Giving gifts is an art. It can lead to positive interaction between friends. Most important of all is the thought behind a gift. There is a Chinese saying, “Giving a goose feather to someone a thousand miles away is a gift light in weight but heavy in meaning.” However, some people do not follow this time-tested rule. They prefer to give expensive gifts such as houses and cars. The recipient may become uncomfortable with such lavishness or even refuse to accept it, jeopardizing the friendship between the two. In other cases, people give inappropriate gifts, such as a huge sofa for a small living room, or a new boy’s suit for someone who just had a baby girl. Such gifts will only leave the recipient baffled.
Most people bring flowers when visiting the hospitalized, but flowers may cause allergies. Others like to give food, but in today’s affluent society, the abundant proportions may turn to waste. Giving plants as gifts may also create problems for those who have no idea how to take care of them. Gifted clothes are often the wrong color or size. A pet for a city dweller can cause much trouble. Worse still, some give illegal gifts such as guns or narcotics. There are completely inappropriate.
Nowadays, parents like to give their children cellular phones. But the children may spend too much time talking to friends, forgetting their studies. Corrupt officials may abuse their power and place the incompetent in authority in exchange for money. Sometimes retailers promote their products with a “buy one, get one free” deal. Many people who are greedy for small benefits end up with poor products and lose more than they gained.
Gifts are a symbol of friendship, care, respect, or gratitude. The key factors are happiness and appropriateness. Birthday cards, wedding blessings, a good book, a souvenir, or a gift certificate are all suitable presents.
Some people give gifts with the intention of receiving something in return. It becomes a form of bribery, and the result is unpredictable. One should deliver gifts with good intentions, care, kind words, encouragement, know-how, the Dharma, and wisdom. In the Universal Gateway Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Aksayamati Bodhisattva wanted to give Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva wisdom, thinking the latter already had compassion. However, Avalokitesvara already had both compassion and wisdom, so he passed the gift on to the Buddha, so that the eternal truth could then be shared with all sentient beings.
Therefore, gift giving can take many forms. Spreading knowledge of the good deeds of others, offering praise, giving others helpful conditions, and making good suggestions are all gifts. Gifts need not be material. We can give gifts of spiritual support, the Dharma, or the truth. The best present is thoughts from the heart. We should reevaluate the value of gift giving.