One of the cornerstones -- if not The Cornerstone -- of Christianity is "caritas," a Latin word that is roughly translated as "charity." In countries where Christianity is woven into the DNA of things, this is important. Jews, for example, also have a "charity" component to their faith, but Judaism is more centrally-based on The Law. It is a distinction worth noting when people run around waving the "Judeo-Christian" flag.
I mention "caritas" because here in the United States at any rate, here in a country whose DNA is touched by Christianity, there is sometimes the question: How come Buddhists are not more overtly involved in giving to those in need ... how come there are not more orphanages or soup kitchens or clinics that bear some Buddhist stamp?
And if I had to guess -- and it would only be a guess -- I would say that the answer is this: Charity is a very good thing, but there is a danger in charity as well. As a starting point, charity is good. But as a nesting place, it is open to question. If that question cannot be addressed, then those who practice charity are doomed to a relative goodness, to a virtue that is limited, and to an uncertainty that persists.
The question, roughly stated, might sound like this: If I give to you or you give to me, there is kindness in the air. Certainly it is a better approach than simply grasping and holding tight and failing to share the wealth that life has visited upon us. Yes, it is a good start.
But if I give to you or you give to me -- if either of us exercises what can pass for "caritas" or "charity" -- that still leaves the separation between "you" and "me." And the question needs to be asked: Without doing a yummy tailspin into "oneness," is such a separation true? Not "is it good?" Just "is it true?" Without investigating such a question down to the ground, I think that "goodness" is the only conceivable outcome.
Is "goodness" really enough? Does "goodness" assure peace? Looking around at the various bits of "goodness" offered in the world, I think it is fair to say that while goodness is better than its alternative, still it cannot assure a bit of peace in this life. Such goodness relies on and thus fuels the very badness it seeks to correct. When can it ever end?
Some hear such an argument and become flummoxed or distraught: If "charity" and the goodness it once promised is not enough, I guess I will give up my charitable doings ... dissolve in a pool of uncertainty and inaction. Or, alternatively, there may be some notion that even if "caritas" or "charity" is just a compromise, well, hell, it's the best compromise I can think of, so there is no real need to investigate further. This, to my mind, is both lazy and foolish.
It is foolish because, however abstruse or confounding the question may sound on the face of it, there is an uncertainty and longing in the heart to know without doubt: Who gives? Who receives? Eyewash answers like "God" or "oneness" just can't hack it because such answers just create new questions -- "Who is God?" or "What is oneness." For those seeking no-bullshit answers, for those whose hearts long and whose uncertainties grate ... well, how about it? Who gives? Who receives? And who could possibly be charitable?
For those who practice Buddhism, for those who consent to investigate, such questions are more than theological gimcrack. Yes, there is the kindness of giving, of charitable works, of extending ourselves beyond our greedy and sometimes self-centered borders, but beyond that ... well, how about it? Is goodness enough? Is virtue enough? Are the shenanigans of religion enough? What are the facts after the fictions have run their course? Does compromise, however well-dressed, speak honestly to an uncompromised and uncompromising life?
Sure it takes courage to ask such questions -- to step into a desert much as Jesus stepped into his. Sure it takes patience -- the sort of patience the river exhibits as it flows around the rock. Sure it takes doubt -- the kind of doubt that demands an answer based in experience rather than platitudes or philosophy.
What about it?
What do you say?
When no one else can answer, what is your answer?
Do you really want to bullshit yourself forever?
How about it?
You tell me.
It's just my best guess.