Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Gift of Generosity!

To live in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century in any global city is to be plugged-in, relevant, and responsive. To be out-of-the-loop even on holidays can feel intolerable. How can you expect to lead a wise life when there's so much noise and disruption?

There are 5 practices for living life wisely. The first of these is the gift of generosity. True generosity is giving everything you have to every moment without expecting any sort of return. But how can you seriously do that in a competitive, materialistic, narcissistic, me-first culture? Here's how:

Getting Started

Once you overcome an inbuilt protectiveness about your own survival and material wealth it's relatively easy to be generous. You can begin right now, where you are, to be more compassionate and giving to others in your thoughts, words, and deeds. If you continue this process, it quickly becomes apparent how good it feels and how valuable it is.

The Remedy of Generosity

When you look at it much of our life is dominated by desire for what we don't have, aversion to what we don't want, and attachment to what is "mine". This can mean we are never truly satisfied. Even when we get that promotion, buy that new house, accumulate that wealth, there's always the anxiety of not having as much as our contemporaries, or the risk of losing it all. By giving up your own private agenda and possessions to help others, you can break free of your dependence on transitory things to define who you are. Only then can you realise the true wealth and value that comes from your deepest identity and the wellspring of your happiness and fulfilment.

The Paradox of Generosity

Through the cultivation of generosity - an open-handed and open-hearted giving of ourselves - we can realise the virtue and freedom of letting go of our attachments. Relax your grip, and instead of losing control, you will feel a new power, flow of energy, and flexibility. This is the paradox of generosity. The more you give away, the more you receive.

How to be Generous

There are three kinds of generosity:
  1. The giving of material things like food, clothing, medicine, money.
  2. Gifts of the spirit such as giving someone encouragement, inspiration, reassurance, love, protection, fearlessness, or hope.
  3. The gift of timeless truths that help recipients to help themselves. Like the old Chinese saying: "If you give a man a fish, he has lunch and maybe dinner today. But if you teach him how to fish, he has meals for himself, his family, and his village forever".
True generosity means giving the best of what you have, graciously and unstintingly, without reservations, hesitation, or regret. Does this mean you deliberately short-change yourself? And is your gift worthless if you feel uneasy about giving it? Of course, we must be responsible for our own welfare as well as looking out for the good of others. There is a need to combine compassion with wisdom, to know the best thing to do for the right reasons in the present circumstances. Learning to exercise generosity is a growth process.

There are 7 motivations for giving:
  1. Giving out of fear ("Will I be disliked or suffer negative consequences if I don't give?").
  2. Giving mechanically in accordance with tradition ("I have to get them something for Christmas!").
  3. Giving with expectation ("If I help her in this way, then she will feel obligated to help me when I need it").
  4. Giving to secure our reputation ("I'll donate because they'll put my name on a plaque on the wall").
  5. Giving out of guilt ("I guess I owe this person a favour").
  6. Giving to get rid of stuff ("I can't use it anyway so I might as well give it away").
  7. Giving for the sheer joy it creates for everyone involved, without much concern for what we might receive in return.
The Consequences of Generosity

"What goes around comes around". Just like the laws of thermodynamics which state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the energy involved in the exchange is constant: it can be neither created nor destroyed. Similarly, our thoughts, words and actions sets in motion a related chain of events that ripple out from our lives and affects the lives of others. 

If we fail to be generous, kind, and giving, we not only diminish the potential for these qualities to exist in the world but also create a life for ourselves that is in many ways impoverished. As the Thirteenth Century Tibetan Buddhist scholar, Sakya Pandit wrote: "The result of generosity is always richness. The result of miserliness is always poverty. This principle is constant".