TEACHINGS AND ADVICE: A Teacher Tells Us Why
In regard to generosity, we often hear about giving. What does Buddhism have to say about receiving?
Answered by Don Handrick:
It does seem that in Buddhist teachings we hear about receiving somewhat less frequently in comparison to how often the topic of giving is discussed. In spite of that, the topic of receiving is actually emphasized in several places in our practice of the stages of the path to enlightenment. Perhaps the most important meditations on receiving that we can do initially are encompassed in the foundational topics of the stages of the path: devoting yourself to a spiritual guide and appreciating this opportune human rebirth.
As part of the subject of devoting ourselves to a spiritual guide, one of the primary meditations that we undertake is developing respect for our gurus by recollecting their kindness1, exemplified by the teachings, initiations, personal advice and material support they provide us, as well as the less tangible and yet quite essential blessings and inspiration that we receive from these invaluable guides. Without all these benefits that we obtain through their incredible kindness, it is impossible to achieve any positive qualities, for as Lama Tsongkhapa says, “The foundation of all good qualities is the kind and perfect pure Guru.” Being grateful for the immense benevolence of our gurus, we are inspired to practice in accordance with the spiritual direction that we receive from them and thereby accomplish all the realizations of the path.
Within the other foundational topic of contemplating our precious human rebirth2, there is not only an acknowledgement of the richness and opportunity that we have received in this life but also a great emphasis placed upon appreciating the causes of attaining such a rebirth. By first thinking about the eight freedoms and ten endowments that make this human life so favorable, we come to appreciate the richness of this life that we have obtained and seek to take its essence by making it most beneficial. In addition though, we must examine how difficult it is to receive such an opportune life, recognizing its rarity especially in terms of the many causes and conditions that produced it. We can clearly see some additional ways that we contemplate receiving within two of these causes that are essential to receiving a precious human rebirth.
First, in order to receive merely a higher rebirth such as that of a god or a human being, the main cause is our practice of morality, for it is only through a virtuous action that we can obtain the ripened result of a human existence. By abandoning non-virtue and practicing virtuous deeds in relation to other sentient beings, we in turn are able to receive this fortunate rebirth. In addition, there is another cause that is mentioned in this context – the practice of generosity – and it is cited specifically as the cause of our receiving wealth in this human life that we currently possess. In accord with the teachings on karma, we must discern that all the material resources that we have received in this life have arisen through the force of our having engaged in giving to others in the past. And in the light of how we need to take the essence of this human life and all the resources that we do own, it is crucial then that we determine to utilize them in constructive and meaningful ways. How sad it would be if we simply wasted all that we received through these causes by not using this life well!
Besides being mentioned within these two foundational meditations, another important topic in the stages of the path wherein we focus on the various kindnesses that we have received is the instruction on developing the mind of enlightenment. In the sevenfold cause-and-effect instruction for cultivating bodhichitta3, we are encouraged to first see all sentient beings as having been our mothers, upheld within the view that we have had infinite lives and thus every sentient being has actually performed that function not just once but on numerous occasions. The significance of seeing them as one’s mother is that we receive so much benefit from the vast kindness of sentient beings when they have played that role in all our lives. Maternal kindness is seen in so many ways: our mother carries us in her wombs through gestation, dealing with much discomfort and difficulty; after we are born, our mother tends to us when we are completely incapable of caring for ourselves and in need of her protection and support; and throughout our infancy and childhood, our mother often continues to be the primary provider of all that we need to assure our healthy growth, physically and mentally.
When we recognize the incredible kindness of mother sentient beings in this way, we naturally generate a sincere wish to repay that kindness, particularly through bringing them to the happiness they seek and freeing them from every form of suffering. Cultivating love and compassion for beings within an appreciation for their kindness towards us, we come to the conclusion that the best possible way to take personal responsibility and to make good on all that we have received from them is to become a buddha for their sake. In this way we reciprocate by providing the best possible repayment for the immeasurable kindness we have received from all sentient beings throughout countless lifetimes by dedicating ourselves to accomplishing their welfare.
In summary, while it is important that we acknowledge and appreciate the many things that we have received in myriad ways, these stages of the path teachings remind us that it would be quite unfortunate if we don’t receive things with a spirit of gratefulness along with an understanding of where they come from and how all that we receive can contribute to our ability to use this life purposefully. With continual mindful awareness of the sincere wish to benefit others, we can come to the conclusion that, while it is generally true that “it’s better to give than to receive,” without skillfully and thankfully receiving we can never accomplish our own enlightenment and give others the bliss and happiness that they seek.