We need to practice generosity

Mar 28, 2024


If you’re going to get born a human, you’ve got to make sure you have all the conditions in place for a good, productive life. The way Lama Zopa Rinpoche puts it, and this is Buddha’s teaching, we need two main karmas for this: non-killing gives you the human body; and the practice of generosity – conscious, intentional giving – is the cause for having the good conditions: a family, a home, an education, and access to money fairly easily, which is unlike the majority of humans. 


This is what’s necessary for one’s own benefit and so that we can be useful to the world. 


But you don’t only want the result of past generosity, which is what gives you those resources; we need to make sure we are born with the continued tendency to be generous: you want to be generous and you also want to have the resources. It’s a magical combination. If we look at the world, you don’t meet many people who are rich who are also generous. You just don’t. It’s so tragic. 


In other words, they are experiencing the result of past generosity by being rich now, but they are experiencing the tendency to be miserly from another track of karma of not being generous.


This is where we really have to understand karma very well. A person who is rich can have lots of attachment, and because they don’t understand karma, there’s lots of hubris: “Oh, aren’t I lucky?” Or, “I’ve got all this money because I worked so hard.” No. They’ve got this money because their generosity karma’s ripening. But then they’re being mean and miserly in this life and that generosity karma will definitely run out. That’s why many people run out of money in this life: they haven’t continued to be generous. The karma can finish, you know?


You can be born in a good human body, the result of non-killing, but be born in a desert where you have to work eighteen hours a day for a bowl of rice, which is the result of not being generous. Whether we’re rich or poor, we need to practice generosity: wanting to give to others. It’s a huge practice, so important. 


In other words, the point about karma is that because we are in charge of the process, then obviously we need to understand the process. If you’re a gardener, and you’re in charge of what grows in your garden, you absolutely have to learn botany. It’s not just potluck. We know that when it comes to practical things, but we’re so superstitious when it comes to so-called spiritual things, you know? We just think it’s good luck that we’re born rich. Or we’ll think, “Oh, the universe is kind to me.” 


Saying that the universe is kind to me is like saying God is kind to me: it’s coming from outside of me. I’m not being critical about this view, but Buddha does not talk like that; there’s no force out there that does good things to you; the universe doesn’t pay anything back to you. You pay back yourself; you are the boss. This is a really powerful point in Buddhism. The Indian and the Tibetan texts don’t talk like this – they don’t say you’re the boss – but we get the point. It’s a modern way of talking about it.


We have to know about the law of karma, what causes what. If you know your mind continues in a next life, and Buddha says it will, then you might as well make sure you get the right conditions. You want a decent human life again? Don’t kill, please; live in vows of not killing. You want to have really good conditions? Don’t steal and be generous. You want people to be kind to you? Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t harm others. 


It’s sort of logical. Then guaranteed you’ll wake up next life with a decent human mother in a good environment where you’ll have access to more spiritual teachings, and you’ll have all the conditions you need to keep on moving on your spiritual path. 


We really believe there’s something out there that does all this to us. This is one of the main functions, Buddha says, of the way ego works. It’s complete superstition. We are the main cause of our happiness and suffering. We are in charge. When we begin to get this, it’s very profound. It makes us much more powerful, much more confident, much more grown up, in a way, much less fearful. We are the boss.


So, you better learn the rules. You better learn Buddha’s botany so you can get a decent garden in the next life – and then you can make the most of that garden and keep creating new and better ones into the future! 

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