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20th November 2017 
Contemplations. dharma wheel

An occasional blog




TAKUHATSU AND THE PRACTICE OF GIVING


Takuhatsu in the Zen tradition is the practice of seeking alms from the community. Traditionally, monks will go out with their bowls and ‘beg’ for food and sustenance. Eido Frances Carney, who is the Zen teacher at Olympia Zen Center in the US, speaks of this as a tradition that is not about “asking for something that is not earned, or pressuring a community for an entitlement to food or goods”. Rather, she says, “it teaches us the fundamental lessons of the Buddha: to be dependent on everyone, to live our original homelessness, to include the homeless in thought and deed, to share everything, to accept what comes to us, to be generous, to be humble in society, to recognize the timid, to resist fame, to be modest, to resist the acquisition of goods, to throw off ego, to have the courage to be fully visible in practice.” She offers some interesting thoughts and actions to ponder in the acts of giving and receiving.

One of the things we are engaged in, in my own community in Westbury (Wiltshire) is the collection of food for the local food bank. At East Wing Zen Centre we have a couple of large plastic boxes where members bring in items from their cupboard (which, incidentally, helps us to realise just how much canned foods we hoard) or bits and pieces bought whilst out shopping. When sufficiently full, one of us takes the containers to a local collection point where the items are sorted and sent on to the central food bank where they are then put into boxes and delivered to the various points where they can be received by individuals and families facing a crisis or who are currently struggling.

This practice, I realise, encourages me to focus on aspects of generosity. When I am out shopping I now think of a family and ponder items that might form a basic meal – some milk and a cereal; pasta and sauce; tea and sugar and so on. In doing this I feel a greater sense of connection with our community. In truth, interdependency is the nature of being. Everything, if we ponder it, has its roots in connection. So, if I withhold from others, then surely I am also withholding aspects from myself, whether that is the sweetness of intimacy with others or engagement with my own deeper self.

During mealtimes at Upaya Zen Centre, we always begin with the following ‘grace’:

‘Earth, water, fire, air and space, combine to make this food. Numberless beings gave their lives and labours that we may eat. May we be nourished that we may nourish life’.

I always love this momentary preparation before eating. It settles the mind and creates space to mindfully receive and enjoy, not only the food, but also the companionship of others. I have time to ponder with gratitude all that have contributed to my well-being. And as I gather the food for the family who I do not know in person, I have gratitude for the fact that I am able to do this. Giving and receiving in one flowing action.