Yesterday I gave Naga Center money to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and to Greenpeace. I like to post on Facebook when I do these things for two reasons: One, because if the money comes from student's tuitions I feel that it is a matter of transparency, and Two, because I believe that people are more inclined to give when they see others giving, and so I have come to reject the idea that it is better to be humbly anonymous in our generosities. I think we should shout and sing when we help each other; not out of ego, but in the spirit of encouraging all who can to do likewise.
In my Facebook post I said I gave out of a commitment to "love tithing". After I wrote it, I thought about this term that I had just made up. I didn't simply say "tithing", because that word alone has not always sat right with me, although now I have come to feel very warmly towards it. When I was younger, the word "tithe" conjured images of hats going around in churches. My impression of the word was connected to ideas of higher ups in religious communities getting fat off of the faithful pennies of those in the pews. Not having been raised around churches, it always seemed a bit suspect. As I grew older I came to understand that it is indeed sometimes the case that tithing is an extortion of the community for the benefit of a few, but other times the truth is more about people taking good care of other people. Still, the word maintained an uncomfortable religious connotation for me.
Later I learned about the alms rounds of Buddhist monks. We see them in Thailand, walking orange robed and barefoot through the streets in the mornings with their alms bowls like children in slings hanging from their necks and shoulders or cradled in hands and arms. The daily outpouring of people placing careful bundles of food in those bowls is another form of tithing and it was through this one that I realized the benefit of tithing to the one who tithes. I learned of the symbiotic relationship between lay people and monks. How the lay people feed and clothe the monks, and in return the monks teach and guide the lay people, and how, embedded in the exchange is the first lesson, which is the importance of generosity.
Back from Thailand one day I sat shotgun in a friend's car, his preschool aged daughter in the backseat. A red light, and a man holding a "anything helps" sign standing at the side of the road. My friend, rolling down his window, handed the man a dollar. We drove off and from the back seat we hear "daddy, what just happened?", to which my friend replied "that man just gave me the opportunity to be generous, and I took it".
I have always given to those who stand on the sidewalks asking, sometimes even when giving was literally handing over my last pocket of change, but my friend's words changed my understanding of the dynamic. That man gave me the opportunity to be generous, and I took it. I had thought that giving was about helping out our fellow humans, but in one short sentence I came to see that it was a gift to self. This is what dana, a Pali/Sanskrit word that means joyful voluntary giving, is about.
For the last 13 years I have had a Thai medicine teacher who happens to be a spiritual ascetic. One way that this plays out in his life is that his vows don't allow him to set prices for his work as a healer and a teacher. All money that comes into his life is given voluntarily. I make my living by passing on the things he has taught me to others, and so it is only proper and right that I share some of that with him, knowing that he in turn gives a portion of any money he gets to his teachers; the direct care-taking of lineage. Over the years I came to see the money I would periodically send my teacher, as tithing, and finally the word stopped being directly about religion. With time, I started attaching the word to other forms of joyful giving in my life, like a dollar here and there to those living on the streets, or the small bits I send along to Greenpeace, MOAS, the ACLU, The Sierra Club, and No More Deaths. Somehow calling it tithing allows me to do it more. It's a self imposed business tax that feels as mandatory as the one the IRS requires of me. It's the tithing of being a part of the human community on planet earth. It is tithing for love of clean air, protected peoples, trees and basic humanity. It is love tithing.
I believe deeply that healing arts doesn't stop at the edge of your mat, massage table, or office doors. I believe that being a healing arts practitioner means doing what you can to alleviate suffering in any form or place. If we do not have clean air to breathe, we cannot be healthy? If we do not have food to eat, and basic human rights, we cannot be healthy. If we are oppressed and living in fear, we cannot be healthy. This is why I am an activist. When I march in a political protest, I am being a healing arts practitioner. The is why I agitate. When I call my senators, I am being a healing arts practitioner. This is why I love tithe. When I give to organizations that are doing the hard work, fighting the good fight, even if only in the small amounts that may be possible, when I do this, I am being a healing arts practitioner.
To learn more about any of the wonderful organizations pictured here you can click on the photos. Except for the monk's feet - that picture's just there for pretty. There are many more organizations out there doing good work that I love, I just chose a few of my favorites to feature here.