“When you are practicing generosity, you should feel a little pinch when you give something away. That pinch is your stinginess protesting. If you give away your old, worn-out coat that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, that is not generosity. There is no pinch. You are doing nothing to overcome your stinginess; you’re just cleaning out your closet and calling it something else. Giving away your coat might keep someone warm, but it does not address the problem we face as spiritual practitioners: to free ourselves from self-cherishing and self-grasping.”
“Buddhist teachings emphasize that the manner in which we give is as important as what we give—we should give with respect, with happiness, and with joy. When we are practicing generosity, and it does not bring happiness and joy, we should pay close attention to our motivations for giving, and perhaps even reevaluate whether to give at all.”
“You can measure the depth of a person’s awakening by how they serve others”
—Kobo Daishi (774–835 CE)
“Shakyamuni Buddha and his monks and nuns based their survival—day-to-day food, clothing, and shelter—on the layperson’s giving practice, dana. Today in our Western Buddhist world, we give generously to our own places of practice. We help support the center or temple, the teacher, and the sangha, and in return we get retreats, scheduled meditation, teachings, and a Buddhist community. What we still don’t see is the Buddhist equivalent of Catholic Charities, Jewish Federation, and the American Friends Service Committee—organizations founded on Buddhist study and practice, relying on Buddhist constituencies to serve the unmet needs of individuals and communities around the world, whatever their race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. We haven’t yet established our own Buddhist Community Chest to encourage and oversee donations and become a visible Buddhist presence in the world of social action and philanthropy. Only a few private foundations hold this larger vision.
Regardless of our resources, I think our generosity should benefit ourselves and our family, our dharma center or temple, and the world. This will really expand our hearts and practice from self-concern to Self-concern, and serve all beings.”
—Roshi Bernie Glassman
“Greed is the salty water consumed by those who thirst for self-centered gratification. This kind of thirst can never be quenched and becomes the source of increasing torment.”
“Generosity is revolutionary, counter-instinctual. Our survival instinct is to care only for ourselves and our loved ones. But we can transform our relationship to that survival instinct by constantly asking ourselves, ‘How can I use my life’s energy to benefit all living beings?’”
“Generosity is not limited to the giving of material things. We can be generous with our kindness and our receptivity. Generosity can mean the simple giving of a smile or extending ourselves to really listen to a friend. Paradoxically, even being willing to receive the generosity of others can be a form of generosity.”
“When we give, we need to do so with the awareness that our gift will be both appropriate and helpful. It is not an act of generosity, for example, to give money to a wealthy person or alcohol to a child. We also give what we can afford; we don’t jeopardize our own health or well-being. At the same time, we can give what is precious to us, what is difficult to give, because of our attachment to it.”
—Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
“Meditation is one of the keys to unlocking the natural generosity of the heart. Underneath the greedy and selfish thoughts and feelings that are part of the human condition lies a pure desire to help. We experience this in our mindfulness practice; when we let go, there is a natural acceptance and feeling of care.”
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.