Generosity as a Practice

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Dear Still Water Friends,

After our meditation period this Thursday evening we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Our program will focus on the the Second Training, on cultivating generosity:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

As I reflect this week on the training, my mind goes to the different notions of generosity I have learned over the years. For my parents, being generous was all about offering money to those who needed it. My parents quietly gave money to a number of relatives who had fallen on hard times, including my father’s mother and her three sisters, my mother’s mother, and several cousins of my grandparents.

My father was also a soft touch. Representatives of religious and charitable organizations knew that if they requested a donation, he would give generously. For my father, to give to those in need, especially if they had a familial or social connection with you, was to be a mensch, a Yiddish term meaning a person of integrity and honor.

In the mindfulness tradition Dana (Sanskrit for generosity) encompasses the giving of time and energy, as well as material resources. It emphasizes generosity as a character trait, a way of being. We can be generous with a smile, a small kindness, a willingness to be present to the concerns of others. In Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake, Sylvia Boorstein writes about a weekly meditation class in which the participants committed to five unscheduled acts of giving each day. Mainly they looked for and offered little things, like letting someone in a hurry go ahead of them at the grocery store. They found the exercise exciting and satisfying.

The mindfulness tradition teaches that when we are generous, innumerable benefits accrue back to the giver. According to the Buddha, many more than we can imagine:

… if people knew, as I know, the results of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of niggardliness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. (Itivuttaka 26: 18-19)

The practice of generosity seems particularly valuable today, as an antidote to self-absorbtion and consumerism.

This Thursday evening, after our sitting and the recitation of the mindfulness trainings, we will share our experiences with generosity: what we learned growing up and how we understand and practice it today.

You are invited to be with us. The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation, around 7:25, and just after our walking meditation, around 7:35.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher