Author Topic: "Labour makes (you) free!?" - Giving, taking and the "new" world  (Read 730 times)

Offline Hanzze

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generously translated by Moritz R.

Giving, taking and the "new" world -
"Labour makes (you) free!?", is a sentence that one does not like.

(picture taken from Klaus Lenningers Web site)

I am very happy about the work "Ways to unity" by Dr. Hecker, and it is a treasure from which, if we are attentive, can learn very much.

I would like to emphasize here the section on "giving":

from "sangha vatthu - 1. What now, is the manner of giving?" :

"Here, a person gives gifts and presents, he is open handed and helpful, hospitable and generous. Wherever someone indigent and destitute approaches him, there he helps. Wherever he can make someone happy with a gift there he does. For alleviating need and bringing happiness, he gives: In giving he delights, giving makes him glad, giving makes him happy and far is he from stinginess, envy and greed. For others he is bland and pleasent, the noble-minded seek his acquaintance, he wins a good reputation, he has a confident demeanour, and his heart becomes lighter and released from fear and worry about life's necessities. And even in the afterlife he achieves high reward and sway. Not does he give carelessly in a way that he himself becomes a burden for others, nor does he give randomly, without regard for the recipient; but he gives with discernment, mindful of his own possibilities and mindful of the other's situation. And the more his heart becomes replete with the sentiment of giving the more selfless he becomes. Thus he works for his own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of others.

Soon, though, he notices that this is not yet the perfect manner that leads to harmony. And why? Since he makes the experience that the best gifts often still cannot cheer up the other: With full hands there he stands empty-handed, helpless in helping. And furthermore: He makes the experience that he himself, by using harsh words, destroys the harmony and the happiness of the other again that he brought about by his giving. In this way, giving stimulates a deeper understanding for the other's needs and attacking the own failings more deeply."

I think everyone knows this in one way or the other, and here perhaps a case example of "by using harsh words, destroys the harmony and the happiness of the other again that he brought about by his giving":

This topic is very deep and multifarious and quickly one is tried, after the coarsest and most superficial layer, to immediately arrive at a "judgement", and then switch over to ignoring. Often then one even calls this equanimity, but that it is not at all.

It is an escape from a "reality" which one does not want to handle, since, in order to penetrate the issue, one would have to engage in self-inquiry, give up a little bit of oneself, and that is something which only few want or recognize as a path.

Before one can even give, one must learn to receive, or better: to see gifts as gifts and not as matters of course, and see the generosity therein. Everyone, on being asked, "Can you receive?", would spontaneously and with a firm voice say: "Of course", but is that really so?

A very striking experience I had in those years in which I had to do with simple rice farmers, hunters and gatherers in a remote village in an undeveloped region in Cambodia.

The laws of giving and taking are here - today probably more out of habit than out of understanding - adhered to very strictly. There are very precise rules about whom, how, when and under which circumstances, one gives, without causing disturbance in the group and at the same time arresting envy and inequity. That all is a very healthy and group-sustaining tradition. But even this needs a source of all that which one can distribute and share, since nothing comes by itself or even from oneself. Here it is the forest, nature. That which one takes from here becomes an object of sharing and distributing. That is no different for us in the "modern" world, but quite possibly very far away from the common perception.

But for now I don't even want to go that deep. Since there is a manner of behaviour which is very commonplace and happens actually on a very rough level of inattentiveness.

So I made the experience that most of the villagers were only in the rarest cases able to accept things offered to them. Certainly the reason of rejection was often socially determined, but this manner of behaviour could, naturally, not remove their basic greed.

So there was a neighbour who was hardly ever able to accept a gift, for example some fruits from the garden. He would have created an obligation for himself by that, the necessity to either give this back, or, in some way to let others also have a share, or to make something good out of what has been given. Everything else would weigh down his conscience or bring him into a situation where he would lose his desired exalted position, his status. Who wants to be a receiver after all? Usually we want to be generous lords and masters. And that is the same with the simple rice farmer as with the high society hero in the "modern" world.

But this attitude does not remove the desire, of course, and of course it is not the case that one can usually get along without gifts or aids from outside. And so it was surprising, yes even shocking to me, that the same people whom one has offered something, then eagerly stole in the night that which they had been offered before as gifts. In this way it seems possible for them to take (accept) things. They must have the feeling to have come to these things by themselves, having acquired them by themselves. They are so used to taking, yes actually, stealing, that to accept and receive something is something so unacceptable and extraordinary to them which appears far too binding. When to someone who does not know gratitude one gives a gift, then it is as if looking a thief straight in the face as one has caught him in the act. Such is the reaction to a gift.

"Unimaginable!", one would perhaps think: "What primitive people! A gift they proudly reject and then in the night they greedily steal that which one would have freely given before." But careful one has to be with such thoughts, very careful, and reflect this attitude first for the "developed" people, and foremostly for oneself.

People who live close to nature have nature as their donor and benefactor, and it is the case, as long as they are still unspoilt, that they very well afford appreciation, gratitude and sacrifices towards this benefactor. That is the evenness of those which we commonly see as primitive people, who worship nature spirits, bring them sacrifices and make an effort towards equity, gratitude and humility in this way.

They take and they give, within their system. Today however the system is destroyed, depraved and confused through "modern" influences. But the greed and the desire are still there, only that no conscious balance is sustained anymore. That the forest and the balanced nature disappear rapidly will probably not have escaped anyone. The benefactor, "the mother", is little by little devoured, unnoticed the effects on oneself. "Those bad others...!" comes to mind immediately.

Far away this seems for us, but that is only since we stand in the middle of the forest just the same and cannot see its trees.

On what ground now do the "modern" people stand? Has anything changed there? Are the manners of acting different? No, and if one takes a closer look then they are even worse, unconscientious and completely removed and uprooted from a healthy, balanced tradition. They are even proud of their achievements and that which they call freedom. Hardly any primeval forest and its inhabitants are so encumbered in a relentless struggle and competition about becoming, growing and getting as is the "urban" world.

The "modern" behaviour even goes far beyond this "unimaginable" behaviour of the simple but disrooted human beings. We even generally assume that we are worthy of gifts, that we have a right to receive things and we take things unabashedly, as long as they serve the stilling of our desires. We sell "rights" to each other that we don't even have, since such do not even exist in this manner. Apart from this general consumption of that which is everywhere offered and bestowed upon us (most of it for sure not given freely but bound up with many conditions which, in the moment of taking, we matter-of-factly belittle and negate), we then also take that which we recognize clearly as giving. Completely immoderate, and all this with an astounding self-assurance and arrogance. "You are worth it!" screams it from the advertisement wall, and we eat the bait with delight.

Certainly one can see one's own behaviour only with difficulty and recognize one's errors only with some trouble, and therefore it is so necessary and important to find this out through this endeavour of being anxious to give, learning to give and wanting to give, and understanding and penetrating its nature.

Let us take a child here as an example. You feel like giving a cake to the child. The child, instead that it gratefully accepts the cake, says that it does not like that cake. How perspiciously is it nowadays seen as "compassionate" that one immediately digs deeper and asks the child: "Ah! What is it then that you want? Do you want ice-cream perahps?" In this manner it is that one is reared and brought up in this "modern" "compassionate" world. This we call compassion: We help each other (to) satisfy our cravings and appetites. What kind of people would that be that did not accede to the wishes and desires of the child: Hard, without compassion, cold... "This is but only a child" ... or perhaps really concerned for the child, when there is one day no cake and no ice-cream to be had everyday anymore?

We are no different than the child, and the "consumer spirit" appreciates and treasures our weaknesses and knows how to use them. Oh, how we feel so independent and free today, *click* *click *click*... everything is for free and if one knows the jungle then one will not lack anything. But this jungle narrows down, just as the jungle outside is hard-fought, disappears and loses its freedom, so just the same the natural principles take their course even in the "modern world".

Maybe one must have seen and observed things by oneself: How human beings behave when the resources become scarce and greed and fear drive the masses. Ant colonies strive through the forests and still try to get hold of the most and best when they hear that the going might get tough. If you tell them about modesty as a solution they only see the danger, but not the way that is evinced by this. The forest is there for everyone and we all have a right to our share, and so the forest becomes a crisis zone.

We live in a fast-paced world, so fast-paced that it is perhaps even already too fast to observe things. Let's take the forest "internet". Not long ago an uncultivated place where things just grew wildly, now it is little by little occupied, appropriated and possessed, stubbed, farmed, objectified, ruled and tilled and cultivated with an orientation towards profit.

Do you still know the days when one came back home from this forest with gratitude, rejoicing in its fruits? Do you still know the days when one took two hours time to answer an e-mail or one thanked for a service? Or maybe even the days when one received a letter from a pen-friend in Africa?

Everything is easier nowadays, faster, free and without commitments and without the necessity of recognition and gratitude. There is no equity necessary, that's how it is today. And who should that be, the one who gives? Where do all the things come from? From the outlet and the network cable? Or eventually still out of the forest again? Maybe even from people who share something they have acquired? No: The e-mail comes from the service center from a part time worker who earns his deserved pay. Do we after all continuously and ungratefully enter into new engagements without number, which we in no way recompense and thereby unknowingly indebt ourselves?

"Horrible, such engagements I would never want to have to enter into. Then I'll just rather go and take my own things, procure my own things and stay independent." - "But which? From where?"

In the modern day and age one has developed elaborate anonymous systems to keep their sustainers free from qualms and regrets, but that those are but only artificial illusory worlds we recognize in the never seen before appearances of physical as well as mental illnesses of modern people. Cancer devours them, diabetes burdens their daily life, depression, traumatic phenomena, and so on... Things that one will not find among the "primitive" people. There it usually happens differently, yet still in the same way, if someone oversteps the boundaries and for example cuts down a tree unaskedly. Here we think there is not such a thing as "possessed by demons". But the nature and the cause are the same. We may call it sicknesses today, but their cause lies in an imbalance of conscience which makes beings susceptible for the attack by disease (demons).

And what do we do against sicknesses today? We try to get rid off the symptoms, but only rarely the cause. Such a pill which helps fast, even if it is taken from the jungle again, which is taken for granted, something one is entitled to and which creates new liabilities, is simply more comfortable than to deal with the roots of the disease and start taking less, yet strive towards being able to give something one day, or at least endeavour for some balancing. But also that "living on credits" is a development of modern times, as if one could escape the rebate.

There we rather install a free download virus program, instead of examining our surfing and internet use habits. Where there is demand there are givers. From what the givers may live...?

Now imagine that one has been given a self-made text editor from a friend, and the neighbour enjoys with Google Chrome (only as an example) the abundance of all text editors of the present generation. "What, and for that I'm even supposed to say thanks? The same I get for free in a thousand times better quality." Or maybe we even make it to a condescendingly smiling "Ohh, thanks!"

And what does the primitive man think when you want to give him some fruits? "Oh, if he knew where there are the good and sweet ones to be found in abundance. Those I get there for free whenever I want."

Maybe now one can already recognize the depth of the subject, and it would be very unskillful to think that this part of the path that lays ahead one could just skirt and avoid right away, although one still does not even know it in the least.

All too gladly one constructs one's "I deserve this" model again and tries it with faked equanimity which is nothing else but the attempt at not even having to try examining the roots. "Inherited I have this, it is my own past merit", as if the world was full of rich heirs of wealth. There is a marked distinction between inherited and heaped up for years on the backs of others. That too is a heritage, but to carry it is not marked by freedom, and out of that cycle one can never escape as a consumer. May the forest appear as extensive and lasting as it may, taking does not relieve one's conscience, but accepting of that which is given freely gives, through recognizing the act of generosity, an example: That such things are possible and can also work in different ways after all. First we have to arrive at a point where we are able to keep giving and taking in a balance, and when we have reached that point then we can at last relish how it works wonders to give up more than one takes up and imbibes again.

If one brings home this whole matter to others, or let's say, brings it home to oneself, if we say to the "primitive" native that he steals and if he becomes aware of that, then nevertheless there is rarely more to expect than that he will feel ashamed and escape into self-pity. He does not come out of his state of slavery. Rather he would serve for eons than to start freeing himself. Gospels (songs of lament and short-lived entertainment) are everything that makes his everyday life bearable, but seemingly to him it is completely sufficient.

There is a sentence which sadly in recent history was used wrongly and lead to great suffering. But it is a sentence which holds much truth and even the solution to the problem. We cringe, usually, when we hear someone say "Labour makes (you) free" (here also a story which exemplifies this very well: "To Engage In Undertakings Of A Righteous Action is Most Blissful"), but exactly this is the only solution to escape the cycle. Skillful acts and not inactivity and lack of will while still being driven by greed and desire (in the manner of "I deserve this").

No one else can force us to our happiness or our freedom or give it to us. It is something that we have to work hard for by ourselves, and it only works out if we also recognize that by ourselves and make up our minds by ourselves to take this "hard" but fruitful route.

Oh, how so many people wish for beautiful monasteries for example, a buddhist way of life, simple living... and yet still cling tightly to all their belongings, would have a hard time only devoting a little amount of their time every week to wipe the communal hall a little bit or root out some weeds every other day. "And what do I gain from it? No one will thank me. For what do I pay 'taxes', do I pay donations, do I already bring so much about by my presence? ... Shall others take it upon themselves, I am a hardworking person, and neither am I rich..."

All that is possible today, and Dhamma is available at the bookstore after all, or in the supermarket. It does call for a fundamental decision, whether one goes along with this corrupt cycle or simply starts learning to receive, and also to give, or even to start making an effort and endeavouring for one's own virtue.

May one as a living room ascetic feel as secure and skilled in one's talent of samadhi as one likes, in the end, what we wanted to have recognized, "Ahh, I knew it", with hasty reassurance (in order to be able to distance ourselves again a bit from the troublesome things), still ends again with the sentence:

(sangha vatthu) There are two paths leading to benevolence. Which two? The good path, which is helpful and welcoming, and the best path, which is liberating and leads to salvation. With those two, the latter includes the former, requires it, cannot exist without it.

Without the good, the best will never come to be, even if we rejoice in the pleasent, still we first have to go through the unpleasent. Nothing is for free in this world. On credit, with one's own sweat, or taken shamelessly and without gratitude, everything has its according price. This shortcut does not exist, even if we would throw everything away with still so much frustration, and don't like this all in the least, it is but only the conceit which keeps us away from the good things, and the pleasent has nothing to do with the best after all.

If we think that "consuming wealth makes free" (today, there are also many "Buddhists" after all, who think that freedom is possible through wealth), then it may easily come to renewed misuse of the sentence "(Skillful) work makes free". Are we not already trying again to become free on the backs of others? Don't we already pay the price for having tried to become free on the backs of others?

At this point, I want to conclude these suggestions and proposals with a sutta quote:

Abandon the unwholesome! It is possible to abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible to abandon the unwholesome, I would not say thus: ‘Abandon the unwholesome!’ But because it is possible to abandon the unwholesome, I say: ‘Abandon the unwholesome!’

If this abandoning of the unwholesome led to harm and suffering, I would not tell you to abandon it. But because the abandoning of the unwholesome leads to welfare and happiness, I say: ‘Abandon the unwholesome!’

Develop the wholesome! It is possible to develop the wholesome. If it were not possible to develop the wholesome, I would not say thus: ‘Develop the wholesome!’ But because it is possible to develop the wholesome, I say: ‘Develop the wholesome!’

If this developing of the wholesome led to harm and suffering, I would not tell you to develop it. But because the developing of the wholesome leads to welfare and happiness, I say: ‘Develop the wholesome!'

- AN 2.19 ("Right effort", translation (adapted from) Bhikkhu Bodhi)

If after death everything was over then making debts would possibly be the most intelligent way. There is good reason after all why one does not like to accept this all too eagerly. Even "Buddhism" without rebirth is, after all, gladly consumed today. Whether belief can change laws of nature, cause and effect, remains to be seen, and for sure we are not trying it for the first time, but maybe the last time in this way.

'Develop the wholesome!'

Only skillful action (labour) makes free.

(Original in German language: Geben, nehmen und die „neue“ Welt – „Arbeit macht frei!?“ - )

« Last Edit: June 29, 2013, 11:03:29 pm by Hanzze »


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