abbot_laugh_smallDeath and Dying

The recent premature death of the daughter of one of the Sangha's members, and the recent shootings at the university in Huntsville, Alabama, triggered much anguish and suffering, and raised questions in the communities at ASZC and Green Mountain Zen Center. In officiating at the funeral, and in a conference with GMZC, I sought to place these events in the context of Zen Buddhism, and will attempt to recount and magnify upon some of the more pertinent points here, beginning with the premature death of a loved child, the worst-case scenario for any parent.

First it must be understood that Buddhism, Zen in particular, offer no easy answers to the grief and pain that we suffer on the loss of a loved one, or the frustration that we feel in witnessing senseless acts of violence. However, Buddhism does have a unique viewpoint on death that ranges from the serious and solemn to the silly.

The Zen funeral ceremony for human beings is directed to the deceased, as, for that matter, is that for sentient beings. We perform funerals and memorials for pets as well as people. So-called lower animals are sentient beings, so they share the buddha-nature with humans. And they are given a dharma name at their funeral, just as are human beings. This point is necessary to understand the overview of Buddhism, that we are not in this alone, and that a human death is not unique, or separate from the great tide of living and dying that is in constant flux, dukkha.

Historically, monks and nuns have been known to value the training inherent in being close to death. They have pursued, even competing with each other, such experience, by attending those on their death bed (which today some of us are engaged in as hospice and end-of-life service), by participating in funerals, and sitting in meditation in the open cemeteries of the time where corpses would be exposed and rotting. Very different from the Western aversive attitude.

When performing a funeral service, we are under certain pressures — not to embarrass ourselves or the family, not to defame the Three Treasures — et cetera. But in Zen, as priests, there is something a bit more pressing — we are expected to have some understanding of life and death. This may not be fair, and in any case should not constrain us from doing our best, but it can be daunting. There was an incident in the history of Zen that I came across, I believe in one of Trevor Leggett's Zen Readers, that illustrates this point. Paraphrasing wildly, a young monk performed a funeral for a very young girl who had died prematurely, and whose parents were very old. The author took pains to point out that during the (Rinzai Zen) funeral, the priest shouts out a "katsu" — the fabled shout of Rinzai, or Linchi, which is directed to the deceased. After the funeral, the parents approached the priest, and the father asked, "Where is my daughter now?" Because the young priest was unable to answer, he retired from the public priesthood. One assumes he returned to the monastery.

So the fundamental question in Zen, when another dies, is, Where are they now? It is the same question we should ask ourselves about our own mortality. It is easy enough to accept that, from one thought-moment to the next, nothing tangible transfers, so that we can eschew the notion of a self-existent self with little risk, notwithstanding the clear and apparent continuity of consciousness (of a self) from moment to moment. But when it comes to that last thought-moment of life segueing into that first thought-moment of death, we have a problem. We want, we dearly need, to know that something survives, and makes the leap. That something is usually referred to as the soul, or true self, the spirit that animates the flesh.

Anyone who has witnessed a death, of a person or a pet, can testify to the shock and mystery that accompanies this moment. What was just the moment before animated and alive, with all the attributes of personality and traits that we had come to know and love, becomes a lump of flesh. We treat that lump with great tenderness, in preparation for its burial or cremation, and it is a wrenching experience to suffer the accompanying grief that is so terrible in its finality. Again, Zen does not pretend to have an easy answer for this. Some may imagine that Buddha, after his awakening, was never again subject to the suffering of grief at the death of his family and followers. But nowhere do we find evidence that Buddhism holds out this kind of promise. Buddhism is about meeting suffering head-on, not trying to avoid it. Buddha himself equated existence with suffering, the universal suffering that is most neutrally expressed as inexorable change.

One of the tales about Buddha's life that gets to this point is, again paraphrasing, the "Mustard Seed Parable." The story goes that Buddha's reputation spread, and he was known in the India of his day as a "siddhu" or holy man, in possession of "siddhis" or paranormal powers. A young woman who had given birth to a stillborn child heard of him and came, carrying her dead infant, to find him. In grief and desperation, she asked if there were some mystical potion that would restore her baby's life.

In an act that many today would find politically incorrect at best, and indifferently cruel at worst, the Buddha confirmed that indeed there was such a potion, but it required a special ingredient, a common mustard seed — but one obtained from a household in which there had been no incident of premature or unnatural death such as the young mother had experienced. Frantically, she ran from house to house in the village, in each of which she found they had had a similar tragedy, and so were unable to provide the crucial mustard-seed. At length, she came to a realization. No matter how many homes she visited, no matter how many villages, she would never be able to find such a mustard seed. Upon returning to Buddha, she affirmed her understanding of the universality of her suffering. In that, it was overcome, but not ended.

Bodhidharma, the 28th Patriarch of India, and the first in China, on his deathbed, was said to have expressed to each of his four survivors, the third of which was a nun, that "You have my skin; You have my flesh; You have my bones; You have my marrow," upon their each expressing their understanding gained while training with him. The fourth became his historical successor, and so is sometimes interpreted to have greater recognition, indicated by the marrow. But the skin, flesh, bones and marrow cannot be separated; they are together one living being. So all four dharma heirs were not unequal in Bodhidharma's view. They constituted his living legacy, that which would carry on his teaching after his death.

Daikan Eno, the famed Sixth Patriarch in the Chinese lineage, also known as Huineng in Chinese, was said to have called his students together when he felt the onset of death, to give them his last teaching. The story goes (Platform Sutra) that they were distraught at the loss of their dear teacher, in tears and lamenting, all but one. Master Eno chided them for their lack of understanding, commenting that if he did not know where he was going, he would also be afraid. But since he did, he was not. The one who was not ostentatiously grieving became his successor.

Pardon me while I paraphrase Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Mujo—Seppo, translated by Nishijima and Cross, Book 3 page 113 in the four-volume edition we typically use for Dogen study. The subtitle as translated is The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma, and the exchange between Master Eno's successor, Master Nan-yo Echu (died 755) and his student monk characterizes the non-separation of the sentient and insentient as propounded by Zen Buddhism. As the authors explain, "mujo means the non-emotional," inanimate or insentient things, and "seppo means to preach the Dharma," "so mujo-seppo means inanimate things preach the Dharma." This is not really a mystical statement, if interpreted from the perspective of dharma as law, the way in which things necessarily exist in accordance with the laws of physics. But their unemotional state is what is being, in essence, promoted here, as one we could or should emulate. This does not suggest, however, that we should strive to be unfeeling, like a stone.

Ujo-ni ("ni" means nun or female) is the posthumous dharma name I chose for the deceased in the funeral ceremony, as it means the opposite of Mujo. Ujo represents all of sentient beings, as it means "having feelings," and the beloved daughter is the very epitome of a feeling human being. At the funeral, I read, paraphrasing for brevity, the dialog master Dogen quotes in this fascicle, and in what follows I borrow again shamelessly, but with attribution, from Nishijima and Cross.

The gist of it is the monk asks whether "the insentient can really preach the dharma, or not?" The Master says "They are always preaching ardently; they preach without interval." The monk asks "Why do I not hear it?" The Master ripostes "Whether or not you hear it yourself, you should not disturb others who do hear it." The monk says, "I wonder what kind of person is able to hear it." Master: "Saints are able to hear it." Monk: "Does the Master hear it or not?" Master: "I do not hear it." Monk: "If the Master himself does not hear it, how does he know that the insentient preach the Dharma?" Master: "It is convenient that I do not hear it. If I heard it I would be on the level of the saints, and then you would not be able to hear me preaching the Dharma." Monk: "so living beings are without the means [to hear]." Master: "I preach for living beings. I do not preach for saints." Monk: "What are living beings like after they hear?" "At that time they are beyond living beings."

Apologies again to the erstwhile translators, but the fulsome quote is needed to get to the point. While there is a difference between the insentient and the sentient, there is no actual separation. Just consider in your own living body, just now, what of it is sentient, 100%, and what portion insentient? What and how much of what we call our selves is actually alive? How much, what percentage, is non-living? How much of that changes upon the advent of death?

The Huineng incident reminds us of the comment attributed to Mark Twain, toward the end of his life, when asked about his impending demise, and was he afraid. He said something to the effect that how could he be afraid of returning to whence he had come? This brings up an interesting point. We seem so terrified of death, yet we are not afraid of birth. How many of us remember the terrible trauma that had to accompany our removal from the womb, especially those of us who were squeezed through the tiny birth canal (rather than Cesarean)? It may be that we do not remember owing to traumatic shock, or that our awareness was in such a primitive state as to be unable to record the event. I would opt for the former.

Birth is surely as traumatic as death. In fact, it may not be going too far to say that in Buddhism, rebirth cannot be separated from the death experience — that they are in effect simultaneous, the same event. This may be heresy, but who is to say? The only record I have come across (other than that of Buddha) that claims direct insight into these matters is in the Autobiography of a Yogi, where he claims to have heard his mother and father talking while in the womb, and promptly figured out what language they were speaking, and could understand it!

Take the above as you will, with as big a grain of salt as you need, but in my case most of my life is not worth remembering, and the event of birth itself probably tops the list. My mother confessed that she tried to abort me by jumping off the back porch. I got back at her by having an unusually large head, which I blame on her jumping, me being upside down inside, and all.

Nonetheless, I feel it instructive to look forward to death as déjà vu of birth; it makes it feel a bit more familiar. And the process of "dying on the cushion" touted in Zen is probably what enabled Masters Bodhidharma, Huineng, Dogen and countless others to recognize the onset of the symptoms of death, and at the "appointed time," as we like to say (though who is doing the appointing remains in question), sat down in zazen and died. Just like that. Been there, done that. And here we go again.

The reader may have noticed a subtle but nonetheless undeniable progression from the relatively serious and respectful treatment of the subject, in the above, to a progressively more irreverent and perhaps inappropriate light-heartedness, even a sardonic or dismissive tone, as we near the end of this disquisition, which already is overlong, so I will not apologize again. It should be said that I have just been re-reading the works of J. D. Salinger, following his recent and completely timely death, and so I can blame most of this on the great circular analyzer of his own analysis. But to move to the truly irreverent, I would like to recount a story, attested to be true, with which I closed my comments following the funeral ceremony. This illustrates the other end of the spectrum in Zen, the almost mocking sense of deprecation at one's clinging to self.

Yet another monk (think "monkey" to relieve the tedium — there goes the parenthetical J. D. again), when approaching the end, ran around fervidly picking the brains of fellow monks (and nuns, one would conjecture), how others that they had known or heard tell of had died. After sufficient (if unnecessary) research on the subject, he asked all who would still tolerate him if any one had died standing on his (or her) head. As no one could testify that someone indeed had taken that unseemly way out, the monk, when entering into death, stood on his head and promptly expired.

His sister, as her bad luck would have it, was a nun, living in a different monastery. When she came to attend the funeral ceremony (very dignified affair for a Zen priest), the corpse was still standing upended (one surmises in a corner), and she immediately kicked it over, declaring "you never had any respect for anything in your life, and you have no respect even in death." The story concludes that they buried him upside down (Zen meets the real Till Eulenspiegel).

More seriously, and more recently, in 1986, when he was just about my current age, I performed a private (family only) funeral ceremony for my own father, which was my first, and the worst. I was distraught with grief. He had a regular ceremony performed by a minister who never knew him, and it showed. Later, in 1997, my Zen teacher, Matsuoka-roshi died, and remarkably, I could feel no grief. Missed the beloved old Buddha, of course, but it would have been in a sense disrespectful to mourn him. His whole life had been about life and death, after all, and if he was not ready, who would be? When I would call him toward the end of his life, he was in a nursing home in Chicago, and would always answer with a cheery, "Not dead yet!" Or "Pretty soon go to heaven!" I feel sure he is in Tusita heaven, laughing uproariously at us.

When my mother died in 2007, I was able to perform her ceremony publicly, in a small town in southern Illinois, where the service was accepted graciously by family and friends alike, in spite of my freakish appearance in medieval Japanese regalia. She had lived a longer, happier life in many ways than my dad, so her passing was much less tragic. At least it seemed so.

So when we approach the premature death of a loved one, or even of a perfect stranger, the view in Buddhism seems to be that they are like a Bodhisattva. A crib death or other otherwise inexplicable death (in the context of certain religious beliefs) is said to illustrate the impermanency of life. So whether intentionally or not, these only good who die young are teaching the fundamental impermanence of existence, the key attribute of life that makes it so precious, notwithstanding the principle of rebirth (the one reborn is not the same one that dies).

In an excerpt read by Zenku Jerry Smyers, who as Doan lead the chanting service at the memorial, the words of Matsuoka-roshi spoken at the funeral of a young girl who had died, capture the poetic spirit of Zen's warm embrace of the inevitability of death, even if premature:

Whenever a young child departs from this life, our hearts are always touched by the untimeliness of the death, and we cannot help but ask, "Why did this happen?" We know that life is only with us for a short time, but we seek a reason for such a young one's being taken from us. But, the more we ask this question, the more we suffer. We cannot explain life and death in this way.

Instead, let us recall the story of the beautiful cherry blossom. There is an old saying in Japan which compares human life and destiny to this delicate blossom. Picture a gorgeous cherry tree in full bloom. It is simply beautiful. But, when the time comes, the lovely flowers start to be blown away by the wind. When the spring winds begin to blow, some of the cherry blossoms are quick to go with the breeze. And yet others stay in bloom a little longer. But, sooner or later, even the very last cherry flower on the tree will someday be blown away by the wind.

We must think of our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, in this manner. Life is ever-changing and unpredictable. We never know what it will bring, or how long it will last. We have this in common with all other people, and with all the rest of existence. We should not think of ourselves as distinct from the great stream of life, but as part of it. As the wind blows, so do we go. The wind in life is death. The wind can blow in the springtime of life, or in the summer of life, or its autumn or in its winter. When it blows, it often takes some of the young flowers with it.

When a flower comes into bloom in the spring, we know than it will fade someday. For this reason, we say that life and death are one. The flower that opens its petals to the sunshine of the day closes them with the darkness of the night. And yet, night and day are actually one. They blend into one another at dawn and at dusk. Everyone has his dawn at his birth, and each also has his dusk at his death. Let us think of life and death as a dawn and dusk. At dusk, we are sorry to see the day fade away, but we should think of the beauty of the day, not the darkness of the approaching night. When the petals of a flower close at dusk, we should think of the beauty of the blossom that is now taking its rest.

So let us regard the deaths that we encounter, whether as the result of action taken by others (the Huntsville murders), or actions taken by oneself, or the workings of nature.

As this has gone on overlong, exceeding a "byte" by a country mile, I will defer to next month following on the issue of death in the former case. We will explore its underlying tinge of neurosis, in the context of a death-aversive culture. I will also try to draw some connection between the fear of death and the lust for life — the first posited as a motivation that drives, and is masked by, other desires — sometimes driving us to distraction, addiction, and other self-inflicted suffering, including suicidal and homicidal death.


Dharma Byte from the Abbot


This, the second precept of Buddhism, it seems to me, goes to the heart of the matter of several issues that are currently white-hot in politics in America, and by extension around the glove—owing to the outsized and, in some parts, unwelcome—influence of the US culture on that of other peoples. These issues—the fair and equitable distribution of wealth, universal access to adequate health care, the whole litany—are now very tired and wearing, but are fundamental to society and bear repetition if they are ever to be resolved to any degree of general satisfaction. They are also fundamental to the establishment and maintenance of true community, or harmony, which in Buddhism is called sangha, one of the venerated Three Treasures, along with Dharma and Buddha. Aspiring to a life of Zen of Buddhism implies the protection and nurturing of these three precious jewels.

In what follows, I am going to wade into the swamp of politics for the sake of finding the lotus growing there. My teacher, Matsuoka-roshi, did not shy from taking up the white-hot political issues of the time, such as Vietnam and racial injustice, and he did not shrink from stating his position in such a way that there could be no doubt as to where he stood. He was not afraid to name names and declare that these individuals, not impersonal policies, were at fault and in violation of basic Buddhist principles of compassion and community. (For example read the section on “Zen Ethics and Virtue” in The Kyosaku, available at

Whatever one’s politics, it is difficult to understand, let alone rationalize or justify, the extreme disparities we witness—the concentration of wealth in an extreme minority—and the resultant inability for many of our greater community to actualize the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness codified in the papers which constitute the founding documents, and mission, of this nation. Expanding one’s view to include other nation states and local quasi-states around the globe, one sees variations on the same theme of one extreme or another. Some see this as God’s will. Some on one end of the political spectrum attempt to explain this based on individual responsibility and actions which have consequences, the difference in choices that individuals make during their lifetime, natural differences to be expected in a meritocracy. On the other extreme, some attribute it to simple greed and avarice, which can amount to a form of violating Precepts against speaking ill of others, and praising oneself at the expense of others. Some foster a caste system of inherited position and privilege, which is essentially to assert that benefits (or inequities) resulting from the choices of one’s ancestors are legitimately one’s birthright. When this is taken to the extreme of viewing one’s good fortune and the misfortune of others as “karma”—and therefore okay—this is a gross corruption of Buddhism.

Whatever your view of the politics of Michael Moore—and it seems one either hates him or loves him—he has inserted himself and his viewpoint squarely into the center of these debates through the medium of film. Some categorize his works as documentaries, others consider them blatant propaganda.

In any case, they and current opinion columns provide a good springboard for the point I am trying to make here, which is bigger and broader than even these issues, and at the same time, extremely personal. It goes to the choices that we—you and I—make as Buddhists. So please bear with me. This is not intended as a political screed, but more as a “teachable moment.” Zen is not really apolitical, but, I would say, tends to regard politics with a jaundiced eye. Something about an ox being gored, I think, rather than tamed. So into the swamp:

While attending Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Affair,” about halfway through, the sound went out. After clapping and yelling “Sound!” a few times to no avail, we went to the ticket counter and demanded a refund, and left (but not in a huff). It didn’t really ruin the experience for us—unlike a comedy or a drama or mystery, Mr. Moore’s narrative did not give away the punch line, climactic scene, or whodunit—but we didn’t want to stick around and watch it from the beginning later that afternoon.

One assertion that he makes early in the film struck, and stuck with, me, startling in its directness and obviousness, once so stated: “Capitalism is diametrically opposed to Christianity and all the other major world religions, including Buddhism,” to paraphrase. The film includes the director’s trademark clips of the suffering of ordinary folks (e.g. through actual foreclosures), and the undeserved inequality that are consequences, if unintended, of capitalism run amok. This is his position and in America he has a right to say so.

In defense of capitalism with a small “c,” one might mention the small loans programs in India and other Third World countries which seem to kick-start the process of achieving those inalienable rights mentioned above. Where does it gang agley?

From some of the historical clips shown in the film praising its glories, one might go further and say that Capitalism is a religion, for some—that it can become a competing philosophy at least—but clearly based on different tenets than other religions. For example, the Golden Rule of Christianity, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is turned completely on its head in “Them that has the gold makes the rules.” In Buddhism, the precept in the title, along with “Share generously—Do not spare the Dharma assets” would be similarly contravened by such doctrines as “greed is good” and “might makes right.”

Mr. Moore goes on to quote some of the tenets stated in the Constitution, ruminating that they begin to sound a lot like “that other (Commun)ism.” But, at least up to the point that the sound died, he does not come out explicitly in favor of one system over another, as such, just questioning in such a say that implies his view, another trademark touch that allows the audience to draw its own conclusion, rather than blatantly stating it. Good propaganda technique.

Here I would like to insert an aside that I think might characterize Buddhism’s or Zen’s philosophy of politics and governance. It is essentially that no system really works on its own, to state the obvious. It has to be accepted by and implemented through the people. No system can guarantee justice or fairness as long as the people are unjust and unfair. In other words, government—of the people, by the people, and for the people—is dependent on the people for its success. If the people are selfish, greedy, and just bad to the bone, no system of governance, however brilliant and well-designed, is going to work. People will find a way to subvert the most utopian of ideals to their nefarious ends.

Buddhism this posits that the real and only revolution is possible only on an individual level. People have to change for government to change. This does not necessarily amount to a rejection of society as it is, just a healthy recognition that it is subject to the same attributes of dukkha as the rest of existence—unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, insubstantiality, and imperfection—the whole catastrophe. Within this context, the practice of compassion, “suffering with,” is the only reasonable and politically workable response to an imperfect situation.

This relates to the point of a column in the New York Times (Thursday October 8, 2009)—on the subject of Moore’s last film, health care—by Nicholas D. Kristof: Let Congress Go Without Insurance. Mr. Kristof he suggests that if Congress once again fails to provide some form of health insurance for all the citizens of the US, it should give up its own claim to the finest health insurance available (he proposes modestly that only 15 percent lose coverage completely, 8 percent consigned to inadequate coverage—selected randomly and reflecting the national averages). Ours is the only first world country that doesn’t offer this, and never has, as he quotes:

In January 1917, Progressive Magazine wrote: “At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance.” More than 90 years later, we still have that distinction.

Mr. Kristof reports that as long ago as the Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon administrations and as recently as the Clinton administration in 1993, 16 years ago, such efforts have failed to get anything passed in Congress. By his calculation if another 16 years transpire, another 700,000 deaths will occur attributable to a lack of health insurance: “That’s more Americans than died in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq combined.”

Kristof concludes: “At root, universal health care is not an economic or technical question [as it has been debated] but a moral one.” This is where this issue, and the effects of unbridled Capitalism, come together in the second Zen Buddhist precept, “Be giving—Do not take what is not freely given.” In Zen, this is not so much a moral obiter dictum as a statement of what is the actual condition of our existence. One cannot actually take anything, freely given or not. What is is, and we can neither add to, nor subtract from, it. We can only rearrange it temporarily.

It is not always clear that we are not taking what is not freely given. For example, as I pointed out in a recent dharma discussion, we are all breathing in the air, apparently freely given, sitting in the zendo. However, if the zendo were to be sealed off, with no incoming air, suddenly all present would be competing for the limited oxygen that would be available in what air remained. Soon, the air that I breathe would be taking from the others in the room, and their breath would be consuming the oxygen that I need to survive.

This is an extreme and unlikely case, but stranger things have happened. The point is that unless we “investigate thoroughly in practice”—to borrow Master Dogen’s phrase—we do not really see the deeper meaning of the Precepts. In this way, and in this context, we do not clearly understand the meaning of economics and its worst-case outcome, rampant greed and avarice.

While wealth itself cannot be inherently evil, it certainly can lead to abuse of the precepts of most religions. Much like intoxication, which in itself is not inherently evil (though certainly a poison if ingested in great enough quantity—thus “toxic”), indulging oneself in chemical intoxication can and usually does lead to the violation of other Precepts. Likewise, wealth, fame, power, and the other intangible intoxicants by definition lead to a change in one’s world view, and not along the lines recommended by the Noble Eightfold Path. In fact, one’s world view is more likely to become downright ignoble as good fortune enables and empowers one’s worst angels as well as one’s best. Jekyll and Hyde reside in all of us.

So one measure—if any such exists—of what the accumulation of vast wealth actually means, is what one does with it. Someone once said that Buddhism is concerned with the understanding of meaning. So it is important that we penetrate to the deeper, personal level of meaning of the accumulation of wealth, rather than its political dimension. We witness great exertion on the part of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to “do good” with their vast incomes, while a few others are striving to join their rarefied billionaire club, and many others are struggling just to make ends meet.

Here’s a koan for you: What would you do with the money if you won the lottery? And how would it relate to or reflect your Buddhist principles? How does one “Do no harm” with great wealth?

The Tao te Ching contains an interesting and related question, if memory serves: “Which is more destructive — success  or failure?” Just as the meaning and application of a specific precept, such as that on stealing, can change dramatically with a dramatic change in circumstance—such as precipitously diminishing resources (e.g. of air in the example above)—so can one’s Buddhism be challenged by what many would regard as a positive, life-changing event, such as winning the lottery.

“Follow the money” is an expression often used to indicate how to understand the machinations of the powers that be. If you want to understand the meaning and import of the hundreds of millions of dollars going to executives in the finance industry, for example, follow the money—watch what they do with it.

Are they taking what is not freely given? If so, from whom? Jesus is said to have said something like, “Their reward is with them.” But of course, he was reportedly promising a greater reward in heaven. Zen doesn’t. Where is our just reward? Are we taking what is not freely given? From whom? How do we repay our debt?

A thief may consider something insufficiently protected as “freely given.” A Buddhist considers everything as not belonging to anyone. These seem similar, but are diametrically opposed in action. The thief thinks that s/he can actually take something. The Buddhist knows that s/he can only give anything and everything just as it is to all the Buddhas of the universe. Everything is freely given. But we cannot take it.