect on the blessings of our lives, the things that have come to us, and realize what a wonderful opportunity we have to practice and cultivate the path of the Buddha.