Giving what others need now
will create merits,
which can manifest
as what we really need later.
In the Avadāna Sūtra《阿婆陀那经》, Velāma Bodhisattva (韦罗摩菩萨) had the following reflection – ‘People speak [of] me as [a] noble person, [with] wealth immeasurable. [For] benefiting sentient beings, right now this is [the] time, [that there] should [be] great giving. [With] wealth [and] honour, although joyous, all [of them are] impermanent, [by the] five classes, [of the king (i.e. government), thieves, fire, water and unbeloved (i.e. prodigal) children] as shared.
[These] enable people’s minds [to] scatter, [as they are] easily dissipated [to be] unfocused, for example, [like] macaque [monkeys who are] not able [to] temporarily stop. Humans’ lives pass away quickly, swifter than lightning disappearing, [with] humans’ bodies impermanent, [as the] gathering place of many [forms of] suffering. With these [as the] reasons, [one] should practise giving.’ (人谓我为贵人，财富无量，饶益众生，今正是时，应当大施。富贵虽乐，一切无常，五家所共，令人心散，轻泆不定，譬如猕猴不能暂住；人命逝速，疾于电灭，人身无常，众苦之薮。以是之故，应行布施。)
We are noble not merely by having great wealth in cash and kind, that is honoured by many others. To be truly noble is to be compassionately giving (布施) in our thought, word and deed, for the physical and spiritual well-being of those in need. We can give in thought by radiating loving-kindness, wishing all to be well and happy, and by dedicating merits from any act of good to all. We can give in word by offering calming words for clarification and comfort, to give fearlessness (无畏施), and by sharing the Dharma (法施), which leads to True Happiness. We can give in deed by offering clothing, food and drink, shelter, money… (外财施; outer giving of wealth), blood and labour, by volunteering of time and effort… (内财施; inner giving of wealth).
With so many beings with so many needs, there is always something worthy to give everyone. For example, even the richest person in the world needs the Dharma, because without it, all the wealth owned in this lifetime will be wiped out upon death, while still being trapped in the cycles of birth and death. In this sense, the truest wealth is not physical, but spiritual. The Buddha might have renounced his potential to become a Wheel-turning Noble King (转轮圣王) who can rule the whole world system, but in return for giving it up, he became a Dharma King (法王) instead, who was respected by all good kings.
Since there are so many non-monetary ways to give, there is no need to wait until we are rich to be giving. Right now is the time to give, as there are always beings to benefit. Instead of always focusing on accumulating more for ourselves, it makes sense to also reasonably distribute our surpluses for others too. How many clothes do we really need anyway? What about the loads of other stuff that can be converted for cash donations? This is urgent because others have desperate needs to meet now, while we are always running out of time to practise giving. The true challenge is to give as much as we can in this life before it ends.
There is the Swedish practice of ‘death cleaning’ (döstädning), which is to organise and de-clutter our things before death. This helps to put our lives in perspective, to reflect on how few material things we really need, and how it is the spiritual that is of greater value. It nurtures contentment through material minimalism too. It also offers peace of mind, saving survivors from the hassle and heartache of deciding how to handle our stuff later. The earlier we ready ourselves by being open to closure now, the more can we benefit directly. Death is coming for sure, and it might be earlier than expected too.
As there is more joy in sharing than hoarding, thus is there the saying that ‘it is better to give than to receive’. Those who are able to joyfully give are those who really experience the blessings of abundance too – even if they seem conventionally ‘poor’. The perfection of Generosity is crucial for attaining lasting happiness too, while material goods that expire in value only bring about fleeting happiness.
Despite much hoarding of all manners, working hard to seek wealth (勤苦求财), that amassed might even be wiped out before life ends. This is so as past negative karma can ripen at any time through changes in taxation policies, or being victimised by robberies, embezzlement, natural disasters and misplaced trust in family members, who mismanage or squander savings. Why not then, practise giving away our things before our karma gives them up? (Note that there are tax exempted donations possible.)
The Buddha also spoke of ‘wealth buried (i.e. hidden) also lost’ (藏埋亦失) – which is possible through sudden death or mental ailments with forgetfulness, that might even lead to forgetting of one’s own name. Even without any of the above occurring (yet), the thought of so, due to taking false ‘refuge’ in wealth, projects restless fears and worries. Thus is there little peace of mind, even for the rich with ‘too much’ to lose. Having expended much wasted time and effort, before we know it, with or without failing bodies, life ends. Even the rich cannot buy their way out of such impermanence.
Not even half a cent can be carried over to the next life. Even if there is ‘only’ half a cent still unspent upon death, one would have died half a cent too rich, that could had been used to help others, and oneself, by creating merits. Those without adequate spiritual practice will be reborn, to regain bodies that are again impermanent, through which there is repeated suffering from birth, ageing, sickness and death. The less generous we are now, the more likely will we be reborn in physically and spiritually poor situations too. Where Pure Land practitioners reach, with immeasurable life free from ailments, with the most precious and pure wonders as teaching aids, there will be no more need for wealth there! All these are reasons to be more giving – now.
Give before you lose
all that you have –
including your very life.
How To Have The Ultimately Blissful Reunion
A Beginner’s Guide To Swedish Death Cleaning