This transcript comes from the second week exploring the transcendental action (paramita) of generosity. You can join in the cornucopia practice in the Mindsprings Video Library.
Obviously in the real world (whatever that is) when we get up off the cushion and we go and look at our bank balance and see how much could we give to Vladimir Putin, then we do have to think practically.
But in this exercise, in these visualization or tantric practices, it's not about the practicalities. Obviously, we can't give away the whole of the continent of Africa or the whole universe. But what we are doing is stretching the mind. Particularly the heart,
the part of us that pinches and closes shut and the part of us that lets go. We're stretching the heart with these preposterous acts of generosity. You can't give away all the wealth of Asia to all the Native Americans of America. You can't do that. But what we can do is stretch our minds and our imaginations.
To bathe in the feeling of dzinpa, of letting go, we can imagine that we have this infinite wealth and that we can give it away infinitely and we can give it to an infinite number of people.
So the practice is a dance between letting go and the pinch point.
The pinch point is not, "Oh, I'm doing it wrong". The pinch point is the point. Because it's where we're like: "Oh, but I shouldn't give it to that person because they might do something bad with it" or, "Oh, that person doesn't deserve it", or "That person was mean to me, so I'm not going to give it to them". These are the pinch points.
From a psychological point of view, you could see this extravagant giving is too much. It's like too much generosity, too much letting go. And we retract back into "No, this is mine, and this I have to be careful with, and I need to give that to people who are going to help me." And this is the pinch point.
In traditional Buddhist terms, this is called stinginess, and it's a good word because it sounds horrible, and it's like Ebenezer Scrooge, and it's not so nice. That kind of stingy pinch is natural because we've grown up being told, "You've got to pinch! look after your pennies and then the pounds will look after themselves!" and we've all been told and conditioned to, hold on to things - "This is mine!" - but as is often the case with these Buddhist practices, what we're asked to do is completely topsy turvy.
Nothing is yours because you don't really exist. The things that you're giving away don't really exist, and the people you're giving to them don't really exist either. They're just ideas.
What's beautiful is this feeling of letting go, of abundance, of just pouring out, and without any sense of there being an exchange.
Because then that's not a gift. A gift is not an exchange. Like the Lama was saying to Barbara Bonner, just giving away something you don't want is just... spring cleaning.
There has to be a pinch for it to be generous. And the pinch is the liberation. The pinch is not "Oh, I'm a bad person". It's meant to be there because it's pointing you to the tension.
We've got so used to that tension, we think that's right. But when we start to just do this phantasmagorical, cornucopia giving it feels great.
The giving away, the letting go, is the gift for us. It is the benefit. It's not the smile on the face of the recipient, because then that's also transactional. Transactional giving is great. We like to give and make people happy. But that's not generosity.
That's creating things that you like in other people. True generosity is the relaxation of the ego, the relaxation of the ego boundary. That's the transcendental dana.
We do get caught up in the practicalities, but what's lovely about these ridiculous, generosity practices is that they're so ridiculous that they overwhelm practical considerations. And when you get caught up in reservations and rationalisations then you're not doing it wrong. Getting caught up is the pinch point and when we notice that we're tangled up then it is also the growing point.
Because those rationalizations are also a form of stinginess. We don't like to acknowledge that, but that's what they are. They're: "Oh I need to be realistic." But from a Buddhist point of view, that's just still keeping us in that unpleasant, stingy room.
This is a version of a practice that comes from a big Tibetan practice called the ngondro, where you do it a hundred thousand times. So you imagine the universe and you give it away, and you do that a hundred thousand times, which takes about two years. So don't worry if you didn't get it in one run-through this morning!
We can spend the whole session of this practice being pinched. And then we might have a moment of letting go. But this is why it's a practice. This is why we do it 100, 000 times.
In essence, right at the core of it, is this: there is no giver and there is no gift and there's no recipient. It's all, one big swirl of energy, in a way. You're, not giving away anything, nor are you receiving anything. It's the opposite of what they call poverty mentality.
Particularly in a consumerist world, we're bred to think that there's never enough to go around and we have to hoard everything. Even though the poorest amongst us in the UK are crazily wealthy compared to most people on the planet. The important thing is to start to loosen that poverty mentality and feel wealthy. Feel psychologically wealthy, existentially rich. Because you have a body, because you can breathe, because you have eyes, because, rain falls out of the sky, and you have a cat, or, whatever.
That sense of wealth precedes letting go because obviously, we can let go when we feel plugged into that wealth. This is what this mandala practice, this cornucopia practice is about: imagining ludicrous amounts of stuff to give away. So it is a practice of trying to generate as much abundance as possible in your mind. It's an exercise in your mind. It's not reality. But we're stretching the muscle of the heart to give things away.
This practice of generosity is, really the ultimate Buddhist practice.
Through the action of giving away and letting go, connecting with inner existential wealth, we subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, dissolve the distinction between what is happening for us and what is happening for everyone.
So that everything becomes interrelated, multiple, rich, and ultimately blissful. And sometimes that can happen with this practice, the cornucopia practice, we're just like, "Whoa! there's so much of everything, I can just give it all away. just amazing!" And that sense of heartful release frees us from that pinchy, stingy, "Oh, but I need to bookkeep all of this".
And that's the essence of the practice.
Please do come along and join us for the Paramita teachings this winter. We meet on Thursday mornings at 8am UK time for the live session, but if you book the session you will automatically get a recording sent to you by email, so you can catch-up at leisure.
The live sessions are part of the Baobab subscription which also gives you access to the video library, and 15% off all live events.
Please do leave your comments on this post below - I love to hear your thoughts on these things!