During fraught and uncertain times such as these, it’s natural to feel like we should all be giving a little bit more of ourselves and our resources to help others. While we typically think of generosity as a quality that’s carried out through tangible actions, the act of giving doesn’t have to be limited to material things.
According to the Mahayana path of Buddhism, generosity is the mental state of giving up something to which we are attached. One of the six perfections, or six paramitas, that ancient Tibetan Buddhism teaches, the perfection of generosity asks us not to focus on just giving in a physical sense, but on developing a “mind of giving,” which serves as the antidote to harmful attachments—a.k.a. the things that often hinder us from better understanding ourselves and connecting with others.
Often linked to an unattainable standard that we hopefully learn to release as we age, perfection can be an intimidating word. But in Buddhist teachings, the perfections, or paramitas, are used more as guides to enlightenment and generative mind states than as strict standards. When we develop them, we’re better able to be present, help others, and overcome our own limitations—emotionally and physically.
While not all attachments are negative, the Buddha encouraged us to let go of feelings of greed, lust, and passion—attachments that fuel our ego and cloud our judgment, sometimes leading us to disregard the needs of others for our own desires.
By giving up our attachments in life, we open ourselves up to more opportunities, more spontaneity, and more chances to cultivate deeper connections with others. In an age where it seems like people are more divided than ever, creating more space for ourselves to connect both deeply and broadly feels urgent.
Of course, it’s not easy to give up attachments, relinquish control, and accept circumstances and people as they are. We cling not only to our illusory vision of what is “real” but to our desires to tweak the illusion to our benefit. We feel frustrated when the world we perceive isn’t a flawless rendition of what we imagine it should be.
The first step in working to overcome such obstacles is gaining awareness, which we can work toward with a daily meditation practice. Through meditation, we can train our minds not to cling to every thought spawned by desire and aggression, hope, and fear. Many people are surprised to find that when they start their own meditation practice sitting in stillness and letting go of thoughts can be very powerful. As someone who has been teaching and practicing meditation for decades now, I can speak from personal experience that a little stillness and silence go a long way.
When we tap into generosity, joy flows through us and out of us. The perfection of generosity challenges us to identify our expectations, projections, and attachments—those things we think we need or don’t need in order to have a “perfect” life—and find a way to release and go beyond them. Once we do, we free our minds, creating an expansiveness within ourselves. What better way to use that wiggle room this Giving Tuesday than by making ourselves more available to the people who may need us most?
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