I chose "Buddha Dharma," rather than the more popular and familiar "Buddhism" because ... well, it's a little complicated. Is the Dharma of Siddhattha Gotama best understood as an "-ism"? Maybe not. In any case, we could just as well have called this "Buddhism & Polyamory" -- but it didn't work out like that.
Firstly, I'm not a Buddhist. Rather, I draw spiritual inspiration from the Buddha Dharma. I doubt that I'll ever be a card-carrying member of any religion or quasi-religious quasi-philosophical anything. What inspires me, mainly, about the Buddha's Dharma is its integrity, its wholeness. Scrape away any superstitions or occlusions to its luminosity, and the heart of the Buddha's Dharma is pratītyasamutpāda
(dependent arising) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratitya-samutpada
If everything that is exists only in profound interdependence with everything else, it follows that there are no separate selves (or souls). Yet in all of this fundamental non-separateness, there are distinctions. The Dharma of the Buddha may be best described as a Way (a Dharma is like a Way or a Tao) of discovering what distinction is and is not. If a distinction is not a separation -- because nothing exists separately or unchangingly -- what could this mean and what does this imply about our human lives?
Most of us humans appear to believe we are fundamentally separate, apart, from others and the world, and beyond. We tend to think that we can personally benefit from X while, generally, others do not. Or we think we can be harmed by Y while others are not. We think we are fundamentally alone. And we are -- in a way. And yet we are not.
The Buddha Dharma helps us realize the significance of giving, of caring, of lovingkindness. It helps us to realize our distinctness without falling for the illusion of separation. We realize, deeper and deeper, that while we are distinct individuals we are also utterly continuous and identical with all of life, all of existence. These apparently dualistic entities are realized as identical: non-dual. Self and other are both identical and not identical. A seeming paradox. Who do we ever give to?
That's a koan
. Of sorts. Rilke (poet) famously said,
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions”
But this koan
of the gift (which we may live) goes one further. We do not so much seek an answer to the koan
as the falling away of the problem--the very question--, which is borne of an illusion. There is real giving because there is distinction. There is no giving because there is no self apart to give. There is only giving because "There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor Earth."
- Czeslaw Milosz (also a poet).
And, yes, there is the problem of taking, of greed and selfishness -- all borne of the illusion of separation -- a basic failure of comprehension and experience of distinction, of actual otherness! The actual otherness of the other, his/her alterity, is obscured, occluded, by our sense of ourselves as separate rather than distinct.
And let's be real about it.... Whole cultures and civilizations -- epochs -- are borne of, imbued by, stained within this illusion. The Dharma, if it is to mean anything, must be both personal and transpersonal, individual and social. The sangha
is all of life, everywhere and everywhen. The practice is giving, without self-grasping. Who gives?
(Flipside of the other giving koan.) We cannot know, as grasping, who gives. Letting go, we breathe.