Friday, July 25, 2014

Generosity - Giving Wisely in the Three Fields

              Let's continue to learn about the first paramita of Generosity. So far, we've learned about the benefit of giving and its subsequent positive effect on our lives and our environment.

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               But -- when you think about it -- is giving really better than just saving it all for yourself? Can it really be proven that sharing is better than being selfish? Well, there may not be exact proof, but let's demonstrate how giving is better in a "sort of" scientific way.

                Back in the olden days, bathtubs were wooden and often in a more round, circular shape.

                 When you're in a bath, you of course want nice, warm water around you to sooth your tension. "Ah, so relaxing..."

Original Photo by Rafael Edwards available on

                         Naturally as you stay longer in the tub, the water around you begins to cool. Your first inclination is to then draw what's left of the remaining warm water toward you. Frantically your hands try to bring in the warmth. "More, more... I want MORE!"

                         However, this action only seems to bring more of the cooler water.

                         In order to receive more warm water, you have to push away the warm water near you. At first, it seems to go against your logic, but sure enough, the warm water is then able to circulate around and come back warmer than before.

*** FYI - if you decide to try this bath tub experiment for yourself, know that it still works the best in wider, round tubs.***

                         You receive more warmth by pushing the water away from you rather than toward yourself. This is the Buddhist concept of Benefiting Others Benefits Yourself.

                         When our greed drives us to only satisfy our own needs, we end up wanting more and more just to satisfy our ever-growing loneliness. But as soon as we begin to share what we have with others, we become more contented with what we have. This is the reason behind why giving is so beneficial.

                         Now that we know that we receive more when we give more, we may be inclined to go out on a giving spree. "Woo Hoo! Here's some money for you... and you..."

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                        Hey there, wait a minute! Not so fast! It's not as simple as it seems...

                        To be wise with your money, you shouldn't direct your most generous donations to just anyone and everyone. If you do that, you will waste what precious resources you have and end up in ruin yourself.

                         Keep in mind, we still must have enough to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. Without being careful and planning our assets, our good intentions of giving could end up causing ourselves and our family financial harm instead.

                         To understand the cause and effect relationship behind an act of generosity, let's reflect on the Law of Cause and Effect one more time.

Good deeds bring good results.

Bad deeds bring bad results.

Your own deeds bring your own results.

                         The three lines above represent universal truth. This means that these words remain true at all times: past, present, and future. They also apply everywhere throughout the entire universe. The Law of Cause and Effect always remains true without even a single exception. 

                          In Buddhism, the term law is not like the legal rules made by man. The laws made to govern a society can differ from country to country and can even change with public opinion over time. Scientific laws can even be altered as new advances in our understanding are made. The Law of Cause and Effect, however, is unchanging, unwavering, and boundless.

                           Let's say you give a few dollars to someone who seems impoverished, but that person secretly has bad intentions with your money. You may think it must then be the fault of the other person and not your own, but if that person uses your kind gift to do bad things it counts as a bad deed for you as well.

Original Photo by David Goehring available on

                         Even if your intentions remain the very best, helping a thief remains wrong. Of course, going out and intentionally committing bad karma is still the worse act between the two. But it's still important to know that when we accidentally or unknowingly do wrong, it still will yield us a form of negative result.

                            If you give a sudden windfall of money to the wrong person, you may be paying them to feed their addiction problem or even to commit crime. Once under the influence of a drug or narcotics, the results can be very dangerous to that person's health.

Original Photo by Roberto Trm available on

                         Now if a criminal receives those funds, the lives of others are then put in peril. No matter how well-intentioned you are, putting others in harm's way, even by your own mistake, can't produce a positive result.

                         Whenever we experience or even see bad results happening in our environment, we should reflect on our own actions to investigate if we ourselves are contributing to those problems in some way. By considering how we directly affect others and the world, we learn how to make better decisions that receive better results for our own future and those around us.

                         Many times we forget that it is our responsibility to decide how best to give the right kind of help to the right person. That's why whenever we give, we must remember to have both wisdom and compassion. It's very important to think deeply if a person or group will use the resources we offer in the same way we intended. 

                           All causes have effects; all effects come from causes. So according to the Law of Cause and Effect, that means human beings, life on Earth, and everything in the universe as we know it all exists together within a continuous chain of interconnected events.

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                            Since all our actions become causes that will bring us effects down the road, it is wise for us to focus our most generous actions toward the most favorable conditions.

                            A condition is something that assists or helps a cause bring about an effect.

                            Shakyamuni Buddha taught us how to utilize our generosity effectively by a metaphor known as the Three Fields.

                             Each of the Three Fields represent a type of person or group that act as the very best of conditions for us to harvest good effects.

The Three Fields

Field of Respect -  We owe the most gratitude to Amida Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha and true Buddhist masters like Master Shinran. (We will learn more about these important figures in Pure Land Buddhism in future posts.) For now it is important to know that they have all helped guide us toward the true teachings so we can obtain absolute happiness in this life.

                              To those around us who actively dedicate their lives to Buddhism, we must also definitely show our respects. We can offer donations and/or words of gratitude in order to support their continuing activities of sharing Dharma with the world.

                               The role of any good Buddhist teacher is to transmit the truth that is contained within the sutras in a accurate, easy-to-understand way. Even though some who teach Buddhism may appear more prominent to us than others, what remains of most importance is to honor the teachings themselves more than any one person. It is the teachings of Buddhism that we revere the most since they are what contain the truth, a truth that is so rare to find.

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                      The Field of Respect also includes people who exhibit the very best qualities of virtue.  They set examples for us to follow by demonstrating exemplary character, morals, and ethics in their everyday lives. 

                      Individuals who perform continual, benevolent actions to help mankind are also worthy of our admiration and support. They include humanitarians from all walks of life. We must respect leaders who have spent their lives working for the common good of mankind and the fair treatment of all peoples.

Field of Gratitude - This field represents people who have done a lot for us in the past, and so in turn, they rightfully deserve our tremendous gratitude.

                  Our parents, whether we like them or not, brought us into this world and cared for us well enough to be alive right now. Our teachers and doctors are also worthy of our gratitude for taking care of us and giving us the knowledge we needed to live healthily. Our family members and even close friends can be there for us in our most difficult times and help us with their loving care and support.

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                      Whenever others go out of their way to help us, we must show our appreciation. To help us remember to say thanks, Buddhism teaches us that gratitude has three stages.

                         First, we must know what we should be grateful for, then we must feel grateful inside toward the person who offered us that kindness, and then we should repay our gratitude to that person in some special way that honors what they did for us fully.

1.) Knowing GratitudeIn Japanese, the Chinese character for gratitude is on. On is made up of two pictographs. The top square box means cause; the various four lines below represent mind


                        Now let's explore what the two ideas in this character actually signify. 

                       When we're grateful for getting a gift, we're happy and experience that gift as an effect. This effect has come from a cause that occurred in the past. 
 (Friend buys us a gift.)  --->  (We enjoy it.)

Cause -----------> Effect
                        When we discover the cause of why we're happy, we realize the gratitude we owe to the person who provided us with that wonderful, happy experience. 

                       So to understand the two concepts together, gratitude is a mind that knows the cause or source of where happiness comes from. 

                         This means that the first stage of gratitude is simply to recognize or remember when others have shared a kindness with us that we enjoyed. 

                        To do this, look around and take in all the things around you that you can be grateful for. There are so many people we can easily forget to thank. Just think all the beautiful flowers in your city must have been tended by a skilful gardener. This person deserves our thanks (even if it's at first just in our mind from afar) for providing us with such a beautiful sight to see.  

Original Photo by Garry Knight available on

                          Consider the people in your life who deserve a lot of gratitude. Remember those times when you were given help right when you needed it the most. Think of people who helped you along the way that you might have forgotten.

2.) Feeling Gratitude -  Once you discover someone or something to be grateful for, allow yourself to really feel inside all the kindness that you received. Always reserve a big space in your heart for this tremendous feeling.

3.) Showing Gratitude - Finally, we must repay that kindness by showing our gratitude in some form of expression. It could be a sincere word of thanks, a gift as a token of appreciation, or a helping hand with a favor they need. A thank-you card or letter is a wonderful way of showing gratitude.

                            Showing our gratitude by saying or doing something nice increases the feeling of thanksgiving in our lives as well as rewards the kind person who helped us so much. Then we can continue to share that same kindness we received to others which expands the feeling of thanksgiving even more. This is what it truly means to "pay it forward."

Field of Compassion - People in the Field of Compassion are in desperate need just to stay alive from either the wages of war, illness or poverty. This field also includes those who lost everything from the devastation of a natural disaster. We must do our best to help young children, the elderly, and disabled persons who are genuinely unable to provide food and shelter for themselves. Even those who face extreme financial ruin from a layoff or long-term unemployment deserve our sympathy.

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                           When someone is in real distress, we must do what we can to help them, whether it's providing them with a loan, making a donation to a worthy cause, guiding them to a substance abuse program, or gifting someone an item that they really need like water, food or clothing.

                             Surprisingly, just offering our hearts and sharing words of encouragement can be a tremendous benefit to people in hard times.

                           Ivan Turgenev is the author of the classic literary work, Fathers and Sons. During difficult years of recession in Russia, Turgenev once had a poor person come knock at his door to beg for alms. But being in the midst of poverty himself, he had nothing tangible to give the beggar who had come all the way to his doorstep.

                             So instead the author firmly embraced the man at his door. Tears fell from his eyes as he said, "Brother, I am so sorry I have nothing to give you."

                             Recalling the occasion many years later, that man said he had never expected to receive a hug from Turgenev.

                            "Never in my life had I received anything as precious as his genuine and giving spirit that day."

Original Word Art by Celestine Chua available on


                            Good fortune grows for us as a direct result of our own planting of good seeds. Seeds represent the actions we choose to perform on a daily basis.

                             By planting good actions in each of these Three Fields, a crop of good effects will be able to grow the quickest and yield a better result for us. And before long, those seedlings will surely sprout and then bloom into happiness for us.

                          Now a farmer planting seeds might think he's actually losing because he is giving up his seeds at the time of planting, but once the time of the harvest comes he gets exactly what he planted... and many times over.

                          Understanding the value of giving in no way makes it easier to give. We always remain full of desires known as worldly passions. In Buddhism, it is taught we are made of 108 Worldly Passions. The three main worldly passions are Desire, Anger, and Envy\Ignorance.

                         We can often become way too busy with these desires. Then we start procrastinating and become stingy when it comes down to actually sharing with others or helping them.

                         The Buddha shared a parable about someone who decided to put off giving until later. It's the story of a man whose greed to give became more important than the act of giving itself.


                        Once upon a time, a farmer living in the countryside decided to invite a lot of people to his home for a party. 

                        "Hmm, what can I offer everyone that evening?" he thought. "Well, I know I have a cow in the stable, so I definitely should serve fresh milk to drink."

                        The man went over to the cow and began to ponder how much milk the animal could produce for the number of guests he wished to invite.

Original Photo by Sara B. available on

                         "One cow surely can't supply enough milk for everybody. There's just too many people. Now, if I work too hard by storing up all that the milk, it won't be as fresh and is most likely going to go bad before they get here. Hmmm, what to do..."

                           And then the thought struck him.

                           "Ah--HAH! I got the answer! I won't do anything! I'll just keep all the milk INSIDE the cow until the moment I need it!! HAHAHA!! This is brilliant."

                         Soon the day came, and all the guests arrived at his front door.

                         "Welcome, everyone!!! Please take your seats. I'll be right back with some milk! You'll all love the fresh taste!"

                         Everyone became overjoyed with anticipation. Meanwhile, the farmer quickly sped over to the barn and began to squeeze the cow's utters. But not a drop came out.

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                           "WHA--?! That's strange!" the farmer gasped. "What on Earth did I do wrong? There isn't any milk coming out at all!"

                          Slumped over from embarrassment, he went back inside to the party and confessed to all his guests that he had made a mistaken calculation. All of them went home very upset and quite disappointed.

                          The Buddha shared an insight with everyone about the farmer's mindset.

                          "I often hear people say they will give plentifully when they become rich," Shakyamuni began. "Such people are just like the farmer in this story. They only dream about giving abundantly in the future without taking the proper steps to give in the current moment. They falsely believe that at some other time they will begin to donate in vast quantities."

                           "Instead their greed continues to endure as the right amount of wealth never seems to quite arrive. For those who think this way, giving thus becomes impossible."

                                   A cow delivers fresh milk when it is milked regularly at a moderate pace.

                                   In the same manner, we should be consciously and consistently giving all the time whenever we can. Instead of planning some day to give next week, we should get started right away, today.

                                 Let's do our best to perform wisely-planned good deeds in each of the Three Fields: the Field of Respect, the Field of Gratitude, and the Field of Compassion. As we practice sincere acts of giving toward these three types of individuals, we will become happier and come to know ourselves better as well.

Original Photo by Bill Gracey available on
                           Although practicing generosity toward each of the Three Fields is very good for us, there remains one good deed that is the very best -- listening to the teachings of Buddhism.

                             Next time, we will explore the paramita of Generosity - Sharing the Dharma with Family & Friends.