Giving is the cause of receiving

Aug 24, 2023

The first of the six perfections of the bodhisattva is called generosity. Lama Tsongkhapa, the fourteenth-century lama, says in one of his lovely lamrim texts, the very poetic little verse text called Songs of Experience, “Generosity is the wish-fulfilling jewel with which you can fulfill the hopes of all sentient beings. It’s the basis of the activity of the bodhisattvas in that it develops the selfless and undaunted courage to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment.” That seems like a lot of generosity! What does it mean? It means that it’s the doorway to connecting with others. Giving. 

Because right now, we don’t give much at all. We only give anything to people we’re close to, and then usually only what we don’t want, or what’s easy to give. The active practice of giving is a major way to smash the I, you think about it, break down the barriers between yourself and others; really have this very profound sense of responsibility to give sentient beings what they need. According to your ability of course, but you keep developing this.

There’re different levels of giving. The first is giving material things. Then there’s a second level, which is more profound, but often for us, we find it easier: it’s giving advice, giving spiritual advice. We love doing that. We are great at doing that. We’ll give anybody advice! But give five dollars? Not so sure. 

The way to cultivate the practice of giving, of being generous is when you see others, notice what they need and then, if you can, you give. You practice it, you consciously practice giving.

One of the functions of attachment, of course, is what we call possessiveness: this is mine; and we identify that thing, that person, that house, those possessions, that money in the bank – it’s like an extension of me, isn’t it? It’s the nature of attachment, it’s what it does. So, of course, I’m not going to give “mine” away. If I’ve got extra of it, fine. If there’s anything left over – we think in terms of money – if there’s anything left over at the end of the month after I’ve paid my phone and paid my cable and bought my food and bought this and been on vacation and had a massage, then I might give something. That’s how we think. 

Giving money is very hard for us because we concretize it so powerfully. One Tibetan Lama said once, “You’re very generous in the West but not with money.” Very curious. Money is the thing we know so well. We reconcile everything at the end of the month. We all know how many cents we’ve spent or how many we’re owed. 

Well, “money” is a name we give to the fruit of generosity from past lives. That’s all. That’s it. It’s the name we give to the fruit of generosity. It’s having the resources to do things for ourselves; and all of that is the fruit of generosity. When we understand this, we will be sad not to give. Because being generous creates more seeds for you to continue to get. 

Okay, you don’t do that only for that reason, but when we understand that having even a grain of rice in this life is the fruit of our past generosity, we would be sad not to give, not to be generous now.

They say bodhisattvas, when they give something, they feel like we feel when we get something. So happy to give. 

The commonest way we think about homeless people, we’d rather avoid them. We have this long thought, “But if I give them money, maybe they’re junkies, and maybe they’ll buy alcohol, maybe they’ll buy guns.” If we do give money, we want them to buy what we want them to buy, like a banana or something. We practically want a contract with them before we give them anything. They might not do what we want! How dare they! 

Well, maybe you have an open mind, and you decide in advance, before you go downtown: you bring, not your coins, excuse me, not even your five-dollar notes, maybe a few tens: fives would have been generous fifty years ago. So you decide in advance and have the dollars ready in your pocket, because these days it’s guaranteed you will meet homeless people. 

Another way to think about generosity is to budget giving into your life. You don’t wait until, “If I have enough left. . .”; you just decide, like the Mormons: they give ten percent. I think it’s very powerful to do this. You just decide, “I’m going to give something.” Like anything, it’s painful in the beginning, of course it is. But you start. You factor it into your life, “Okay, I’ll decide I’ll give fifty a month to my Dharma center, ten dollars a month to homeless people. . .” whatever you want, just decide. 

The trouble is we feel poor; we never feel we have enough and we just assume that if we give, we’ll end up with less.

But it’s a powerful practice, and you will be the beneficiary of it.

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