New Moon Day: The Day of the Surfboard

April 5, 2008

 

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Our family used to spend many a holiday in Cornwall. The particular trip that is the subject of this story coincided with one of my birthdays, possibly my ninth or tenth.

On one of the days we went to visit a favourite beach of ours called Crantock. I remember us standing on the sand near to the dunes as the sea whispered in the distance. I was clutching my shiny new birthday present – a polystyrene surfboard. I was very happy with it.

So there we were, with the sand at our feet and the sun smiling down from the blue dome above, when my little brother asked if he could have a go. He must have been about eight at the time. And he really was very charming – you’d have been melted by his rosy cheeks and squeaky voice. You’d have said yes in a instant. You’d like me to say that I said yes, wouldn’t you? I’d love to say that I said yes as well. But I can’t. Because I didn’t. I said No.

And I recall how as soon as I had said that word it was like a giant steel door slammed shut and everyone present jolted. It is a word that’s of such power and which says so much, yet it’s only two letters long. No. I said no.

I think back now and remember how in that instant the glorious weather, the golden beach and the dreamy sky were suddenly sucked empty. Our happiness was now eclipsed by the dark cloud of my selfishness. My brother started crying; my mother could not believe it. How could I say no? Why didn’t I just let him have a go on the stupid thing. I think they tried to persuade me but I wasn’t going to listen. “How could I have said that?!” I think now.

This memory has not faded over the years. And why is that? Because the stain of selfishness is a stubborn one to remove. I cast my mind back to that time and I feel a little twinge of remorse. Why didn’t I just say yes? It would have been so much for the benefit of us all. We’d have all been smiling and playing on the beach had it not been for that one word.

I say one word, but isn’t there volumes lying concealed behind that. When we say no to someone in this way that heavy door that was open suddenly thunders shut. We say no and we close ourselves off to so much. We say no to the friendship and the generosity of others. If people think of us as a person that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else they will not like us. We stay confined to the dark, dank, cold steel cell of selfishness.

But if we haul that weighty door up and keep it open then the light and warmth of generosity breaks into our little cold cell and we are transformed.

I’m glad that I have this memory of the occasion on the beach. When thinking of it my mind recoils from selfishness as a hair from a flame, and it yearns to be generous. Whenever there is anything I can do to help somebody I usually don’t hesitate to do it. If there is something I can give to someone I relish the chance to give it, no matter how small the thing. As a child the steel door of my cell was closed too often, but now I make an effort to keep it open. It feels wonderful to have the light of generosity shining in.

The Buddha praised and praised and praised again the magnificent virtues of generosity. In a quote that is a personal favourite he said that generosity ‘adorns the mind’. In the world people are so concerned about adorning their bodies, but they rarely consider the need to adorn their minds. They don’t even know how to adorn the mind, or even that it needs adorning. We cast our eyes over the glossy magazines and see those who can afford it displaying their diamond necklaces and Rolex watches. But what is a useless diamond or a Rolex compared to generosity? Nothing. The jewel of giving is infinitely more brilliant and precious. Generous people’s minds shine. Think of a very generous person that you know. Don’t they shine? Aren’t they wonderful people?!

One of the treasured attributes of people from traditional Buddhist countries is their generosity. It is ingrained in their national psyche, and it is almost certainly rooted in the Dhamma. When we heard the news of the tsunami several years ago, we were also treated to the accounts of Thai people who owned so little and yet were prepared to give what they had to help those strangers who were in terrible suffering. I’m sure the people of Burma and Sri Lanka were the same but I didn’t hear of them. Stories like this are very moving.

There used to be a man staying at the monastery who was your archetypal scrooge. I’ve got a fund of stories about him which are bound to pop up from time to time. Anyway, one day he walked into the kitchen here and saw another man who was staying here (carefully avoiding names) unpacking some gifts of food that were generously given by some Thai people. And he frowned and asked the man rustling through the packets why the Thais had given it. “What are they going to get out of it?” he said! (or something like that). He just couldn’t get it. His little steel cell of a mind could not fathom how people could give without any material reward.

The reward is in the giving itself. It makes you feel good for a start. I can clearly remember how I felt on that day on the beach. It was a grim feeling, a heavy and dark feeling that persisted for a long time. Yet I think back to times when I have been generous and joy flows from an inner spring and a smile blossoms on my face. Giving is wonderful, plain and simple!

Generosity is a bridge that spans all differences in views, gender, race and religion. We do not need to justify giving; it doesn’t need explaining. One plus one equals two; generosity equals happiness, that’s what I tell the children at the schools. Allow generosity to flow and you will cast the spell of giving on others and they will begin to give too.

Going back to the story of the surfboard. I got what I deserved you may be glad to hear. Because as I had been such a mean little boy by not letting my lovely brother have a go, my mother went and bought him a new surfboard! And it wasn’t even his birthday! What is the world coming to….

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The next teaching will be on:

The Half Moon Day, Sunday, 13th March.

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4 Responses to “New Moon Day: The Day of the Surfboard”

  1. Mark Arthur said

    It’s lovely to hear stories and reflections from your past and learn how you’ve gained wisdom from them.
    I feel that in the moments of practising acts of generosity with right intention we lighten our load by practicing non-greed, non-hatred and living a life with right understanding…pretty powerful kamma, eh?
    Once again, thanks for sharing the Dhamma…
    Mark

  2. Hema said

    Thank you for the personal stories, its great to have nuggets of wisdom wrapped up in experience. the best way wisdom is served I reckon! Much Metta Hema

  3. Tahn Manapo said

    Hello Mark and Hema!

    Hema, last year I discovered the following wonderful proverb in a book on story telling that sums up what you say about story being one of the best ways truth/wisdom is served. Here it is:

    Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses. They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.

  4. Hema Hirani said

    I have heard of this story too, in fact i read it somewhere a while ago and loved it. I was trying to recall it again. Thank you for the summary and reminder. Metta Hema

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