What isn't given is lost
So when the world is on fire
with aging and death,
one should salvage [one's wealth] by giving:
what's given is well salvaged.
What's given bears fruit as pleasure.
What isn't given does not:
thieves take it away, or kings;
it gets burnt by fire or lost.
— SN 1.41 (Samyutta Nikaya)
The beginning of this quote talks about the world being on fire with aging and death. This refers to the truth of change being the dominant factor in this world. Because of change, the body ages and eventually dies. There is no escape from this, it is just what is so. Just like fire consumes and burns down all things, change consumes all conditioned things, causing them to break down and cease to be.
Because of this truth, knowing that we will pass away and have everything taken from us, we are encouraged to salvage what we have now. Salvage doesn’t mean to hold on to it, or use it up before we lose it. As the writing points out, salvaging what we have means being generous with it and offering it to others. It doesn’t say how much we should give or that we should give everything. That is left to us to decide.
As we pay attention to how we feel when we give and when we are fearful and stingy, we see that giving feels good, and being governed by fear and stinginess doesn’t feel good. With giving, the heart and mind feel bright, open, and we feel connected to others. With stinginess, the heart and mind feel closed and tight, and we feel cut off from others and the rest of the world.
It’s so important to be mindful of how we feel when we give and when we don’t, because this is what will support us to be generous. The idea isn’t to be generous because we think we should, or because we want to be a good Buddhist. We are generous because we know, from our own experience, that it is a good thing for us to do. This type of knowing is how all transformation happens in this practice.