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The Perfection of Generosity


Courageous Compassion
Vol. 6 of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ven. Thubten Chodron

Each situation in which we are asked for help needs to be examined individually, in light of our motivation, capability, and the repercussions of our action. Not giving out of miserliness is self-centered, but if we have the wish to give but are unable to, there is no fault.

Being generous does not mean that we have to cure all the poverty and need in the world. While sentient beings are still in cyclic existence, a perfect world is impossible. Nevertheless, do what you can with a caring attitude.

People often want to be generous but are confused when they receive requests for donations from a myriad of charities. Is not giving something to each a transgression of the bodhisattva precept to give whenever asked? No, it isn’t.

The bodhisattva precept refers to giving in situations where the person is in desperate need, directly asks us for help, and has no one else to turn to. If you receive requests for help from too many charities, pick those whose causes touch you the most and contribute to them. In your mind, have a supportive and compassionate attitude and make prayers for the welfare of others.

Learning to be a kind recipient is also practicing generosity and ethical conduct, for we’re giving someone the opportunity to take delight in giving. Sometimes we are too proud, afraid of feeling obliged, or immersed in feeling unworthy to accept others’ generosity. Rebuffing their gifts—be they material possessions, loving support, or the offer of help—is stinginess on our part. As a result, the giver may feel hurt, rejected, or demoralized.

Recalling that our aim is to benefit sentient beings, let’s open our hearts and accept their kindness and generosity, neither exploiting it nor rejecting it. Admiring their kind actions and rejoicing in their merit can invigorate us to “pay it forward.”