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Holiday Shopping: Donkeys, Dharma, and more

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[Originally posted on The Jizo Chronicles last year, but this seems timely to share again.]

There are all kinds of ways to deal with the upcoming holiday shopping season. One is to buy nothing on the day known as “Black Friday,” an action pioneered by Adbusters. Gary Gach gives a  dharma perspective on “What Would Buddha Buy?” (the answer: not too much, not too little).

Another approach is to take part in the cycle of giving and receiving, but to do it in a way that may be of benefit to others. Generosity is, after all, one of the basic Buddhist virtues.

If living beings knew the fruit and final reward of generosity and the distribution of gifts, as I know them, then they would not eat their food without giving to others and sharing with others, even if it were their last morsel and mouthful.
~ Avadana Jataka

I am a big donkey lover. I’m not sure I can even tell you why, but I am. So, last holiday season, I was tickled pink when a friend of mine sent me a donkey as a gift. The only catch was that my donkey was actually given to a farmer in Darfur, on my behalf, through Oxfam America. It turns out that donkeys are a key piece of helping farmers there to become more self-sufficient. The donkeys can transport materials, help with cultivating the fields, and they can also be hired out to others. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

If you’re looking for a way to give a gift that does more than gather dust and may make a difference in someone’s life, here’s a list of suggestions starting with two that have an impact in Buddhist countries:

• Adopt a Monk or Nun from Burma’s Saffron Revolution
The Clear View Project invites you to “Adopt a Monk” to help bring attention to the false imprisonment of the monks and nuns in Burma. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma (AAPPB), reports that when the international community shines a light of attention on particular prisoners, their lot improves.  When one prisoner’s life improves, hope is restored.

• Sponsor a Tibetan Nun
Through this sponsorship program, the Tibetan Nuns Project supports over 700 nuns living in northern India. For less than $1 per day, sponsors can provide a nun’s basic necessities. One hundred percent of sponsorship money goes directly to India to meet the nuns’ living expenses. The TNP also makes a great calendar you can purchase on their website as well.

• Seva Foundation’s Gifts of Service
Through Seva, your gift can help restore sight to a blind person in Tibet, Nepal, India, Cambodia or Guatemala, or support other projects that alleviate suffering caused by poverty and disease. Seva works with local people to create sustainable solutions.

• Oxfam America
Oxfam America – the givers of the aforementioned donkey – is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Besides the donkey, other gifts include mosquito nets for a family in Africa, a dozen chicks that will provide eggs and income for an HIV/AIDS-infected household, and support for indigenous craftswomen

• Changing the Present
Changing the Present is a clearinghouse of gifts that “change the world.” Shop here to give everything from an afternoon of tutoring for inner city kids to funding a loan for a widow in India to start her own business. Nonprofits can also register on this site so that more people can learn about their cause.

• Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange is the largest Free Trade company in the US. You can buy organic coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa, and chocolate bars produced by democratically run farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

• The Womens’ Peace Collection
The Womens’ Peace Collection an enterprise that fully supports women in regions of conflict and post-conflict as mothers, peace builders and skilled artisans. Their website features handmade jewelry, textiles, and other gifts from around the world, including “dolls of compassion” crafted by Karenni women living in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.

Lulan Artisans: Contemporary designs fused with ancient weaving techniques to create extraordinary hand-woven textiles, apparel, and products for the home. Your purchase helps to support more than 650 weavers, spinners, dyers and finishers in weaving cooperatives in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and India.

No Sweat: Union-made footwear and casual clothing. “Our gear is produced by independent trade union members in the US, Canada, and the developing world. We believe that the only viable response to globalization is a global labor movement.”

The Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship’s blog has a good list of “Ten Places to Buy Gifts That Support Women Artisans”

And here’s a new addition — a great column, “The Gifts of Hope,” by Nicholas Kristof published in the Dec. 18, 2010 New York Times.


About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

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