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The Perfection of Generosity


The Buddha described the practice of meditation as a vehicle that we use to go from one place to another, like a boat that helps us cross from one side of a body of water to the other. In one teaching, the Buddha outlined six qualities that we can cultivate on the path of meditation which help us on our journey. These six qualities are generosity, kindness, patience, joyful effort, meditation, and wisdom, and they are known in Buddhism as the Six Paramitas. Paramita is a Sanskrit word that means “going to the other shore” and is often translated as perfection or transcendent action.

The Perfection of Generosity

This month’s blog will take a deeper look into the perfection of generosity. In the coming months, we will consider kindness, patience, joyful effort, meditation and wisdom.

There are many ways that we can practice generosity as outlined in the Buddhist teachings. We can give material things, which is what we typically think of when we consider what it means to be generous. Another form of generosity is giving “freedom from fear.” This includes all the ways that we give love, our time, energy, and perhaps most importantly, our attention. Spiritual giving, is described by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as “helping others to be more joyful through the generosity of your own spirit.”

Often times, our generosity is limited by feeling that we don’t have enough. There are so many demands on our attention, time, energy, finances, and we can feel depleted. The practice of generosity does not ask us to give beyond our means. It asks us to give according to our capacity in each moment. As we practice generosity, our capacity for giving naturally grows.

Pema Chodron on Generosity

“The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is a sign that we are holding on to something — usually ourselves. When we feel unhappy, when we feel inadequate, we get stingy, we hold on tight. Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering what we can — a dollar, a flower, a word of encouragement — we are training in letting go. There are so many ways to practice generosity. The main point isn’t so much what we give, but that we unlock our habit of grasping. The practice of giving shows us where we’re holding back, where we’re clinging.” [excerpt from Comfortable with Uncertainty]

Using Meditation to Cultivate Generosity

In meditation, we place our attention on the breath as it moves in and out of our bodies. When the mind wanders away, we acknowledge what we are present to, let go of thinking, and gently restore attention on the breath. A simple practice, but not easy to do. The breath has a lot to teach us about letting go. Simply sitting quietly and breathing is a way to cultivate generosity.

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