Non-taking 4 – asking

How does asking for something fit in with this precept?

I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking what is not given.

All this talk about not taking things made me wonder about asking for things. It’s often both practical and necessary to ask for what we need.

Interestingly, when the Buddha laid down rules for his fully ordained (not novice) monks and nuns, he forbade them to ask for things from lay supporters, with specific exceptions. (Remember that they are not meant to accumulate possessions.) A monk or nun can ask for things from a nuclear family member. If a supporter asks whether anything is needed, the monk or nun may respond with a specific request. I don’t think there are any other circumstances in which a monk or nun can just ask a supporter for something.

But we’re not monks and nuns. We ask for things all the time, from anyone who might respond positively. We might ask for money, time, attention, or help with a particular task. It’s part of chidren’s basic training to be asked to help with specific chores. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.

I am wondering, though, whether the precept about non-taking might help us to reflect on what we’re asking for and what others are asking of us.

When we negotiate a task list among those we share living space with, there can be a delicate balance between asking too much and not enough. Each individual may have different demands on their time and bring different abilities to the balance. Finding the right fit of shared responsibilities might take some creativity. It seems to me that this is an opportunity to bring all the kindness and wisdom we can to the fore. If this sort of negotiation can be accomplished with care and attention, all parties are happier to share duties, and no one feels unduly burdened.

One thorny question is whether asking for gifts that we want (expect) is OK or not OK. I’m not going to get into it, because I don’t think there’s a right answer. Everyone comes to that conversation with a very personal context, and normally it’s the underlying issues that need to be discussed.

One time, not long ago, my husband and I were out riding our bicycles. We came across a fallen cyclist who was clearly not OK. We waited with him for an ambulance, locked up his bicycle and came back for it with the car, and we got a phone number so we could call his wife later and tell her we had the bicycle. In that kind of situation, the “asker” didn’t really have to ask. We saw a situation and responded.

On the other side, we have been asked to do a task that involved more or less a whole day’s driving, for what seemed to us not a necessity. We said no, and didn’t feel bad about it.

Somewhere between these two examples lies a happy medium. Can you think of any situations in which you have easily given something asked for? Also, any situations in which you felt too much was being asked? Then try the shoe on the other foot: do you sometimes ask for too much or too little?

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