“There are, monks, these five kinds of miserliness. What five? Miserliness with regard to dwellings, miserliness with regard to families, miserliness with regard to gains, miserliness with regard to praise, and miserliness with regard to the Dhamma. … The spiritual life is lived for the abandoning and eradication of these five kinds of miserliness.” (AN 5:254-55, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
“What is accomplishment in generosity? Here, a noble dwells at home with a mind free from the stain of miserliness, freely generous, open-handed, delighting in relinquishment, devoted to charity, delighting in giving and sharing. This is called accomplishment in generosity.” (from AN 4:61, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
Miserliness might be a feeling we’re acquainted with, and the Buddha offers an interesting list of possibilities. Let’s consider where we stand in each of the categories listed above. Are we more miserly or more generous with respect to our homes? Do we invite others into our homes and welcome them? Or do we use our homes to avoid others and build a bastion of not-caring?
With respect to our families, do we consider our partner and children “ours” and find ourselves reluctant to share them, to have other people matter to them?
If we have more financial resources than we need, how do we balance saving and giving? Do we have a tendency to hoard our wealth? Or to give so much that we find ourselves in need? As a wise minister I know once advised, “Give until it feels good.”
Are we slow to recognize and praise others? This could be a sign that we don’t want anyone else to have the spotlight because we want it for ourselves. We may be depriving ourselves of the positive feelings and mind states that praising others brings, whether they are present or not. Being generous with praise could be thought of as an extension to gratitude practice. When we appreciate others out loud, something lovely is planted in the world.
What would miserliness with regard to the Dhamma look like? It could be a reluctance on our part to share what we know with others, or to acknowledge our own interest or confidence in the Buddha’s teachings. We could have an attitude that others wouldn’t understand or appreciate the wisdom that we’ve acquired. If we have a teacher we’re devoted to we may not want to share that person. Of course, there’s no point in teaching people who are not interested, but we can frame issues that come to our attention in terms of cause and effect, of actions and consequences, whether we say anything or not. If our words and actions are guided by generosity and an understanding of our responsibilities, then our lives will be our expression of the Buddha’s teachings. That is a most valuable form of giving.