Audio: The Generous Heart
To cultivate generosity directly is another fundamental part of living a spiritual life. Like meditation, generosity can actually be practiced. With practice, its spirit forms our actions, and our hearts will grow stronger and lighter. It can lead us to new levels of letting go and great happiness. The Buddha emphasized the importance of generosity when he said, ‘‘If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.’’
Traditionally there are described three kinds of giving, and we are encouraged to begin developing generosity at whatever level we find it arising in our heart. At first we find tentative giving. This is where we take an object and think, ‘‘Well, I’m probably not going to use this anyway. Maybe I should give it away. No, I should save it for next year. No, I’ll give it away.’’ Even this level is positive. It creates some joy for us and it helps someone else. It’s a sharing and a connecting.
The next level of generosity to discover is friendly giving. It’s like relating to a brother or sister. ‘‘Please share what I have; enjoy this as I do.’’ Sharing openly of our time, our energy, the things we have, feels even better. It’s lovely to do. The fact is that we do not need a lot of possessions to be happy. It is our relationship to this changing life that determines our happiness or sorrow. Happiness comes from the heart.
The third level of giving is kingly or queenly giving. It’s where we take something—our time or our energy or an object that is the best we have—and give it to someone happily and say, ‘‘Please, would you enjoy this too.’’ We give to the other person and take our joy in that sharing. This level of giving is a beautiful thing to learn.
As we start to learn to be more generous, to give more of our time, our energy, our goods, our money, we can find a way to do it not just to fit a self-image or please an external authority, but because it is a source of genuine happiness in our lives. Of course this doesn’t mean giving everything away. That would be excessive, because we have to be compassionate and care for ourselves as well. Yet to understand the power of practicing this kind of openness is very special. It is a privilege to be able to bring this generosity into our lives.