As promised in my previous post, I’m going to write at least a brief article on each of the Ten Perfections. Today I will focus on the idea of Generosity, or Dāna in Pali.
I think all of the world’s major religions share this theme, making it one on which followers of all creeds should be able to find common ground.
Even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, ‘May whatever animals live here feed on this,’ that would be a source of merit. Vaccha Sutta
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Proverbs 11:24
Those who spend their wealth in the Cause of Allah, and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury, their reward is with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #262
I’m quite certain I could find more examples from other religions, but am limited by time and easy accessibility to their texts. Those three came up in fairly quick Google searches and it “felt right” to share them.
So this idea of generosity, what does it really mean? In the Buddhist sense, supporting monastics is clearly important, but in the case of an American Buddhist, it may not always be obvious who needs the support. Further, being as how monks and nuns (at least of the Theravada tradition) are supposed to be barred from carrying money, it isn’t really proper to offer envelopes of cash (even if that is what the Cambodians, Thais, and Vietnamese all do) because it encourages the skirting of the Patimokkha rules laid down by the Buddha himself. If we are to support the monastic community, we must be willing to ask what material goods are needed and, baring that, we ought to seek out the temple’s official treasurer (or Steward) to make sure we’re not directly causing a monk or nun to have desire to break a rule.
Aside from the support of the monastic community, I think supporting any local charity is of supreme benefit. It doesn’t need to be a huge national organization and you don’t have to sell your family into poverty. You can practice generosity even by giving the change you have in your pocket (with which I imagine you were going to buy a Coke on your lunch break at work) to a homeless person you find. Whether you believe they are homeless or not doesn’t matter — file that under “Not My Problem” and give — let what they do with the money be their kamma.
It is hard for some of us to feel comfortable giving, I know. I try to give more by being a positive influence at work (for which I obviously get paid, so it isn’t the same as giving a $10 bill to a beggar or writing a check for $100 to a homeless shelter) and being willing to give whenever I have it in my pocket. That said, I won’t give money from my family’s budget unless I approve it with my wife first. There is nothing wrong with taking care of your family’s needs first — after all, you do have to live with them. As a husband, the free giving of yourself and your efforts to your wife (and children) is generosity too.
Take some time to think about it. What does it mean to be willing to give to others? This practice starts to break down at the idea that “I” am important and “others” aren’t. It may take years (or lifetimes?) to chizel away at this nasty conceit, but you are no doubt closer to Jesus, the devas, or Nibbana by the practice of it.
These are the five rewards of generosity: One is dear and appealing to people at large, one is admired by good people, one’s good name is spread about, one does not stray from the rightful duties of the householder, and with the break-up of the body at death, one reappears in a good destination, in the heavenly worlds. Aṅguttara Nikāya 5.35
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24
By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, Allah knoweth it well. Aal-e-Imran – 3:92
Maybe this is a case where less really is more? Give it up, friends, and by the giving be free of it.
Please be well!