One City

Last Saturday, I fell victim to one of the oldest scams in
the book.  A young man came to my door
working on a “contest” and looking for my help. 
He said that in order for him to gain points to win the competition for a
$5000 scholarship, all I had to do was order a magazine subscription that would
be donated to the active military armed forces branch of my choice.  I must have talked to him on the doorstop for
over 20 minutes before I decided, “hey, this is just a donation for the
troops, I’ll go ahead and help him out.” 
I wrote out a check for $60 and he went on his
way.  When I got inside I looked up the
company on the receipt (Editor and Chief Review Inc.)
and instantly found out that this was a scam.  A string of thoughts
flashed in my mind
almost at once, “how’d I get hoodwinked so easily?” “why didn’t I look
this up before I wrote the check?” “can I stop him?” 
I immediately called my bank and set to work trying to make this
situation right and minimize its financial impact.  What I didn’t
realize was what this scam would teach me about myself and the

Once the initial shock of what happened began to
fade I was
left with a terrible feeling that he’d gotten me because of my Buddhist
practice.  I remember being approached by
these types before I learned anything about Buddhism and I never gave
them the
time of day, let alone a check.  At this
point in my life, I consider generosity to be a major part of my
practice.  I have a good job, I bring down a decent
salary and I feel that it’s part of my practice as a Buddhist to volunteer and give
charity when I can.  What snagged me in
this situation was the fact that he made clear that this would be
purely a
donation that would also help him with his scholarship competition.  I
wasn’t buying a magazine subscription and
the money would go to a good cause.  Of
course, being scammed had nothing to do with my Buddhist practice. 
I understood that these people prey on the
natural generosity of all good, kind-hearted folks out there, but that
make me feel any better about falling into his trap. 

I went to bed Saturday night with a gnawing feeling
that I’d made a huge mistake and I would surely regret it for a long

The next morning, before heading to the zendo for Sunday morning zazen, I
picked up Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
and opened it to a random
chapter.  By some sort of auspicious
quirk, I turned to the chapter titled, “God-Giving” in which Suzuki
lays out
the teaching of generosity from the Zen perspective. 
In Zen, generosity is known as dana prajna paramita.  As Suzuki Roshi defines the term, praja paramita
is the “true wisdom of living”
and the six prajna paramitas are known as the six ways of true living.  The concept of dana goes beyond
simply giving monetary donations and deals more fully with how we
approach all
aspects of our lives – from material objects to zazen itself.  As I understand it, what the practice of dana truly boils down to is a practice of letting go.  This does not simply mean letting go of money or clothes for the poor.  It also means a deep non-attachment to any and everything we label as “mine,” including our past actions.  This brings me back to Suzuki Roshi’s teaching on “God-giving” and how it relates to my Saturday afternoon chat with a guy trying to rip me off.  Dogen-zenji
said, “to give is non-attachment”
and Suzuki Roshi goes on to say:

And we should forget, day-by-day, what we have done; this
is true non-attachment.  And we should do
something new.  To do something new, of
course we must know our past, and this is all right.  But we should not keep holding onto anything
we have done; we should only reflect on it. 
And we must have some idea of what we should do in the future.

As I sat there reading on Sunday morning, I struggled with this passage for a few moments. 
I didn’t particularly like the idea of
“forgetting” what I have done.  I made a
mistake that afternoon that I certainly did not want to forget or
repeat.  But when I read the passage more closely I understood
the teaching clearly.  What happened is
done, the mistake was made and the scammer left my apartment with one
of my checks in his pocket.  Still, despite that, I don’t need to beat
myself up about
it and get bogged down with regret.  Instead, I can practice dana prajna paramita by simply reflecting on the situation and taking steps to avoid this in the future.  In the end, the experience of being scammed inspired me to look more deeply at a teaching that I haven’t thought about in a long time.  As a result, my understanding of the practice has deepened and I feel like I’ve grown a little bit because of it.  At this point, now that all is said and done, I’m actually grateful to the scammer for
me look at my practice more closely.  It just goes to show: you
never know who your next teacher will be. 

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