Generosity. . .
“If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of selfishness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared, if there were someone to receive their gift.” – The Buddha
The practice of giving, or dana in Pali, has a pre-eminent place in the teachings of the Buddha. When he taught a graduated series of practices for people to engage in as they progress along the path, he always started by talking about the importance and benefits of the practice of generosity. Based on that foundation, he talked about the importance and benefits of the practice of ethics. Then he discussed the practices of calming the mind, and after that he described the insight practices, which, supported by a calm and stable mind, lead to enlightenment. Once a person had awakened, the Buddha often instructed him or her to go out to benefit others, to be of service. Service can be seen as an act of generosity, so the Buddhist path begins and ends with this virtue.
Generosity is not limited to the giving of material things. We can be generous with our kindness and our receptivity. Generosity can mean the simple giving of a smile or extending ourselves to really listen to a friend. Paradoxically, even being willing to receive the generosity of others can be a form of generosity.
We can also give the gift of fearlessness, a quality that develops as we mature in our practice. As we become increasingly rooted in understanding, wisdom and fearlessness, other beings will have less and less reason to fear us. In a world filled with fear, such fearlessness is a much needed gift. One description of an enlightened person is someone who helps dispel other people’s fear.
Buddhist teachings emphasize that the manner in which we give is as important as what we give. We should give with respect, with happiness and joy. When we are practicing generosity, and it does not bring happiness and joy, we should pay close attention to our motivations for giving, and perhaps even re-evaluate whether to give at all.
The freedom of the Buddha is the freedom from all forms of clinging, and the most obvious antidote to clinging is letting go. Because giving certainly involves letting go, it develops our capacity to relinquish clinging. However, the practice of giving entails much more than letting go. It also develops qualities of heart such as generosity, kindness, compassion and warmth. Thus, giving leads us to the heart of Buddhist practice – Our generosity becomes the vehicle for all to grow mentally, physically and without limits. That’s quite a gift!
Peace and Love, Jim