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cling-free giving & receiving

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My country home will soon have new owners. The process of sorting through 21 years worth of stuff is in full swing (albeit one-handedly due to recent fractures). Much is being recycled. Instead of selling things outright, I’m asking people to pay whatever they think is a fair price — depending on their ability and knowing the money will go to local charities. For me it’s an excercise in practicing non-clinging and generosity, but for others it may be a stressful undertaking.

The other day several neighbours came and saw things they liked, then sat there with cheque books and pens at the ready, visibly uncomfortable with voluntarily pricing. One person’s face went beet-red with discomfort, another begged for a price range. I told them about the Hindu-Buddhist concept of dāna, the practice of developing generosity. In retrospect, I may have caused suffering by insisting on an unfamiliar way of giving/receiving. I’ll ask my friends when I see them next week.

A couple of years ago, in Thailand, I stood at the roadside along with local people, waiting to offer food to a begging monk. After placing things in his basket, I knelt to hear his reciting of words in Pali, the old language of Buddha-times. When I looked up, expecting, by habit, his signal of gratitude, he’d already turned to the next giver. In Japan, when Zen monks carry out their traditional begging rounds, they wear huge straw hats that partly obscure their faces to prevent them from seeing the faces of those giving alms.

At my training monastery I learned a meal chant which now reminds me each day of The emptiness of the three wheels: giver, receiver, and gift. When we give to others, so the teaching goes, we give without expectation of reward. We give without attaching to either the gift or the recipient. And so it is with receiving. Each is easier said than done. Each holds an aspect of our liberation.

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