We learn less from what people tell us than we do from what we observe other people doing. If we’re interested in nurturing our generous tendencies, we would do well to observe others in the act of giving. It happens all the time, though we may not notice it unless we look for it. One person phones her mother overseas every day, not because she enjoys it, but because it keeps her mother mentally balanced. Another person regularly sends money for support to a family member who, in spite of doing their best, cannot make ends meet. Some will send postcards or make phone calls just to let others know they are not alone, that someone is thinking of them.
Some people are such outstanding examples that they inspire others even after their deaths. One example was a relative of mine who welcomed victims of domestic violence into her home through a church based service. The guests brought their children and pets and were often too traumatized to be gracious. And yet their host’s healing love was unstinting. She knew she was salving deep wounds and this was her calling. We can inspire ourselves by recalling people we’ve known who embodied generosity. The key feature is that they were uplifted by their own giving.
Another way to look at generosity is to examine our assumptions. Do we believe that people are basically good, basically bad, or basically mixed?
Quote from I May Be Wrong by Björn Natthiko Lindeblad (p. 228):
…he told us about a BBC interview with the Thai king. The British journalist had asked the king what he thought of the western, Christian idea of original sin. And the king’s answer was lovely:
“As Buddhists, we do not believe in original sin. We believe in original purity.”
What do we believe? We know that everyone makes mistakes, but do we attribute them to bad intentions or do we see them as best efforts that fail sometimes? This question of original sin or original purity can change our perspective on everything. If we believed that everyone, without exception, has the potential to fully awaken, wouldn’t we treat others with a fundamental respect?
Cultivating generosity is the start of looking at everyone with the eyes of love, of forgiveness, of acceptance, kindness, and care.
Traditionally, gifts of the Dharma are the most valuable gifts of all. Every time we consciously choose to behave virtuously, to support the growth of the Buddha’s teachings, to cultivate our inner calm, we are giving gifts of the highest value.
Love this post, Lynn. I hear what people say but I believe what they do.