The Giver Should Be Thankful

There’s a Zen story that taught me a lot about the nature of giving and receiving:

While Seisetsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcorwded. Umezu Seibei, a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.

Seisetus said: “All right. I will take it.”

Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher. One might live a whole year on three ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.
“In that sack are five hundred ryo,” hinted Umezu.
“You told me that before,” replied Seisetsu.
“Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money,” said Umezu.
“Do you want me to thank you for it?” asked Seisetsu.
“You ought to,” replied Umezu.
“Why should I?” inquired Seisetsu. “The giver should be thankful. (From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones which you can read here.)
It’s a good line to meditate on. “The giver should be thankful.” Why? I learned a lot trying to figure that one out.

Zen problems are like that–they’re not so much about answers as they are about the question and how it changes your perspective.

It’s similar to what I learned about energy in the martial arts. You need to visualize energy coming from an outside source–usually coming from “the universe” and entering through the soles of your feet, then coursing through your body and exiting however you use it. When you think of the energy as coming from you, you end up blocking the flow, and every time you do something, you feel like you lose energy. But when you visualize the energy flowing through you, using the energy doesn’t make you feel depleted, it *energizes* you even more. It’s really incredible.

Life in general works the same way.

In his book “Never Eat Alone,” Ferazzi talks about his discovery of how successful people build social networks. He points out that they don’t build them by getting to know lots of people and then seeing what they can get out of those people. Instead, they just focus on finding ways they can help people out, hooking up two friends who are looking for golfing buddies, or introducing the owner of a new startup to an enterprising reporter.

People who stop giving are often those who spent too long giving the wrong things, people who make unnecessary sacrifices to give things that aren’t appreciated by the receiver. Great giving is about making everyone a little happier.