Home » Excerpts » Tibet’s Best Shrine Offering

When we give anything or make any offering,
may we give with genuine generosity,
while we give up greed for returns.

Stonepeace | Books

Geshe Ben once lived in retreat in a mountain cave. Generations of hermit yogis had furnished it with a crude wooden door, a rocky altar, and a fireplace. Still, it remained a simple cave in which the monk practiced meditation in perfect solitude. At the end of a lengthy period of total isolation, Geshe Ben received word that his patrons would arrive on the following day to bring supplies, make offerings, and receive his blessings. He cleaned, dusted, and polished everything in the cave and arranged beautiful offerings on the altar in preparation for receiving his visitors.

Then he stepped back and surveyed his domain with satisfaction. “Ah-yii!” Ben suddenly exclaimed in alarm, observing his own handwork. “What demonic force has entered into this hypocrite’s haven?” Reaching into a dark corner, he picked up a handful of dust and cast it upon the immaculate altar. “Let them see this hermitage and its occupant as they are!” he exulted. “Better no offerings at all than offerings to the mere facade of virtue.”

In that moment, Geshe Ben had realized that all the offerings he had so artfully arranged in the freshly scrubbed hermitage were not offerings to the enlightened Buddha but to his own ego, made in order to impress his benefactors. “Let them come and visit now,” he thought with satisfaction. Years later, when Padampa Sangayay came from India and heard the tale, he exclaimed, “That handful of dirt was the best offering ever made in Tibet.”

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