Thursday Evening Online Program
November 10, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time
Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday Evening we will explore the second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, True Happiness:
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.
What does it mean to practice generosity in our thinking, speaking, and acting? There are so many opportunities to give material and spiritual aid; how do we determine when to give and when not to give? And how do we know when we are being generous?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines generous as:
- liberal in giving, openhanded, as in a generous benefactor
- marked by abundance or ample proportions, copious
- characterized by a noble or kindly spirit, as in a generous heart
Some years ago, I remember hearing a teacher ask for donations on an IMS retreat. He told us to “give until you feel generous.” I’ve reflected on this as a way to gauge whether I was giving enough and to notice when I was clinging to something I believed I needed to survive.
My own resistance to being generous often stems from worrying that if I give away too much time, energy, or money, there will not be enough left for my own or my family’s well-being. We learn from the life of the Buddha that giving everything away while taking no nourishment for ourselves is not a pathway to enlightenment. Finding the sweet spot of maximizing my generosity without causing harm is a big part of my daily practice.
In Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, he describes the teaching on the Middle Way as:
The Buddha wanted his five friends to be free from the idea that austerity is the only correct practice. He had learned firsthand that if you destroy your health, you have no energy left to realize the path. The other extreme to be avoided, he said, is indulgence in sense pleasures — being possessed by sexual desire, running after fame, eating immoderately, sleeping too much, or chasing after possessions.
The brilliant teacher, embodiment coach, conflict facilitator, and writer Prentiss Hemphill describes boundaries as “the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
I have found that generosity is like this, too. We touch generosity when we give in a way that allows us to love the recipient of our generosity and ourselves simultaneously. You might even say practicing generosity is the act of loving the other as ourselves — giving in a way that heals everyone involved.
I have seen how our mindfulness practice can help us gain clarity about what we need and what we think we need. Eventually we learn to gently let go of more and more. When we see that all things are impermanent, we realize that there is no benefit to clinging.
This Thursday, after our meditation, we will explore the Second Mindfulness Training, beginning with these questions:
- How do you determine when to give and when not to give?
- When have you experienced your generosity as reflecting love for yourself as well as for the recipient of your gift?
- When has your “generosity” been motivated by something other than love?
I look forward to seeing you on Thursday.
Two related sections from Chanting from the Heart by Thay follow the Still Water announcements below.
Excerpts on Generosity from Chanting from the Heart:
From “Happiness in the Present Moment”
I am determined to let go of
being busy and disgruntled.
I shall not run after fame, power,
riches, and sex
Because I know
that this does not lead to true happiness.
All it will bring me is
misery and misfortune.
I shall learn to know what is sufficient,
to live simply,
so that I have time to live deeply
every moment of my daily life,
giving my body and mind a chance to heal,
and to have the time to look after and protect
those I have vowed to love.
From “Joyfully Sharing the Merit”
Blessed Ones, be our witness and look upon us with compassion.
We surrender before you and make this aspiration:
If at all within this very life and countless lives before,
we have given, even if only a handful of food or simple garment;
if we have ever spoken kindly, even if only a few words;
if we have ever looked with the eyes of compassion,
even if only for a moment;
if we have ever comforted or consoled, even if only once or twice;
if we have ever listened carefully to wonderful teachings,
even if only to one talk;
if we have ever offered a meal to monks and nuns, even if only once;
if we have ever saved a life, even if only that of an ant or a worm;
if we have ever recited a sutra, even if only one or two lines;
if we have ever been a monk or a nun, even if only for one life;
if we have ever supported others on the path of practice,
even if only two or three people;
if we have ever observed the Mindfulness Trainings,
even if imperfectly;
all of this merit has slowly formed wholesome seeds within us.
Today we gather them together like a fragrant flower garland
and, with great respect, we offer it to all Awakened Ones —
a contribution to the fruit of the highest path.