“Charitable Acts” and “Compassionate Acts”

When a homeless person is given soup, they eat soup, and then they can stay on the street a bit longer. The person who is the soup giver can feel good that they have given the soup, but the person who is homeless simply eats the soup because it is there and goes away again until next time. The soup keeps him on the street for another day.

When a homeless person is asked what one thing they want above all else; what one thing they need most of all to help life get better, and then that one thing is given to them, they can start to feel better and things can start to mend.

In the first illustration, soup is subjecting one human being to another human being’s need to feel good.

In the second illustration, one gift is empowering one human being to start to see life differently through one gift freely given only once. But if the gift giver goes out intending to empower the gift receiver, then we are back to square one; there is the one who can give the gift, and the one who has nothing to give; immediately it is an act of disempowerment. And if the act is done compassionately the first time (so that the receiver does not feel like a person with no gift to give) but egotistically the second time – it is disempowering again. The giver feels good, but the receiver feels the opposite of what the giver originally intended to achieve in the life of the receiver.

It is not quite so much the action as the energy behind the action. If the energy is right then the action will be right, and the energy can only be right with compassion. One mind proceeding clearly.

When we give money to charities to feed people who are starving in other countries, our giving has the potential to be brutal. It is very easy for us to want people around the world just to live like we do, as if not living like us is wrong.

People have been stripped of their Jungle village habitats so that we can have palm oil or soya milk. Once they are starving in slums Westerners take photographs and build a campaign around the photographs so that we give them money so that they will not starve. How does it give them back their Jungle village in which they sustained a living for a thousand years?


If you have slept on a street, even for one night, you will know that you wake up feeling fuzzy. Homeless people are often fuzzy not because of drug taking but because they are homeless and have to sleep on the street. Have you tried to do it? It is very hard to achieve good sleep. So it is difficult to think clearly for yourself if you have slept on the street. It will affect your thinking and your behaviour. You may not come over as being polite and nice enough to fit the bill as a sweet poor person who just wants some soup. Who cares? You are hungry and tired!


John Daido Loori says that compassion is something that just happens. There is no doer who is doing the good, and no receiver who is receiving the good. It is like breathing.


I can not ever let myself feel like a rich person who has riches to give to someone who is poor ever again. It simply does not compute. The guilt does not compute. The appeal to a high morality of philanthropy does not compute. The energy behind the appeal does not compute. It is always almost, but not quite, right. The energy behind it does not quite feel persuasive and leaves me doubting. And then doubting my doubt. And then feeling guilty. And then giving in and paying money.

I suggest that when a campaign is not quite persuasive it is because the energy behind it is not quite right. And when this happens to me, rather than feeling guilt, it is a wake up bell prompting me to ask myself what the outcomes are likely to be if I give this money or sign this petition, as opposed to not giving this money or signing this petition. At first perhaps bad. Later on perhaps better. Not much difference. Perhaps worse to do something that is not sustainable. Is there something else that I can do?


Keeping costs

Last year I sold my upright piano. It was six months old, but I had owned a piano before that – one which I had known since I was seven.

There was only some financial pressure in this decision. The rest of the decision was a conscious choice to consolidate my areas of focus and skill; concentrating on fewer things but doing them better, and in some cases exploring new territories. In other words, growing.

I kept a list of what the money from the sold piano went on. One year later, and the money is almost all gone. But it is amazing to me just how much that fund permitted me to do. Purchasing my very own kimono. Attending a week-long sesshin. Buying a brand new guitar. Recording an album in a professional music studio.

I have realised that this list echoes something of the dharma. To paraphrase John Daido Loori’s way of putting it – unless we are engaged in the natural state of always giving, we are walking against our own nature. (I’m sure he puts it much better than that.)

I realise now that keeping hold of things bears a cost. A picture on my wall is not simply something that I have purchased for myself. It is something that I have not given to someone else to enjoy, or sold in order to be free to do something with the money.

I guess that’s only half the message. What’s really the illusion is the very idea of a constant unchanging self which needs to ‘own’ ‘things’ in the first place. To be a self that owns is to live in dualism. Me. It.

Hmm. Dharma unfolding. I guess it takes time!