What Does Generosity Mean to You?
Generosity is a wisdom teaching found in many cultures of the world. In Buddhist practice it has a special place. Generosity was one of the first teachings of the Buddha and it began when he was establishing the first “Four-Fold Sangha”. The sangha, community, was comprised of male and female monastics and laity, both men and women who learned to support each other through the giving of ‘alms” in exchange for receiving of teachings and blessings.
The practice of giving is stated early on because it is common to all beings; different kinds of people practice giving. It is form of mutual support for the benefit of all beings.
It has two meanings in the Buddhist teachings:
- The word dana, from the Pali language, is the word that is most commonly used for the act of giving. It asks us to reflect on what is our motive for giving; is it sincere or done to be liked, respected, to get something in return, or to be known for giving like a philanthropist? This is often feeding the ego in some manner.
- The word chaga from Pali means relinquishment. Chaga has the characteristic of relinquishing or giving something up, letting it go. Its function is to release any greed or holding on and it manifests as non-attachment. It lets go from the heart and is related to lovingfriendliness and compassion. This form of generosity truly generates freedom.
We can learn the value of both giving and receiving without attachment. This is the antidote to ‘the wanting mind’, to recognize how we cling to things as the cause of suffering.
When we freely give and let go of something it is like the image of an open hand. Try opening your hand and see how it feels? Then close it tightly and release. See and feel the difference. When do not hold on so tightly we relax.
How does it feel to give, without expecting anything back in return? Can we explore and see if this possible?
Ethics and Generosity
Recognizing the connection between generosity and ethics/ virtue is essential in understanding that our giving comes from a place of respect, honoring and doing no harm to others. The giving is both warm and caring, while also connected to loving friendliness and compassion.
When we deeply know in our heart and realize all the ways we are interconnected wisdom is born. In practicing generosity we use mindfulness to see all the ways we are linked to others. We also observe how we may be blocked from giving in a wholehearted way? Exploring this is part of practice.
How Can We Benefit from Benefiting Others
The Buddha said that “Wisdom knows how to benefit ourselves and others; that a foolish person harms themselves and others; that we can learn to give in such a way that is not just for self or other; that we benefit ourselves by letting go of selfishness”.
The Buddha had a list:
- Give first to family and friends
- Now spread and universalize it, give to the poor and sick and those having a hard time and
- Give with your own hands
- Give directly
- Take time to sit and be with those we are giving to
Practice Generosity as Mindfulness
- We can practice small acts of generosity- things you might not commonly do like bring an extra snack to share
- Ask someone how they are? Study yourself with mindfulness as you do it?
- Look for situations that inspire giving, delight in these as you do them
- Consider doing an act of generosity for someone you are having difficulty with, mildly difficult — see what arises?