The subject of generosity has come up for me recently in a few different ways. Sayadaw U Tejaniya suggests (in one of his books) some new ways to think of generosity. Our local abbot, Venerable Dhammasiha, spoke recently about generosity as a strong foundation for spiritual progress. And a quote from musician Stephen Hough, “The air is thin on the moral high ground.”, also sparked my thinking.
Sayadaw U Tejaniya points out that there are many ways to be generous. If we give a certain amount of money away every week or month, we can’t just tick off our “generosity” box in the ledger and be done with it. Any time we have patience with other people, we are being generous. When we allow other cars to go easily in front of us, we are acting generously. When we really listen wholeheartedly, generosity is being exercised. Even the way we think of other people and situations will include or exclude generosity. There’s an embedded attitude of “me against the world”, or “I need protection from the world”, that forms a sort of anti-generosity.
Each day is full of opportunities to offer others a smile or a kind thought, or instant forgiveness, and this impulse can be practiced often enough to feel natural. Once it becomes natural, there is a (possibly boundless) feeling of joy, of being released from limitations.
When Ven. Dhammasiha spoke of generosity as a basis for spiritual growth, he fairly glowed. He described the eager students up front, reporting their experiences, and the small grandmother sitting silently in the back of the room. He said it is often those not seeking attention, but giving it, who are building the firmer foundation.
He also spoke about feeding others, or sharing food, as being a primary, traditional act of generosity. It could be a dinner in your home with friends, a casserole for a neighbor in need, or a donation to a faraway charity bringing food to the starving. These acts of generosity, motivated by the desire to share what we have, invariably produce joy.
The Stephen Hough quote, “The air is thin on the moral high ground.”, struck me as a strong reminder that judging others produces feelings and mind-states that are empty of generosity. I am taking his quote out of context, but I think it applies widely. There is a subtle line we cross when judging others, whether we think they are better or worse than ourselves. It is the beginning of separation, of creating “other-ness”, of thinking that we are special, or at least specially able to see what is good and what isn’t. As individuals, we have no special claim on guidelines for judging others. What any of us can see is partial at best; there is an infinite list of influences and causes that are invisible to us. To me, remembering to look with humble eyes, is also an important form of generosity.