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The Giver Should Be Thankful

While Seisetsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. 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.

Seisetsu 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 Uzemu.

Why should I?” inquired Seisetsu. “The giver should be thankful.”

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The Spiritual Moral / Meaning of This Story

The story of Seisetsu and the merchant Umezu Seibei offers a profound lesson on the nature of giving, gratitude, and the true spirit of generosity. Seisetsu's interaction with the wealthy merchant highlights the deep spiritual principles underlying the act of giving and receiving. Each aspect of the story reveals significant insights about detachment, humility, and the essence of selfless giving.

Zen Master and a Sack of GoldThe first lesson is about the nature of true generosity. Umezu Seibei's dissatisfaction with Seisetsu's reaction to his donation suggests that his act of giving was tied to an expectation of recognition and gratitude. This highlights the difference between selfless giving and giving with strings attached. True generosity arises from a place of abundance and a genuine desire to help, without seeking acknowledgment or reward. This teaches us that the purity of our intentions in giving is more important than the act itself.

Another moral of the story concerns the practice of detachment. Seisetsu's response to the merchant's gift reflects a deep sense of detachment from material wealth. By not expressing excessive gratitude or awe, Seisetsu demonstrates that his focus is on the spiritual and practical benefits of the donation rather than the monetary value. This encourages us to cultivate detachment from material possessions and to appreciate the deeper value of acts and intentions.

The story also speaks to the concept of gratitude. Seisetsu's assertion that “the giver should be thankful” challenges conventional expectations of gratitude. This perspective shifts the focus from external validation to internal fulfillment. It suggests that the true reward of giving lies in the joy and satisfaction of contributing to something greater than oneself. This teaches us to find gratitude in the opportunity to give, rather than in the recognition we receive.

Furthermore, Seisetsu's reaction underscores the importance of humility. The merchant's expectation of gratitude reveals a sense of pride and a desire for acknowledgment. Seisetsu's calm and straightforward responses reflect a humble approach to receiving the gift, emphasizing that humility and simplicity should guide our actions and reactions. This teaches us to approach both giving and receiving with humility, recognizing the interconnectedness and mutual benefit of these actions.

The story also highlights the principle of non-attachment to outcomes. Seisetsu's lack of elaborate gratitude demonstrates a non-attachment to the outcome of the donation. His focus remains on the practical use of the gift for the benefit of the school, rather than on the social expectations of how a donation should be received. This encourages us to practice non-attachment to outcomes, focusing instead on the intrinsic value and purpose of our actions.

Additionally, the interaction between Seisetsu and Umezu Seibei reveals the importance of inner contentment. Seisetsu's serene demeanor and unruffled response indicate a deep sense of inner contentment and peace. This suggests that true contentment comes from within and is not influenced by external circumstances or material gifts. This teaches us to cultivate inner peace and contentment, irrespective of external validations or material possessions.

Lastly, the story imparts a lesson on the transformative power of giving. By highlighting that the giver should be thankful, Seisetsu points to the spiritual growth and fulfillment that comes from the act of giving itself. This encourages us to view giving as a transformative practice that enriches our lives and fosters a deeper connection with others and with our spiritual values.

Personal Reflection Questions:

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. What are my motivations when I give to others, and how can I cultivate more selfless intentions?
  2. How do I respond to receiving gifts or acts of generosity from others?
  3. In what ways can I practice detachment from material possessions and external validations?
  4. How can I find joy and gratitude in the act of giving itself, without seeking recognition?
  5. What role does humility play in my approach to giving and receiving?
  6. How can I practice non-attachment to the outcomes of my actions and focus on their intrinsic value?
  7. What steps can I take to cultivate inner contentment and peace, independent of external circumstances?
  8. How do my expectations of gratitude influence my interactions with others?
  9. In what ways can I transform my perspective on giving to see it as a spiritual practice?
  10. How can I inspire others to embrace the true spirit of generosity and gratitude?

A Poem Based On This Story

The Giver's Gratitude: True Wealth in Selfless Giving

In Kamakura's ancient halls, where wisdom's light would shine,
A merchant came with gold in hand, a gift both grand and fine.
Five hundred ryo he offered up, to build a school anew,
Yet in his heart, he sought more than a simple thank you.

Seisetsu, the master wise, received the sack of gold,
With calm and grace, he took the gift, no thanks, no praise untold.
The merchant, puzzled, hinted then, “Five hundred ryo I gave,
A fortune vast, a generous sum, my gratitude you crave.”

“You told me that,” the master said, with voice serene and clear,
“Do you expect a thank you now, for gold you hold so dear?”
“Even if I'm wealthy,” said the man, “five hundred is a lot,
You ought to thank me for this gift, it's more than most have got.”

“Why should I thank you?” asked the sage, “The giver should be glad,
For in the act of giving, lies the joy we never had.”
The merchant stood in silence then, his pride began to fade,
For in the master's wisdom, new understanding he displayed.

The giver's heart, in gratitude, finds joy and peace profound,
In selfless acts, and humble ways, true happiness is found.
So let us learn from Seisetsu, to give with hearts sincere,
And find the wealth in gratitude, that lies forever near.

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