Generosity practice is the first of the six transcendental perfections, or pāramitās. In this short teaching, Tulku Migmar Tsering first gives a clear definition of generosity in the Buddhist context. We practice generosity when we have the intention, and then the confidence to follow through, to give people what they need. Generosity may involve material support, such as giving shoes to someone who is barefoot and cold.
But generosity does not have to involve physical objects. We practice generosity by giving our time, our love, our attention, and most importantly, by giving the gift of Dharma.
How to Practice Generosity
First, Tulku-la explains, we form the intention to give to others. But crucially, we also must develop the confident attitude that we can really bring benefit. As we give, we make the decision to reduce another’s suffering and/or to take away some trouble they are experiencing.
Generosity and Confidence
Often, Tulku-la observes, people may lack the confidence that allows them to give generously. This form of low self-esteem damages us, and it does not bring benefit to others. But we can overcome this lack of confidence by starting small–we train slowly and steadily in giving. As we do so we can then recall our own success in small acts of giving and rejoice in those actions. We are then building a new habit which helps us to overcome any feelings of inadequacy or inability to give.
Generosity and Self-Benefit
The practice also benefits us individually by reducing our attachment, clinging and stinginess. We may all know people (or we may be people) who have plenty of money, enjoyments, or wisdom, but who seem unable to give to those in need. As we slowly perform small acts of generosity, we can overcome these powerful habits. By starting with small actions, we retrain our minds and hearts until it is no longer painful or uncomfortable to give others what they need.
Look around you today and observe times when you might have a chance to be generous. Before you act, take a moment to set your intention. Repeat to yourself, “benefit others”. Did you feel confident that you could give something that someone else needed? How about a smile? Or could you allow someone to move into line ahead of you, either in traffic or on foot? Perhaps you encountered a beggar or a homeless person. Were you able to give them some assistance and feel confident about that act? If not, what stopped you? How might you react differently after reflection?