The More We Give the More We Grow
written by Brigitte Martin
Dana is a Sanskrit word that means “gift” or “giving away.” In traditions of the East, generosity is the bedrock of the spiritual path and learning to give is a lifelong practice. It is a form of generous giving that expects nothing in return. Sometimes we get so caught up in ourselves we forget to look out for each other.
It is said that the deepest part of us is revealed when we are in service to others. This is where we can touch our lives and really come alive. This is where we use our hearts as a doorway into generosity. To find yourself you have to leave your SELF and offer to others who are in need.
In the world today more than ever we need to come together to heal, to love, to share our hearts. It is the only way truly to live. It is our only way into love. We have a responsibility to try and make the world a better place and to reach out, check in, encourage, uplift, love, support, affirm, connect…sometimes togetherness is the only way through.
Giving (dana) brings happiness at every stage of its expression. Generosity is the capacity we contain to embrace others with compassion and care. It is the most basic human virtue and is vital to how we grow beyond self – transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha the path of giving is a significant one. It is recognized as being the foundation and seed of spiritual development. It is this seed that gives us purpose.
When we truly see ourselves in others we instinctively want to do everything we can to secure their happiness and well-being, because we know that it is also directly related to our own well-being and happiness. We exist with all of life when we give ourselves to others. The merit, the spiritual benefit to be gained from the practice of giving cannot be measured. It is simply and profoundly priceless.
Giving in this way doesn’t have to be in gifts or material possessions. We can give by offering our grounding and caring presence to help someone who is fearful or anxious. We can give our time and energy to work with the homeless, or with those who have addictions, to work on helping with the environment, or (one that is close to my heart) donate our time to helping veterans.
We have plenty of gifts to offer and in most moments in life we are far wealthier than we ever imagine. We can contribute to the happiness of many people even if we have our own struggles, our own suffering, or have less than we desire. If we live in a way that whatever we have is enough, we will always be rich. Rich in the ways that truly matter. Rich in love, rich in time together, rich in gratitude, rich in a life full of meaning.
Dr. David Hawkins put it beautifully when he said: “In this interconnected universe, every improvement we make in our private world improves the world at large for everyone. We all float on the collective level of consciousness of mankind, so that any increment we add comes back to us. We all add to our common buoyancy by our efforts to benefit life. It is a scientific fact that what is good for you is good for me.”
When we are motivated by the desire to give, just the intention alone to offer help and understanding, a willingness to listen and communicate, begins to lessen our own and others’ suffering. We are healed by taking ourselves out of our own stuff and being there for another and as a collective the world begins to heal heart by heart.
My dad served two tours in Vietnam. He was my hero. He suffered greatly from PTSD. His life was never the same after he came back from that war. In honor of his life, my dream is to offer some of the practices I have learned to other veterans who have fought for our county. This is one way that I can offer Dana. This is a way I can be generous with my time and share the teachings with others who need support.
There is a kind of vegetable in Vietnam called “he.” It belongs to the onion family and looks like a scallion. The more you cut the “he” plants at the base, the more they grow. If you don’t cut them at all they won’t grow very much. But if you cut them often, right at the base of the stalk, they grow bigger and bigger.
This is also what happens when we practice Dana. If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of fulfillment and well-being. The more we give the more we grow. Finding lasting happiness in the ways money can’t buy.
There is a fable from Thailand called the Beggar and the Buddha. It is one of my favorite stories ever and is all about generosity and is so deep in meaning. It goes like this.
There once was a beggar and he had been trying to gather food and it didn’t matter how much he gathered or how much he stored, he kept noticing that every day his food would disappear. One day he found the mouse that was stealing his food and he asked the mouse “Why are you stealing from me? I’m just a homeless man. I have nothing. You could steal from so many other people that are richer than me and they wouldn’t even notice the difference. Why are you stealing from me?”
The mouse told the homeless man, “Well, it is in your destiny. You can only have eight items in your possession at any given time and no matter how much you beg or how much you store that is all you will ever have.”
The homeless man was shocked and said, “Why is that my destiny? Why can I only have eight things at any given time?”
The mouse said, “I am only a mouse. I don’t know. You should go ask the Buddha.”
The homeless man took his advice and decided to go on a journey to find the Buddha.
The next day he left. He had a long first day of traveling and ended up at the gate of a wealthy family. They let him in and welcomed him to stay the night. They asked where he was going and he said, “I am going to see the Buddha to ask him about my destiny.”
The family said, “If you’re going to ask the Buddha a question anyway, will you ask a question for us too? You see, we have a 16-year-old daughter who has never spoken and we would like you to ask him what do we have to do to get her to speak.”
The homeless man thanked them for the shelter and said he will of course ask that question for them.
The next day he arrived upon some mountains. He encountered a wizard who said: “Where are you going? Let me help you. Come upon my staff and I’ll take you across the mountains.”
As they are flying across the mountains the wizard asked the young man why he is deciding to cross the mountains. The beggar replied, “I’m going to ask the Buddha about my destiny.” And the wizard said, “Well if you’re going to ask the Buddha a question anyway, can I give you a question to ask the Buddha for me? You see, I’ve been trying to go to Heaven for 1000 years and according to my teachings I should be able to go to Heaven by now. So can you please ask the Buddha what I have to do to get to Heaven?”
The beggar said of course he will ask the question for the Wizard.
After he flew over the mountain, the beggar left the wizard and carried on with his journey. He then came upon another obstacle. There was a river that he could not cross. It was too deep and wide. Luckily, he met a turtle who was willing to take him across.
As they are crossing the river, the turtle asked, “Why are you crossing the river? Where are you going?’ And the homeless man replied, “I am going to find the Buddha to ask him about my destiny.” And the turtle said, “Well if you’re going to ask the Buddha a question anyway, will you ask him a question for me? You see I’ve been trying to become a dragon for five hundred years. According to my teachings I should be a dragon by now. Can you ask the Buddha what do I have to do to become a dragon?”
The beggar replied that he would ask the question for the turtle and told him that he would see him soon.
Finally, the man arrives at the Buddha and as he is standing before him the Buddha said, “I will answer three questions for you, but only three questions.” The man was surprised and very concerned because he had four questions to ask.
So he thought carefully. He thought about the turtle who’s been trying to become a dragon for five hundred years. He thought about the wizard who has been trying for a thousand years to get to Heaven. He thought about the girl who has never been able to speak her whole life. He thinks to himself, I’m just a homeless beggar. I can go home and continue to beg. Maybe that is my destiny. As he looked at everyone else’s problems, his problems seemed rather small. His heart went out to the other three and he decided to ask their questions instead of his own.
He asked, and the Buddha told him that the turtle is unwilling to leave his shell and as long as he’s unwilling to leave the comfort of his shell he will never become a dragon.
He told him that the wizard always carries his staff and never puts it down. It acts as an anchor keeping him from heaven. The girl who cannot speak will be able to speak when she meets her true love.
The man thanked the Buddha and began his journey back home. As promised, he reunited with the turtle and he says to the turtle, “You just have to take off your shell, and once it’s off you’ll become a dragon.” The turtle removed his shell and inside the shell are the most priceless pearls found in the deepest parts of the ocean. He gave the pearls to the man and said, “Thank you. I no longer need this because I’m a dragon now,” and flew away.
The homeless man reunited with the wizard on the mountain. He told the wizard, “All you have to do is put down your staff and you’ll be able to go to Heaven.” The wizard does this and by giving the staff to the young man he ascended to Heaven.
The homeless man now had wealth from the turtle and power from the wizard and he headed back to the family. He said to the family, “The Buddha said your daughter will be able to speak when she meets her soulmate,” and in that moment the daughter came downstairs and said “Hey, is that the man that was here the other day?”
As you guessed, the young man and young girl find their soulmate.
This story tells us many things. There are so many lessons to learn here. Like the turtle, if we want to transform, to evolve, to grow, to be present we have to come out of our comfort zone. Like the wizard, we are sometimes so attached and anchored and used to gripping our stuff and we don’t even realize the only way to be set free from it is to put it down. This often happens to us when we hold onto a grudge, a story, an expectation. We just hold onto it and we think about it all the time and we get anchored by it, but if we are able to put things down we will learn to let things go, to forgive, and to become free.
As for the love story, when we act without expectation of a reward and we act just out of the goodness of our heart we are rewarded. That’s the natural law—what goes around comes around and sometimes in the most unexpected ways. This is known as karma in the yogic teachings.
The story is all about embracing principles of generosity, compassion, and kindness and all done with a sense of humility. Humility is the key to generosity. It is the key to listen, to question, to love fully, and to do all of that without judgment. When the young homeless man looked at his own problems they seemed so small compared to those of other people around him. He took himself out of his own pain and his own desires to think of others.
When we practice Dana and we act with humility we become humble and are able to think of other people first. When we are able to help others before ourselves we are rewarded with a life worth living and will be given gifts beyond what we can imagine that grow from that seed of generosity. This is the seed that gives us purpose. The more we give the more we grow This is what it means to be alive.
• As we move into the holiday season, which is a time for reflecting and connecting, challenge yourself to wake up every day and think of 3 things you are grateful for before you even get out of bed
• Try something called ‘Morning Pages.’ Get a journal and write down any and all thoughts that come into your mind. You will be surprised what messages will appear. Keep this private so you can write freely. It is very meditative and therapeutic. It has helped me come to terms with a lot of truth that I may not have come to terms with. It helps me to connect deeper to myself which helps me to connect to others and offer generosity.
• Do 3 things for other people weekly without wanting anything in return. These can be small things or more significant but make sure you do them whenever you are thinking about yourself too much or feeling down and out.
• Volunteer at a homeless shelter or practice Seva in some way.
• Say a prayer before you eat. Think of all the beings that are not able to fill their bellies. Find gratitude for what you have.
• Try to make time to share meals with people you love and treat them to a meal or a coffee or tea if you have the means.
• Offer gifts such as food or bags of the essentials (toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitizer) to homeless people. Make cookies or muffins and pass them out with a sweet message to anyone who is on the streets.
• Move intentionally and gratefully. Let it be enough that you are in your body and you are breathing. Don’t let that gift get lost on you.
• Release the expectation that your practice has to be a certain way. Shape yourself from the deepest part of you.
• Watch your inner dialogue. Whenever you are talking negatively to yourself stop that train of thought and think of something you’re grateful for or think of someone else who is in a hospital bed or sick and cannot move.
• Think of someone you’re grateful for the entire time you practice. Or think of someone who is going through a hard time as you move through your practice and send the positive energy and your love to that person. Reach out to that person after your practice.
“In this interconnected universe, every improvement we make in our private world improves the world at large for everyone. We all float on the collective level of consciousness of mankind, so that any increment we add comes back to us. We all add to our common buoyancy by our efforts to benefit life. It is a scientific fact that what is good for you is good for me.”
Dr David R Hawkins
‘May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
About a raft a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
Evasive plenty a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened’
Shanti Deva, Indian Buddhist sage 700 A.D.
‘There is a kindness that was deep down and things: the presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself’
‘Do your little bit of good where you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’
‘It was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity, and I wish this treasure to be known, so I created a mirror: it’s shining face, the heart; it’s darkened back. The world; the back would please you if you’ve never seen the face. ‘
‘My true religion is kindness. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’
Dalai Lama llama
‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and honest complement, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn her life around. ‘
-Zen And The Art of Happiness
-The Daily Flame
-Falling into Grace
-When Things Fall Apart
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
Sama Vritti-to find your center
Toglon Breath-Breathing in anything that you’re experiencing in life that is hard for you and everyone who is experiencing it in this lifetime and then when you exhale breathe out anything that would help relieve whatever that feeling might be for you and for everyone that might need peace and to feel hopeful
Maitri in order to help release judgment or resentment of people
Meditate especially on or for any one you are having conflict with
Walking meditation where you say a prayer of gratitude and pick up trash.
Move more gratefully during your asana practice.
Release goals and expectations of your practice and of each pose itself.
Find gratitude for your health.
Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) to restore heart, mind, spirit
Heart openers like camel or bridge so that you can feel the center or the heart
Increase stability and groundedness with standing poses like warrior two, peaceful warrior, and triangle.
Close your eyes if it feels safe and practice for someone else. Send them your intentions and energy.