What I Can Give


“If I must surrender everything, it is better that I give it to sentient beings […] I have given my body to them.” From Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva. The nature of life is impermanence. Whether we want to or not, we eventually surrender everything. So while we’re around, it’s useful to work on giving things up willingly.

In a life before becoming the Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni walked by a starving tigress and her cubs. He felt so much compassion for them that he offered himself up for dinner to sate their hunger and save their lives. I love this story, but it’s, um, an advanced example. In The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Gampopa recommends offering one’s body in this way to train in generosity. As it is one of things we tend to be most attached to, learning to give it up can help loosen our hold on a lot of other things too. But you gotta do so intelligently. He also throws in a disclaimer that warns beginners not give up a leg, say, or an arm, not to mention the whole affair, as regretting an act of generosity sows the seeds for even deeper clinging, a major bummer.

Over here, I’m a beginner. Uber-beginner. I like my arms and legs. Attached to me. In working order. But there are other things I’ve learned to give. Blood, for one thing. Today, a few of us piled into the car and drove forty minutes to give blood. Going to Nepal means we won’t be able to donate for the four months after our trip, so we made sure not miss our chance before heading out.

Watching the red line snake through the tube, out of my arm and into the sterile plastic pouch, I realized how lucky I am to be able to give part of my life to some one else. It doesn’t cost me more than a few bucks for gas and an afternoon of my time, and on top of that it’s a good excuse to drink Coke and eat lots of fruit jellies.

I’d be surprised if I ever face a hungry tiger or the like, and though I sincerely wish it, I’m not terribly sure I’d be up to the task of giving up my whole body freely. At the same time, I’m grateful to be able to give what I can, at the level where I’m at. It’s galvanizing to be reminded that I have things to offer and that I can give and make a difference for others. There are a lot of kinds of generosity that aren’t as easy as giving blood–like being generous with my time or my listening–but I’m glad I have somewhere simple to start. Fruit jelly fo’ lyfe.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.


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