Monday, 23 March 2015

"How can I be generous now?"

Dear all

I just wrote this email to my Sangha, i.e. the group of people who I practice with at my local Buddhist Centre and I want to share it with everyone. Everything "private" in it is about me and my thinking, so I am happy to share it.

The "Bodhisattva Project" is a program that the Kagyu Buddhist Centre in Kenilworth, Cape Town, started in 2010. Some of us have stuck it out and are in our sixth year. Some people have left and come back. Some new people have arrived and some have gone on other journeys.

There are two ways to achieve Enlightenment. One way is the path of the Arhat. The Arhat's path is to achieve enlightenment for their own sake, although I must say that them being enlightened has a profound effect on the world. The other way to achieve Enlightenment is the path of the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva makes a commitment to achieve Enlightenment in order to help others. The Bodhisattva achieves enlightenment or Nirvana and then returns to help others achieve and follow this path. It is a difficult path and one can take thousands of lifetimes to achieve it.

In my opinion, it is a worthwhile path.

This year, our Bodhisattva class is about "The Six Paramitas". The first Paramita is Generosity. And the question "How can I be generous now?" is a practice we are currently doing where one should ask "How can I be generous now?" as often as possible or when one remembers. Generosity isn't just about charity, ie the money kind. There is also the "being charitable" kind, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or not making assumptions, or not changing ones "view" because of the negative thoughts someone else might feed one.

And so here is my email to my Sangha:

After 5 years on the Bodhisattva Project, and thinking that I have forgiven everyone, I watched this video

and realised that I had unfairly judged this person, Monica Lewinsky, even now, 17 years later.

I watched the video and I cried. I'm ashamed. I judged based on hearsay; and I am so against hearsay. I wasn't generous with my compassion.

I am so much against blaming others for our mistakes, for example, "it's Eskom's fault" or "it's Rhodes' fault" or "it's the government's fault" and I have been saying for so long rather say "its our fault" or "its my fault". I can make my own electricity just like you can. I can decide that perhaps Rhodes had flaws, but look at the incredible legacy he left, and I can blame the government for the pothole outside my house, or I can just have it fixed.

Monica says that we live in a culture of shame and humiliation, and I think she is right. But it is also a culture of blame. Something that is probably as old as the story of the Garden of Eden. Who was to blame there? The snake? The two trees? God?

We constantly judge, yet Christians and Jews, amongst others, learn that there is only one True Judge. The rest of us just don't really get the big picture.

As Buddhists, we too learn the power of compassion, but I wonder how many of us have been ungenerous in our thinking about Monica and other people like her who "made a mistake at the age of 22"? She says in her talk: "who of you didn't make mistakes at the age of 22" and not one person puts up their hands.

My friends and colleagues and Sangha. I love all of you. And you are part of me and part of my life, and part of my Refuge. Without you all, I wouldn't be where I am today.

Monica has also just become part of my prayers, part of my life, but more truly part of my thinking in a non-hearsay way.

I was bullied at school. I know what its like. I know what its like when you tell the school psychologist about it and the bullying gets worse the next day! I also know about wanting to destroy this child who became a man. And plotting for decades how I was going to "hurt" him. And I also know that one day he had a party and I gate crashed it and I went up to him and I said: "I forgive you for what you did to me, all those years ago." And with tears in his eyes, he hugged me, and he apologised for what he had done; and he said to me that he had no idea how to apologise to me!

Just the fact that I was generous allowed him to be generous back!

Unfortunately he committed suicide a few years ago and left a wife and children behind, so perhaps there were demons in his life and I and others just didn't understand.

One of the 37 practices of the Bodhisattva says that when someone bullies you or tells you "bad stuff" about you, or perhaps tells others private stuff about you, or even unfairly drags your name through the mud, that you should treat them as your greatest teacher and guru! Well that exact thing happened to me today. Someone was upset and told me some stuff today, and I said to myself "How can I be generous today?" "This person is my greatest teacher." And I didn't say anything. I also didn't dwell on it. And later tonight she sent me an apology. Unasked. Just because of compassion.

One of the other things Monica talks about is something I really feel strongly about: Rights and Responsibilities. I have believed for a long time that for every right there is an associated responsibility. The right to life means the responsibility to protect life and not to murder. The right to an education means the responsibility to learn and not to break. The right to hospital care means the responsibility to be as healthy as one can be. The right to owning stuff means the responsibility not to steal. etc.

My dear Sangha. Let us know and understand what we have done to the Monica's in our lives and let us practice our generosity and ask "How can I be generous now?"


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