Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Generous Universe

January 28, 2015

There’s an infinite generosity arising all the time, every moment – in other words, right now – freely giving itself. We’re so used to it and so close to it that it is hard to notice it for what it is.


We recently looked at the 8th precept in the Sunday morning discussion group: don’t be stingy. Or more formally: “Don’t begrudge the Dharma treasure.” That is, don’t hoard or keep for oneself either Dharma teachings, or money, or resources or possessions. According to our means, we should wherever possible give to those in need.

The main principle behind this is moving from a sense of lack toward a sense of generosity, and to actions that arise from it.

The Dharma treasure is freely being given to us. Gensha was once asked, “What is it, and why is it so hard to realize?” Presumably the monk was asking about the Way, the great fact, reality.

Gensha answered: “Because it’s too close.”

There’s an infinite generosity arising all the time, every moment – in other words, right now – freely giving itself. We’re so used to it and so close to it that it is hard to notice it for what it is.

About this comment of Gensha’s, another master, Hogen, later said: “It couldn’t be closer. Actually it’s the monk himself.” In other words, the very Way that the monk is seeking is already fully present as his very own self.

This kind of Zen talk can surely seem confusing at times. There’s even an attitude within the Zen tradition of not wholly endorsing it, and sometimes referring to it as “dirty talk.” It’s inherently conceptual, for one thing – it talks about the liberation intrinsic to the Zen Way, and that is a different business from experiencing it for ourselves…

To get interested in this kind of talk is therefore arguably to mistake the “finger” for the “moon” that the finger is pointing to, in Zen’s famous analogy.

The heart of Zen may be hard to pin down, but most teachers would agree that it is to do with action and experience more than understanding or ideas. In a sense, Zen training involves a shift of allegiance, from understanding to the wisdom of not knowing, from certainty to trust in and surrender to uncertainty.

But one point we might take from Gensha and Hogen is that the generosity of the Dharma is indiscriminate and universally pervasive. And one aspect of that generosity that still astounds me is that it is prepared to show itself to us directly. We are so constituted that with a little guidance and practice, and a modicum of luck, or maybe with a lot of practice and guidance, we can actually come to see for ourselves the unspeakable generosity that this experience we call life represents.

Yes, the Dharma is always giving itself in full abundance. Maybe that’s one reason that when we are generous ourselves, we feel better: we are then living and acting in greater accordance with reality, and there is a relief and often a sense of love that can arise as a result.

But the fact that we fallible mortal creatures can in any sense actually have a glimpse of the interior workings of reality seems like an extraordinary gift, a true grace, on the part of the Dharma.

Chogyam Trungpa once said: “One glimpse of shunyata is so appalling that compassion naturally arises.” He also said: “One glimpse of shunyata is so marvelous that compassion naturally arises.” Perhaps we all live suspended in infinite generosity. How to respond to that? First, naturally, gratitude. And second, what can we do but pass it on, pass it on? As the saying goes, if you want to keep it, give it away!

Image: Full Moon, by Aslen, CC0 Public Domain, from

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