torstai 30. heinäkuuta 2020

Generosity - The Foundation of Mahayana Buddhism by Kim Katami

Generosity - The Foundation of Mahayana Buddhism

I was just talking with my teacher about money and generosity. To me and her, money was always means to do something, not something to accumulate or to hoard because there'd be no point in that for us. I give away money all the time for good purposes, like animal shelters, and people who need it. I am generous because that's who I am and that's who I want to be. I am not rich though and here's the thing: Why are people who have lots of money, so attached to it? It is always people who have lot of money, who are the most stingy. Vice versa, people who don't have so much money, give it away easily without reservations. There are of course exceptions to the rule but in general wealthy people seem to be attached to their money. From the point of view of humanity, this is embarrassing. From the point of view of dharma, this is a major pitfall.

Mahayana & Generosity

The first foundational guideline (paramita) of mahayana buddhism is generosity or dana. Why did the masters who constructed the mahayana buddhist doctrine, set generosity as the basis of mahayana buddhist practice? This clearly suggests that this is something important, though I always find it surprising how little dharma practitioners give thought to it.

Mahayana buddhism teaches that all beings have buddhanature and that it is possible to attain it. In this way mahayana buddhism empowers us by telling and giving us the tools how full enlightenment or buddhahood can be attained and actualised. Mahayana teaches wisdom (prajna) and compassion (karuna) as means to realise our innate wakefulness. Simultaneosly both wisdom and compassion are the two main characteristics of our buddhanature which means that someone who has some or complete first hand experience, is both wise and compassionate in terms of existencial matters. Wisdom means absence or lessening of self-based ignorance and compassion is the lively flowering of that wisdom that cares for others, I would say primarily from the perspective of mind-based suffering (dukkha) but also from the perspective of common suffering, such as poverty and illness.

The opposite of wisdom and compassion is self-based ignorance that only thinks for itself. In ignorant mind there is a lot of energy or power in the "I" thought. This is samsaric mind, which repeats the same thoughts and confusions again and again based on the deeply ingrained belief that there is "I" or "me" and "others". According to buddhism, this is the root of existential confusion that makes life a confusing and unsatisfactory experiece. Thinking in terms of me and other also creates separation and inequality between people. That is not normal or healthy in any way. This is duality and duality is pain.

So, ignorant mind thinks, talks and acts in ways that are selfish and narrow minded, and it is this deeply rooted habit of self-based ignorance that generosity is designed to break. Imagine what happens in a mind that begins to think, talk and act for the welfare of others, rather than oneself. This is the medicine of dharma that uproots our self-belief and removes the gap between me and others, lettin the buddha within to shine through as understanding and love.

Generosity is actually a geniously designed practice because money is related to our basic safety which in turn relates to our root chakra. A wise man knows the difference between real safety and illusory safety. That is really the only difference between someone who is caught up by samsara and who is liberated. Giving money away can change your life. It literally has the power to liberate you.


Vajrayana is the tantric interpretation of mahayana buddhism. Tantra that involves gurus, empowerments, deities, mantras and such, is or should be built on solid understanding of both mahayana and hinayana teaching. In the context of this article - generosity - this means that one cannot reap the promise of vajrayana, which is to attain buddhahood in this life, without the foundation of mahayana. Without genuine care for others - bodhicitta/compassion - one cannot reap the benefits of either mahayana or vajrayana. This downgrades vajrayana into a hinayana practice. It is not bad but it is not how it should be because tantra is not designed for that.

The three vehicles of buddhism: hinayana or small vehicle, mahayana or big vehicle and vajrayana or tantric vehicle, can be compared to woodwork. A carpenter takes a piece of wood that has the potential to be made into a fine work of art. In the beginning it's just a block of wood with bark on it. First, the carpenter makes a sketch of his sculpture on the wood, and begins to work on it with rough tools, like axe and chainsaw. After applying some skill and effort, he manages to make a rough outline of the design that already looks a lot like what the design is about. It is like a Lego-man compared to a fine work done by an Italian master sculptor. This is hinayana. Then the carpenter takes finer tools, like big and small chisels and continues to work with those. After some more applied effort, we really begin to see many details. We can also see a great difference between the former stage and present stage. This is mahayana. Then finally, the carpenter takes out a collection of sandpapers of various roughnesses and continues the work. He keeps working and finally... the finished sculpture looks so beautiful that we are amazed! This is vajrayana. We cannot expect to understand the fineness of vajrayana if we never even tried the foundational practices of mahayana, such as generosity.

The point with this analogy is that all three stages – vehicles – follow each other. Gross, middle and fine are all part of the same process and if any of them is missing the sculpture cannot be finished. This explains perfectly the progression from hinayana to mahayana to vajrayana teaching, and their corresponding practices and levels of insight. Not understanding this progression also explains why practitioners of the higher vehicles sometimes have lesser insight and understanding than those of lower vehicles. If vajrayanis don't have a solid foundation from gross and medium level insight, they cannot possibly understand the subtlety and fineness of vajrayana.

Jesus by Gian Bernini


The sole purpose of dharma is removing our self-based views from our subtle nervous system or mind. The meaning of dharma is not in making our lives better, happier or more pleasurable while remaining arrogant and selfish. Committing to a dharma practice necessarily stings a bit but for someone who is fed up with self-created nonsense, this is both necessary and unavoidable. To such a practitioner, the process that gets lighter and easier with every insight and moment of practice. For someone who doesn't understand this and is in it only to make ones self-based life better, dharma is like ripping one's hair off one by one, that is, highly unpleasant. Such practitioners should look into the teachings of hinayana and mahayana because they are not ready or prepared for vajrayana.

Beginning to think about the welfare of those around us is a good place to start.

May you come in contact with the Buddha within,

-Kim Katami, 30.7.2020


Pemako Buddhism