December 4 : The Emptiness of Giving

The next dedication verse is: “The one who gives, the one who receives, and the generous action are not to be observed as truly existent. By giving with impartiality, may the benefactors attain perfection.” When we dedicate merit, we seal it with emptiness, which means that we see the whole thing as empty of inherent existence. The whole process of giving is a dependent arising because the giver, the receiver, and the act of giving are mutually dependent on each other for their (conventional) existence. They do not exist as independent things that happen to collide in space. It is very nice to seal the generosity, whether you are on the giving or receiving side.

“Giving with impartiality” could also be translated as giving with equanimity, recognising that everything is equal in terms of being empty of inherent existence. Impartiality is also a reference to a custom at the time of the Buddha whereby people would invite the monastics to their homes for a meal. Sometimes they could not feed the whole sangha, so they would invite only a certain number of members to come. They could not choose which members, however, since it was a practice of seeing all the monastics impartially instead of playing favourites. All monastics are equal in trying to keep their precepts and trying to practise. The sangha would decide who to send according to the ordination order, and the next in line would go to the next invitation. “Perfection” refers to full awakening through a realisation of emptiness, which we can develop by applying it to everything we do since there is always an agent, object, and action.

The next verse is: “By the power of being generous, may they become Buddhas for the benefit of sentient beings, and through generosity, may all the beings who have not been liberated by previous conquerors be liberated.” We are coming back to our bodhicitta motivation, where we are not just dedicating the merit for our own awakening, but also the awakening of others and the development of their good qualities through the power of their generosity. There have been countless beings who have attained liberation and full awakening before us, but we are still here because we like going to the beach and going mountain climbing, being workaholics, drinking and drugging, and exalting in all our other distractions since beginningless time. We pray for the liberation and full awakening of all other beings like us, as well as the more unfortunate ones who do not even have a precious human life.

Sharing food is a great example of how we can use a simple action that we do many times a day to create incredible amounts of merit, generate the wisdom to understanding dependent arising and emptiness, cultivate an awareness of the kindness of other living beings, and make prayers and aspirations for their wellbeing in this life and beyond.

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