After enlightenment no need for further effort;
All dharmas of activity are varied.
Giving alms with attachment bestows merit for heavenly birth,
Like shooting an arrow into space.
There are two aspects of practice: cultivating wisdom, or insight, and cultivating merit. Ordinary people think that cultivating wisdom means accumulating knowledge in the conventional sense, such as reading books and reaping life experiences. They think cultivating merit means giving alms, offering donations, or helping others.
A person who gains conventional knowledge after great effort may claim with pride, “I have great knowledge and wisdom!” Many people who work for charity also become proud, and picture themselves as great benefactors to mankind. They are like the person who goes into a restaurant and buys drinks and dinner for everyone, leaves a big tip, then gets up and swaggers out the door as everyone in attendance stands, saying, “Thank you! Thank you!”
In China, Taiwan, Japan and other Oriental countries, there are people who give large donations to public or religious projects, but with one condition: that their names and deeds be engraved on plaques and made visible to all. If their pictures are placed beside their names, all the better. Fo-kuang Shan (Buddhist Radiance Mountain) Monastery in Taiwan is a vast temple with many buildings. The abbot of the temple understands human psychology well. For years, people donated money to the temple, and the abbot placed their names on plaques on the many walls of the temple, but he left vacant two noticeable spots on either side of the main gate. People would constantly ask how much they would need to donate in order to have their names placed in those spots. Finally, someone approached the abbot and said, “Look, I’m rich. How about letting me have one side of the gate? I don’t even need the whole side. Just put my name on top, and there’ll still be room for other names below mine. If you do that, I’ll give you lots of money for the temple.” The spots have now been filled. The abbot feels that these people normally would not have donated money for a religious cause. They were willing to part with their money only in exchange for having their names and deeds made visible to the public.
One person in Taiwan wanted to run for the provincial legislature. For five years before the intended election, he traveled all over the country and donated money in order to have his name placed in famous, public places. Everyone perceived him as a great benefactor. It was shrewd advertising, and although his initial investment was high, he probably made back all the money he spent after a year in office.
A sincere practitioner does not operate in such a manner. Even if he has profound wisdom and insight, he is not affected; after all, it is only wisdom and insight. He helps others and saves sentient beings. He does not cling to his past deeds.
Whenever you do something, do it wholeheartedly. But, once an action is completed, it is in the past. Drop it, and do not think about it anymore. Buddha delivered many people, but he did not perceive it as such. As far as Buddha was concerned, sentient beings save themselves. But our point of view is different. We say that Buddha saved people while he was alive. We also say he is still saving people, because if it were not for Buddha, the Dharma would not exist in the world today.
Christianity emphasizes that we should be generous, that we should have giving hearts. Charity is a practice that leads to heaven. Jesus said that it is as hard for a rich man to enter heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. He said this because many wealthy people cannot bear to give things away. They almost always have an ulterior motive. The Rockefeller Foundation is a philanthropic organization, and it has funded many wonderful things, but it is still a tax write-off for the Rockefeller family. If a person gives donations or helps others with ulterior motives in mind, then he is not truly giving. If you are going to give things away, you should do so unconditionally, renouncing and forgetting whatever you give. If your motive for giving is to go to heaven, then your actions are not unconditional.
— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng Yen (page 123)