In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” the Tin Man laments that he has no heart. Just a hollow, empty echo results when one taps on his metal chest. To compensate for that and grant him his wish for a heart, the Wizard gives him a heart-shaped watch as a Testimonial recognition to his being a “Doer of Good Deeds.” Good deeds are what a good, warm heart does.
This is a message echoed fully in most all
religions. Be generous to the poor. Support the widows and the children. Assist the labored with a relieving of their
heavy load. Give to charities.
The payoff for all these good works of the heart comes in
the next life, or the afterlife. In
Islam and Christian teachings, we are given the image of the heavenly ledger
where our actions – our good and bad deeds – are recorded through our
lifetime. If the “net balance” of good
deeds outnumbers the bad, then the door of heaven will be opened for us. Similarly, for the Buddhist, good deeds
accumulate “merit,” resulting in good karma from this life transferred to our
next rebirth into a higher, more realized form.
But is the doing of good deeds enough to warrant such
future rewards? I think not. It is very easy to put a check to a favorite
charity in the mail. To volunteer at the
hospital, AIDS clinic, or museum for a day and then return to the protective
safety of one’s home. To be a tutor or
mentor to a schoolchild, particularly for an orphan. Or to set aside your own personal ambitions
in order to give a greater opportunity to your child.
All of these actions, and similar others, certainly
constitute being “good deeds.” But if
they are done, or given, without the packaging gift of the heart, then they are
a hollow gift. As hollow as the chest of
the Tin Man.
Good deeds given from the heart means that we are truly
connected to the recipient of our action.
They are not a nameless, faceless being to us. Even if we do not know them personally, we
create a representative vision of them as we drop the dollar bills into the Christmas
red bucket of the Salvation Army. We
give of ourselves without a need, or even a desire, for acknowledgment or
recognition. No need to sign our name
over the door of the new building or the memorial plaque. As the Taoist says, “do your work quietly,
and then step back again.”
We do our good deeds with no expectation or demand for an
equal return. There are no IOUs in truly
good deeds, no reciprocal contracts. As
Jesus explained to us, a large gift made with no sacrifice means less than a small
gift of great sacrifice. Good deeds are
a one-way gift, with no chains of obligation attached. The gift of “freedom” is always embedded in a
good work. Yet we also know fully in our
hearts that “we reap what we sow.” That
“what we send out comes back to us many-fold.”
Good deeds are not deposits made into our heavenly
salvation accounts. They are not design
fees for shaping our rebirth. True good
deeds are simply expressions of what is already perfect in our own heart – the
very Buddha-nature that already resides in each of us, waiting to be realized. They are simply the ways that we find to
express our best feelings toward one another, towards all living things,
without keeping score.
Good deeds are the way we emulate God, through realizing
that piece of God that is already in us.
In our generosity, truly good deeds are the gift of our expression that
we give to ourselves. So that when we
tap on our chest, we do not hear the empty echo of the Tin Man. Rather, we hear the warm gong of God’s voice
speaking within us. To us.