This story teaches us the ideal Dana, selfless giving. Dana is to give material things to others or to perform kindly acts for others without thought of reward. In this story, the rabbit, the previous life of Shakyamuni Buddha, sacrificed his life to the monk. If he gave his life and died, he would not know if he would have any return from the monk, but he gave his life, just for giving benefit to others. This Dana is considered the true Dana. We tend to think of getting benefits by giving to others. But Buddhism teaches that giving benefits to others is the true benefit.
Dana is considered an important practice for Mahayana Buddhists. But in our Jodo Shinshu tradition, practicing Dana is not our way to attain enlightenment. We are incapable of doing Dana perfectly. Our method to attain enlightenment is to entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha and recite Namo Amida Butsu, which means, “I take refuge in Amida Buddha.” It means we are not able to attain enlightenment through our own effort. Amida Buddha established the Primal Vow that promises our birth in the Pure Land and attainment of enlightenment. Shinran Shonin thought that the vow is especially directed to the person who could not complete any practices.
Dana is not a requirement for us to attain enlightenment; however, somehow, we want to do Dana. Shinran Shonin wrote in Wasan, hymns of the Dharma-Age,
Persons who truly realize
As they utter Amida’s Name,
Being mindful of the Buddha
Wish to respond in gratitude to
the great benevolence.
(CWS p. 406)
Those who entrust themselves to Amida Buddha want to respond to Amida Buddha with gratitude. Shinran Shonin thought that recitation of the nembutsu is an expression of gratitude to Amida Buddha. Also, those who realize Shinjin, entrusting themselves to Amida Buddha, want to share the nembutsu teaching with others. To share the Dharma, we want to do Dana to the Temple where we can learn Jodo Shinshu teachings. Also, we help at Chicken Teriyaki, Obon, and other events. Still, our Dana is imperfect. We have a habit of thinking “give and take,” but at that time, we can remember the “rabbit’s story” and the ideal Dana mind. Giving benefit to others is the true benefit.
Rev. Ryuta Furumoto