Developing and cultivating a heart that is inclined toward generosity is not easy.
It requires a certain vulnerability. It requires a certain faith. It requires so much dharma, really.
It’s no mystery that Siddhartha Gautama and his wife Yasodhara (I like to call them “the collective Buddha”) taught generosity first whenever traveling to a new town or village. It requires so much generosity to practice. We have to be generous to ourselves; we have to commit to being authentic and actually undergo this purification of the heart, this journey into healing each wound of the heart and having the courage to face them.
Presence requires generosity. It requires courage. It requires a commitment to coming back into the now.
There’s a really beautiful passage where the Buddha is talking about generosity, and he says, as you’re washing your alms bowl in the river, just having the generosity of thinking of how the debris and grains of rice can feed the river life; just having this generosity that everything we do can affect others in a positive way if we have the mind to offer it that way.
I think a lot of us have a sense of lack. We’ve been conditioned to feel like there’s a lack, and we cling for this reason. It’s hard to give.
We live in a time of fear of intimacy, fear of vulnerability, fear of giving, and fear of being caught out there without reciprocity. What can we do to cultivate a spirit that is inclined toward giving, to cultivate a heart that gives freely?
We give. This is what we do. And this is why dana, which translates as giving, is done to cultivate caga, which is generosity. We give to our teachers. We give to the institutions that provide space for our meditation and the cultivation of our hearts. We give to causes that we really are moved to give to. We give to those in need. We give to the homeless when they ask. This has been a really powerful practice in my life, not wondering or judging or thinking that the money is just going to drugs when people are asking for it, but giving without any discrimination when I can.
The invitation, especially with the practice of dana, is to give right up into the point of discomfort and a little past it. We should let ourselves be a little uncomfortable (but not so much that it’s really devastating us financially and putting us in harm’s way).
It’s also important to know that generosity is not just about money. It’s about energy, which is really what money boils down to. It’s about time and presence.
I’m giving so much patience as a parent of an eight-year-old son. It’s funny, I caught myself recently expecting my son to have a sense of the sacrifices I make sometimes as a parent. But he has no sense of that. He’s a child. He shouldn’t have to think about that.
Recently, my son got really upset that we left the park after school after an hour. He was on the playground, and other families were leaving. He was having such a great time, and I said, “It’s time to go,” and he got really upset. He said that I was mean. I responded with, “You do not understand what it’s like as a parent. I enjoy watching you play, but I also know that I have things to do. I have to teach tonight, I have to make dinner. It’s a sacrifice standing in the chilly weather. I do it because I love you. But you just have no idea. I’m not mean.”
This was an example where I got caught giving and expecting him to appreciate what it is for me to give—which is so often the case. We want to be appreciated. We want to be honored for our generosity in some way. So that’s why this practice of giving without attachment has been so powerful. That’s also one of the definitions of alobha: detachment.
Pali is a waxing, gold, ancient language with so much functionality and so many layers to each word. English is very different, and it’s hard to hit this concept completely. But I think of alobha as the inclination of the heart toward generosity. I might add that I think there’s some correlation with the Hawaiian aloha, which means breath of life. There’s also a sense of generosity as being sparks of life.
So we give as best we can without this feeling of needing compensation, and we feel the wisdom of interconnection and interbeing.
Adapted from Joshua Bee Alafia’s Dharma Talk “The Three Beautiful Roots: Cultivating the Three Wholesome Qualities in Unwholesome Times.”