On this warm , smoky October afternoon my son Sam and I load non-perishable tsog, offered the previous weekend, into our pickup truck for the short drive down the street from the Gonpa to Community Sharing.
It has become part of Dechhen Ling’s yearly Tara Tsog to include bulk contributions toward the local food bank as part of our tsog offerings. Of the money people offer for buying tsog, part is used to purchase these foods. And this year canned tuna, Spam, Velveeta, soups, cereals and granola bars—all bought in bulk—again joined the fancier tsog fare on the shrine tables.
Cottage Grove is like a lot of small communities, throughout the United States, that now experience what is officially called ”food insecurity”—what we know of as hunger. What was once just a fringe of people not quite getting by is now quite mainstream, with a surprising number of the official count of “homeless” being teens and children.
When we arrive at the food pantry, which is based in the old Cottage Grove Hospital, I am struck by the fact that the staging area for food is the old emergency room…now practically empty except for a huge palette of Dole banana boxes. Two volunteers are sorting some recent clothing donations and direct me to where we can unload the truck.
Meanwhile the Pantry Director walks up with a big smile on his face, saying something to the effect that we have answered his prayers. He tells us that they are very short on food and that of the three rooms that were full this time last year only one of them has a few shelves of goods left. When I ask him why—whether it is a lack of local donations—he says that the pipeline of food, which comes down from Portland via Food For Lane County, is basically not flowing. All the food banks in Oregon are short of supplies and meanwhile the demand has gone up.
As we unload our small offering—tiny in the face of the need—I think back on the pallets full of food at Costco and how generous so many of our sangha were in offering money to purchase tsog. And I remember the teachings that Chagdud Rinpoche would give on intention—how even the tiniest gift of food (he would give the example of a mouthful of food to a hungry bird) can have great impact if it is offered with the wish that by this generosity, all sentient beings gain freedom from their suffering and secure lasting happiness. He taught us that with good intention even a small gift can be expanded and offered in a big way.
Lama Norbu spoke beautifully during the weekend about how Chagdud Rinpoche established this center, Dechhen Ling, as a field for merit; a place where people could practice the Dharma and through Red Tara practice, learn to be of benefit to others in the greatest possible way. As we place the cans and packages of food in shopping carts I can see how small the amounts are, in terms of an ordinary physical offering. The few cans of Spam, soups, and beans are barely a drop in the ocean of what is needed. But when viewed in terms of the not-so-ordinary context of their transformation through a weekend of strong Red Tara practice, maybe even the most mundane seeming bowl of ramen eaten by one hungry kid, might truly make a difference in that person’s life.
I don’t believe that food banks are going to solve the problem of hunger. But as Chagdud Rinpoche taught us, it is this concern for others, the mind’s movement toward wanting to help them, rather than turn away, that is so important. Maybe it is just a drop in the ocean. But even a drop of kindness can make a big difference in the ocean of someone else’s life.
by Lama Trinley