Generosity - the first of the Parami
Posted on Saturday, April 18th, 2009 at 8:01 pm
Since my last entry, my life has been very full. This morning is my first opportunity for some space to reflect and to write. I've been wondering about the impact on my life of setting up this website and blog and I find that I have been thinking about generosity. Just a few minutes ago I had the luxury of enjoying a swim in the empty swimming pool provided by the caravan park we are staying in for a couple of days. Following the swim, I lay back on a sun lounge, still on my own, under a shady tree. In a meditative state, I raised question about generosity.
Is there anybody out there to share my thoughts with?
Generosity - the flow of giving and receiving - arguably, the flow of life supporting life!
My thoughts today are on generosity, for three reasons:
1. Generosity is the prime quality to develop in order to support a spiritual life. A mean spirit will strangle or distort spirituality - just as lack of food and water will stunt a plant and cause it to drop its leaves, fail to flower or fruit, or it may even die.
2. Generosity is the first of the six Parami, or six Perfections, favoured in the short list of Mahayana scriptures. I will leave till later the larger list of ten parami - or paramita - outlined in Buddhadharma - the spiritual and philosophical Buddhist path that I follow and wish to explore on this website.
3. On a current and more personal level, I am grateful for the generosity of a small group of internet marketers whose ideas have prompted a huge tidal wave of change in my life over the past two weeks!
Within the context of Buddhadharma, generosity (dana, in Sanskrit) is a necessary prerequisite for productive practice of meditation and the development of 'non-clinging awareness': the ability to be in the present moment with an open mind state that makes no claim to 'know' but is interested and bright. Generosity requires an open (as opposed to closed) mind, motivated by the wish to benefit others.
One of the stickiest teachings I received many years ago was the observation that 'the greatest gift you can give anyone is your interest'! So, even in the direst of circumstances, we can be generous.
Giving and receiving
Generosity is a two-way process, both giving and receiving. How can anyone give without there being an 'other' to give to?
Sometimes the receiving may require more generosity than the giving! An example of this might be when someone is passionately describing, in great detail, a hobby - such as football - that you have little interest in (apologies if this is your special interest), but you make effort to generate that interest and listen to their enthusiasm with an open, friendly mind state that supports the connection flowing between you.
Generosity is necessary to develop in order for meditation to bear fruit because of this open, compassionate quality. As meditation is a technique to explore the mind and the nature of phenomena, it is necessary to be attentive, receptive and fully present.
Generosity in unexpected places
And so now to the more personal. Two weeks ago, Alan, my adult daughter and I went on a four day workshop on internet marketing. I was probably the most sceptical of the three of us, and also the most concerned that I would be drowned in a sea of sales talk, alien to my background as a counsellor and meditator. Fortunately, I was wrong. Instead, I found myself sitting amongst a spellbound audience, listening to a series of bright, smiling, enthusiastic presenters who seemed to genuinely want to share with us the good fortune they had discovered when communicating and selling products on the internet. The atmosphere radiated goodwill and generosity. The experience was of being educated and inspired. Energised!
By the end of the first day the three of us had formed a company, pooling our various skills, experience and interests. It was exciting to formalise the merging of older and younger wisdoms and energies (us in our early sixties and daughter in early thirties). While daughter specialises in healing work on both humans and horses - and the relationship between them - and my interest spans human psychology and Buddhist philosophy and practices, Alan provides the technological, administrative, photographic and creative skills to weave us together in a joint venture. Now, only two weeks down the track from that memorable weekend, we have this website, daughter's horse therapies website and heads full of tasks and plans!
And all because of the generosity - mixed with skill and good ideas - of a small group of people sharing with a much larger group: Giving and Receiving!
More noticings of generosity
Yesterday, I was given a free book: A biography of Michelle Obama. I got the winning (free) raffle ticket when I attended a local non-fiction writers' group. OK, maybe the book was originally given as a free marketing ploy by the publishers to the editor of Honestly Woman, a businesswomen's magazine. The editor is the live wire who initiated and runs this well attended group. But then everything about how this woman (the editor) runs the group is also marked by generosity. Generosity in her warm, welcoming manner; generosity in her free exchange of helpful writing and publishing information; and generosity in her give-aways. And then there is the generous sharing of writing and presenting hints and tips by guest speakers and the twenty, or so, very bright, lively women who attend this group with me.
And let's not leave out 'Nature'! This corner of the globe has recently received rather over-generous amounts of water, falling from the sky, filling the rivers and dams and causing widespread flooding. The flooding caused damage, loss and heartache but it also seems to foster community spirit and many examples of people reaching out to generously help those endangered or stricken individuals amongst us.
Just over two weeks ago, life was relatively quiet. We had an interesting five week retreat to look forward to and a pleasant bit of camping as we travelled the necessary 1,000 km to get there. Now I find myself multi-tasking with a vengeance! Part of the newly born East West Wisdoms project is to collect interviews; gain access to relevant books and products to put on the site; set up a membership list and offer teachings - not to mention write blogs! And I had barely heard of the existence of 'blogs' before attending this life-changing workshop!
In the last day or two we've been madly gathering together everything for the retreat; plus sorting the material for my planned interviews with high ranking Tibetan Sakya Lamas; plus gathering the gear for travelling and camping for the next week and, finally, trying to leave the house clean. I wonder: is the extra activity of the last two weeks, motivated by the desire to gather and share spiritual teachings, prompted by generosity?
The scurrying about of Alan and I, gathering computers, papers, files, books, meditation gear, camping gear and food, was mirrored by the endless journeying over every surface of our house by miriads of tiny ants as they gathered their goodies to take back to headquarters for the good of all. Is this generosity?
And is it generosity, or mere decency, to resist the temptation to squash or spray the ants as one finds they have moved into yet another area of 'my' space?
I could list many more examples of generosity, but now it's over to you. Does anyone out there have reflections on generosity and examples of generosity to share? The comments box is waiting!
I think it easy to forget how generosity can not only make a difference to someone else's life's but also to your own. Even if you do not have much to give, to give that something to someone in need and know how much it has helped them is a very satisfying feeling. For example I recently moved on my own to a new city and experienced first hand how difficult it can be to find a job a home or even a room. But with the generosity of some of my friends allowing me to camp in their living room I had a roof over my head and was able to set out to find those basic necessity's in life which I think many people who do not move around much, tend to take for granted. A couple of months down the track, a freind of mine from perth with similar low money levels attempted the same task. While i had only just moved into a room of my own and barely knew my new house mates, i offered her to share my room (and bed,wardrobe,internet,food ect) until she could find her own place. In doing this i quickly sacrificed my newly found private space but also in doing so made her transition to melbourne immeasurably easier. I then invited her to be a part of the friend group i had gathered, showed her around this new city and helped her search for jobs and houses. Even though i myself only earn $13 an hour, when she ran out of money, i lent her the $300 i had in savings and provided her with as much food and drink as i could. With this, she was able to pay for bond on a house and is now in the process of setting up her own life here in Melbourne. She has said to me on many occasions that with out my help, she would probably have failed. So even though i have not gained anything personally from giving so much, to be able to just openly give her everything i could and know that it has made her journey that much easier and in fact literally changed her life, is an amazing feeling. I think it is so important to get out of that mind frame which revolves only around oneself and take a second to think of others, and what your generosity's can mean to them.
Pippa, I'm delighted to see your very wise comment on the great benefits of generosity - that you entered yesterday. I found your observation - in the conclusion to your heart-warming story of generosity - particularly appropriate. You point out the great benefit - and satisfaction - of moving the focus from oneself to others and note how much more rewarding and long lasting is the satisfaction gained from helping others, rather than just oneself. From a Buddhist perspective, our tendency to focus on ourselves is the main source of our suffering and the suggested antidote is to do what you did and instead focus on making others happy.
Thank you for your excellent contribution!