Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Why Dharma Practice Begins With Generosity
The Buddha taught the Dharma in many ways and styles. He would tailor his teachings to the place and to the people he was speaking to. So the flavor of his teachings (not the message) could vary greatly. What never changed though were his teachings on the importance of Generosity, which he would put at the very beginning of the path. There are a few important reasons why this is so.
One of the most transformational insights on the Buddhist path to awakening is the insight into the lack of a separate self: the fact that we are not separate from all that is and do not exist as an independent self the way we think we do. This is a very liberating insight, as all the suffering that human beings experience is tied up with the mistaken notion of the sense of a separate self. No self, no problem. When there is generosity in the heart and mind, the attention is not on one’s self and one’s desires or wants, but on those of another person or people. While this isn’t the same as insight into not self, it does begin to loosen the tight grip that the sense of a solid separate self has on the heart and mind. So, when we are practicing with generosity, we are making inroads on the main source of our suffering.
When there is generosity in the heart and mind it feels good. Feeling generous is a very distinct and wonderful state of being. The whole impetus of the Buddhist path is to be happy--not the happiness that comes with getting things and having things the way we want them, but the happiness that is independent of such things. When we are feeling generous, we are experiencing such happiness. This gives our heart and mind the confidence to let go of trying to find happiness in things, as it now knows there is another way to be happy.
The good feeling of generosity in the heart and mind creates fertile soil in which the seeds of the formal meditation practice can take root. The mind that is happy is bright and undisturbed. If one sits down to meditate with such a mind, it will be much more likely to begin to settle than if it were filled with agitating mind states, such as anger, worry or fear.
There are three foundational aspects to the Buddhist path to awakening: the Buddha, his teachings, and the community that practices together and supports one another. Without any one of these three, it is not possible to walk this path. When we practice generosity, we are nurturing and supporting not only the goodness in ourselves, but also the well-being of the community. Generosity of time, energy and resources plays an important role in knitting together a healthy and supportive community of practitioners. Open Door is considered a community of practice, and we can support each other and our community through any and all acts of generosity, no matter how small.