Being Generous Is the Best Use of Our Time

Vietnamese Hẹ plant, botanical name Allium tuberosum, also known as garlic chives,
Oriental garlic, Asian chives, Chinese chives, and Chinese leek.
Photo by Walter Grassroot via Wikimedia Commons.

Being Generous Is the Best Use of Our Time

Discussion date: Thu, Jan 04, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This is the first announcement of the new year, and like many people, I’m contemplating my aspirations for 2024. When we think about deepening our practice, there are boundless areas available for us to cultivate. One area came to the forefront for me recently during our sangha gathering when we read the mindfulness training on True Happiness. Part of the first sentence jumped out at me: “I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.” I immediately thought, “Generosity in my thinking? There’s something worth exploring.”

When I first moved to the DC area about two and a half years ago, I quickly found myself very irritated at the drivers here. My apartment is in a residential area, yet it has quite a bit of traffic from drivers seeking a shortcut between two major streets nearby. There are no traffic lights, only stop signs on the corners where my dog and I cross on our daily walks. After a few near misses that shook me up, I became fearful. I am pretty sure I exacerbated the problem by hesitating to cross until I was absolutely certain it was safe and sending mixed signals to the mostly well-intentioned drivers. It became a vicious cycle!

Thanks to my mindfulness practice, I don’t tolerate much internal agitation before I sit myself down and try to calmly reflect on how I may be making a problem worse. As I was reflecting, I recalled the words of the mindfulness training on practicing generosity in my thinking. What does that mean and how would I practice it to transform my irritation and fear around DC drivers?

The next time I stepped outside, I reminded myself that drivers here and everywhere are  just doing their best. Yes, they are often distracted and in a rush. Yes, they’re glancing down at their GPS because they’re lost on these back streets. But no one wants to hit a pedestrian! I took three deep breaths, smiling as I exhaled. Generous in how I thought about DC drivers, I found myself less distracted and less harried as I crossed the street. With less tension in my shoulders, I found it easier to observe the flow of traffic to find the optimum time to cross.

Transformation happened when I stopped questioning whether these drivers deserved my goodwill or not. When I chose to simply be generous in my thinking about my fellow humans, I felt calm and grounded in the present moment, instantaneously. We all get distracted, we all find ourselves rushing to a destination at times. This is our shared humanity.

My experience of cultivating generosity towards distracted drivers  is helping me navigate much thornier situations where I need to extend the benefit of the doubt or to forgive someone. As Anne Lamott wrote in her book Traveling Mercies, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Forgiveness, as a form of generosity of thinking, immediately gladdens and lightens the heart. The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation’s web page entitled Practice of Generosity explains:

It takes time to practice generosity,
but being generous is the best use of our time.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Giving (dana) is an essential Buddhist practice. It is about generosity, openness, and our capacity to embrace others with compassion and love. When we truly see ourselves as others and others as ourselves, we naturally want to do everything we can to secure their happiness and well-being, because we know that it is also our own well-being and happiness.

We exist in interbeing with all of life. When we understand this fundamental truth, our acts of giving will be made in the spirit of nondiscrimination. The merit, the spiritual benefit to be gained from the practice of giving cannot be calculated. …

There is a kind of vegetable in Vietnam called hẹ (pronounced “hey”). It belongs to the onion family and looks like a scallion, and it is very good in soup. The more you cut the he plants at the base, the more they grow. If you don’t cut them they won’t grow very much. But if you cut them often, right at the base of the stalk, they grow bigger and bigger. This is also true of the practice of dana. If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of happiness and well-being. This may seem strange but it is always true.

My aspiration this year is to be generous, to give what I can with a heart that is joyful. The same is true of dana. I don’t need to worry about whether I’ve given enough; I give an amount that gladdens my heart and reminds me that I am invested in the happiness and well-being of my sangha siblings here in Still Water and in the Plum Village monastic community. Generosity in thinking, speaking, and acting: this is such a rich and deep practice, and so rewarding! I’ve focused here on only one tiny aspect of the practice of generosity, so I look forward to hearing how others practice with this.

On Thursday evening, after our period of sitting meditation, we’ll have time to explore our experiences of practicing generosity. Here are some questions we may wish to consider:

What are your aspirations for the new year?

How do you practice generosity in thinking, speaking, and/or acting?

What arises naturally and what requires more conscious effort for you?

We hope you can join us!

Bowing and smiling,

Gwendolyn Threatt-Satoh

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jan 04, 2024


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