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November 2017 Musings

Zen stories always challenge our conditioned notions. This one is no exception.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a famous Zen teacher named Seisetsu. His talks were so well attended that it became necessary to build a bigger school to accommodate the students who wished to train with him.
A very rich merchant decided to make a large donation to the building project.
When he offered Seisetsu a bag of gold, the teacher said: “I will accept it.”
The merchant was affronted. “Not a word of thanks?  No acknowledgement of the generosity of the gift?”
“In that sack is ten thousand ryo!” the merchant hinted.
“Yes,” said the teacher. “You told me so before.”
“Even though I’m wealthy, that’s a lot of money,” said the merchant.
“So you’ve told me,” responded the teacher.
“Someone could live for many years on that amount of money,” said the merchant.
“Do you want me to thank you?” asked the teacher
“You should,” responded the merchant.
“Why should I thank you? The giver should be thankful!” responded the teacher.
Those of us familiar with Zen stories can instantly see the gift in the teacher’s response. By not following social convention, the teacher invites us to examine the conditioned beliefs around giving and receiving that keep us identified with an illusion of a self separate from Life.
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. -- Thornton Wilder
How often have we been confounded when our generosity, thoughtfulness, sincerity, or devotion go unacknowledged? This lack of validation may provoke disappointment, grief, resentment, even despair, leading us to questions such as, “Why do I care? What’s the point anyway? Does anything really matter?” The original impulse to give appears to meet an indifference that leaves “me” feeling rebuffed and isolated. As spiritual practitioners, anything that wakes us up to a “feeling of separation” is a signal for inquiry. “Why is the acknowledgement so important? What drives this need to be thanked?”
Presumably, the merchant was wealthy. He had all the gold in the world and could therefore afford to be generous. But had he received the abundance? If he were present to all that he had, would he not feel so fulfilled that his giving would be an act of gratitude and not an act of need?
Identification with the illusion of a self separate from Life aligns our attention with what is lacking. We set out to acquire what we feel we don’t have, and no matter what we accumulate – stuff, relationships, trophies, thank-yous—we’re never satisfied. The hungry ghost always wants more. Not only does egocentricity prevent us from awareness of what we have, it precludes us from recognizing that “my” wealth, good fortune, and prosperity were given to me. “I” didn’t achieve, earn, or deserve it. Yes, it might all be for me, but it’s not “mine.”  We’re all revolving doors for Life’s generosity, able to give and receive life’s abundance, and if gratitude is due, perhaps it might be offered to That Which Is Perpetually Generous! 
If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, it will be enough. -- Meister Eckhart
The point of the story is not that there is something wrong with saying thank you. In fact, a gratitude practice is one of the simplest and most profound of spiritual disciplines. Cultivating an attitude of appreciation widens the aperture of awareness. It’s a specific and effective way to combat egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate’s orientation of something wrong/not enough. If we’re looking through a lens of appreciating what works, what we have, all that we’ve been given, what we love, what’s beautiful, what delights us, we’ve circumvented the process of suffering that keeps us in want, lack, and ignorance of All. If we’re present, it’s not possible not to feel blessed, and feeling blessed spills over into gratitude that wants to give. Then we have a sense of what the teacher in the story meant when he says, “the giver should be thankful.”
Suffering happens when we’re bamboozled into leaving the feeling of abundance to long for a validation of “my” giving.  Ego mutates an act of gratitude into a desire for acknowledgement. We leave the process of having to look for what we already have. Now the focus is on lack, not abundance.  What a coup for ego!
Gracious acceptance is an art -- an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving. -- Alexander McCall Smith
Whether it is receiving from Life directly or from Life through another human being, ego can make it about “me.” How often have we rejected, negated, denied, or deflected what has been given? “I can’t accept that! I don’t deserve so much. You shouldn’t have! It’s too much! I really didn’t need for you to do that. I will never be able to repay you for it. That’s not what I asked for. This isn’t what I want. If only I had X instead of this...”
Receptivity requires surrender of ego. We have to be empty of “me” to receive, or as C.S.Lewis states, even “omnipotence cannot give.” This attitude of receptivity was modeled by the teacher in the story, even though the merchant was too identified to recognize it. In accepting the merchant’s gift, the teacher acknowledges what gives, rather than the “person” giving it.
When we aren’t giving egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate any attention, we are receiving what Life gives. This is the greatest act of thanksgiving.
Go to your fields and your gardens,
and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower, but it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
and to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
and to both, bee and flower,
the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
-- Kahlil Gibran
It seems to be the “human” condition to long for validation, appreciation and acknowledgement. But that isn’t the human experience, it is the ego experience. As humans, not only do we have the capacity to experience ourselves as separate from life, we are also built to recognize our oneness with the Wisdom, Love and Compassion that animates all. We too can participate in the dance of Life, like the bee and the flower. When the illusion of separation falls away, we are fed by the fountain of Life, and fulfilled, we give our thanks as “messengers of love.”
If gratitude wants to give, what message of love will represent your celebration of thanksgiving this month? R/L