Generosity in Buddhism
Six perfection of Bodhisattva
“If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds.”
The Way of the Bodhisattva: Shantideva
What is generosity in Buddhism?
Generosity or Dana paramita is willing to give others what they need, whether that be time, possessions, or skills. Willingness to give without regret and with joy, and to give without expectation of reward. The act of giving is purely out of compassion or goodwill, or the desire for someone else's well-being.
Generosity is a compassion-motivated practice that is a great part of Bodhicitta. According to Tsongkhapa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path: "Generosity is the mental inclination to share material resources with others, to protect them, and to teach them the Dharma."
The Buddha teaches that wisdom enables us to be truly generous. "In the case of someone just beginning to practice generosity, it is wisdom that understands the advantages of generosity and the faults of stinginess. Later, for advanced bodhisattvas, it is non-dualistic wisdom directly penetrating emptiness—ultimate reality—that allows them to practice more radical and powerful types of generosity (which would otherwise be highly inadvisable), such as giving away even their flesh to those who need it."
The Practice of Generosity
Try a practice of acting on every impulse to give, no matter what, during a twenty-four hour period. It can be money, time, or words of support. Generosity can mean the simple giving of a smile or extending ourselves to listen to a friend. Use every second in the next twenty-four hours to give. Do not expect anything in return.
The Buddha stressed that a gift's spiritual efficacy depends not on the amount given but rather on the attitude with which it is given.
Buddhist teachings emphasize that the manner we give is as important as what we give-we should give with respect, happiness, and joy. When we practice generosity, and it does not bring happiness and joy, we should pay close attention to our motivations for giving, and perhaps even re-evaluate whether to give at all.
Generosity in Buddhism is deeply rooted in the practice of letting go. By giving people, we are becoming less attached to our belongings and feelings. We put the interest of other people before our own.