• Suzanne Matthiessen

The Aspirational Virtue of Generosity

Although I'm not a Buddhist, I have extreme reverence for many Buddhist teachings – just as I do for all philosophies and belief systems that simply express mind-full and heart-full wisdom that serve to lead us to expanded states of inclusive, conscious awareness. One of the Buddhist teachings I return to frequently to deepen my own understanding and practice of engaged mindfulness is what are called The Six Paramitas: Generosity, Ethics/Integrity, Patience, Perseverance, Concentration/Attentiveness, and Wisdom.

"Paramita" is a Sanskrit word that translates into "perfection"; however, chasing the toxic and impossible to attain goal of perfectionism quickly results in highly neurotic behaviors and beating ourselves up on a regular basis – so “virtue” is perhaps a more healthy way to approach these teachings. As I discuss often, choosing to be impeccable instead of trying to be perfect is a much more honorable – and do-able - aspiration. Impeccability frames the life of anyone who chooses to live and lead with intentionally conscious awareness, wherever they find themselves.

Several years ago I taught a class on The Six Paramitas, and after going through my course notes the other day I decided to offer the core elements from each class in this blog.


Aspirational Virtue: The Paramita of Generosity

From all that I've read about The Six Paramitas, when the Buddha offered these teachings, he always began with Generosity. He felt the path of awakening begins there because of the joy that arises from a purely generous heart.

As well as material things, we can give our time and energy; we can give our attention; we can give gratitude; give credit where it's due, give honest, valuable and constructive input, give someone space when they need it, give love and tenderness to someone in pain, and give respect, inspiration and motivation.

We can also give away the things that impede pure generosity of spirit - including letting go of greed, pettiness, self-involvement, superiority, envy, hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, dishonesty, and all the destructive habits and patterns that adversely impact others as well as ourselves - that block the fullest expression of our light.

This also includes giving away extending violence toward ourselves in the form of mentally beating ourselves up over our human imperfections that I mentioned above.

Generosity is a choice we make. When chosen with impeccability it is not obscured by the clouds of the ego, which has the tendency to give in order to get, to give with an agenda or expectation of a particular return, to control others, to instill guilt, to gain approval or love, to use as a weapon in the future, or as some other form of insidious manipulation that is simply not Ethically Intelligent. When we choose to give, checking to honestly see that our intentions are clean is what strengthens our impeccability, directs our attention to act with transparency, and helps to move the dark clouds and shadows away.

Therefore, this paramita/virtue is the evolved quality of selfless generosity, charity, giving, and offering, completely free from attachment to outcomes. Selfless generosity is not conveyed merely by the action of giving, nor by the form of the gift itself – whether it is giving our money, time, food, a listening ear, a ride to the airport, providing shelter, etc.

Rather, the genuine embodiment of this paramita/virtue is our unsullied expression and reflection of concern and care for others, selflessly and with kindness and compassion, without counting the costs to ourselves, keeping score, or making sure the receiver knows their value (tangible or intangible). If clean energy accompanying our giving is not present it is better that we do not give at all. Mindful generosity does not mean allowing ourselves to be taken for granted or advantage of, nor does imply we should never say "no" - and it also calls upon us to be honest about what we can truly afford to give, in any form – whether its our time, money, energy – and not become depleted or resentful in the process.

And as I've said for years, one of the kindest, most compassionate gifts we can give to a fellow human being is to not enable his/her darkness in any form it takes. Their ego may react defensively, but deep down inside, if you are simply bringing to light uncomfortable truths without malice or attack, your only intention is that one day their highest self will see this is so.


Self-Reflection Exercise

Sitting up straight, bring your breathing into a calm and easy rhythm.

Gently bring your attention upon the energy of generosity, and the ways it is expressed by you. Notice whatever may arise, in mind, body and heart, and breathe with what comes up.

For recollections of when you gave to others that was surrounded by clean energy, allow yourself to take in that goodness with humility.

And for those times that were the opposite, allow yourself to release and forgive yourself for the times when you thought, chose, acted and behaved in the past regarding giving that contained attachments, agendas and any sort of manipulation.

Know that in any moment, we can choose to begin again by generously letting go of our old ingrained biases, dark shadows and black clouds. We can choose to be impeccable with our generosity, which includes the bright empowerment we receive when we consciously choose to own our choices, and to also stand up when we stumble over our own ego as we work on our inner refinement of generosity with nobility, honor and integrity. Choosing self-ownership and accountability means leading by honest, humble and impeccable example, while choosing denial is leading by dishonest, self-serving and cowardly example.

Whenever we are in a situation where our generosity is being called upon, we can pause, breathe, check our intentions, and respond in a way that doesn't have attachments, expectations, agendas and conditions added to our giving - subtle or direct.

In other words, no quid pro quo that demolishes living by Ethically Intelligent example.


Process Journaling™ Exercise

Take a few moments to reflect upon situations and interactions when your generosity may wander into a more self-serving mode. Jot down any thoughts that arise so that you can process them without reactive self-judgment, and instead approach this exercise as an opportunity to increase conscious awareness. You can't change what you don't acknowledge, and bringing in an open mind and heart will allow you to frame this process as an adventure in self-discovery, and empower you to give away the things that impede pure generosity of spirit without the toxic emotions of guilt or shame.

≈ Do you give in order to get, give with an agenda or expectation, to control others, to instill guilt, to gain approval or love, to use as a weapon in the future, and/or as some other form of manipulation? Many people have a bit of work to so in this area, so just own, accept, forgive yourself, and choose to make conscious, eye-wide-open changes.

≈ Look at the ways you give in material ways and determine if it is something you can truly afford – no matter what it is. If you can't, resentment will likely be a result.

≈ Do you use your generosity like a weapon at times? If you want something in return for what you are offering, be up front about it. Don't say "Oh I don't want anything" and then hold your generosity over that person later.

≈ Look inside with honesty, and notice what you want to give away in terms of old biases and dark shadows that block the full expression of your light.

≈ As you go about your daily life, choose to intentionally give what all human beings wish to receive from others: empathy, respect, forgiveness, patience, tenderness, honesty and compassion – even during the times we might need to give some tough love, doing so with a caring heart – giving all these things not to get them back, simply because it's the honorable and impeccable thing to do. This is how we lead by Ethically Intelligent example in the moment, in any given situation – and how that can selflessly nurture a joyfully generous heart.

You don't need to create an entire laundry list today – just notice what pops up as you create the space in your awareness. Giving away these shadows is letting them go so you can create more space for light, and dissolving attachment to whatever personal payoff you may have received from them. We all know the world can benefit from our increasing light, and when it is reflected with purity, the gains are received by everyone our life touches, and continues to ripple outwardly. This is leading by conscious example in its highest expression.

What is helpful for anyone who makes a deliberate choice to enthusiastically embrace mindfulness and becoming more consciously aware of how we show up in the world and the impact we have is knowing that all human beings struggle at times. Everyone also experiences times that we too can get stuck in our own internal maze of confusion, pain and stress that may cause us to act in ways that can cause others to experience the same.

This fact can give us a sense of compassion and empathy for not only everyone else, but for ourselves as well. Leading by Intentionally Conscious and Ethically Intelligent example can contagiously empower others to do the same, and is a service to our fellow imperfect human beings. This undoubtedly is what the Buddha had in mind when he spoke about the paramita/virtue of Generosity, and placed it first on his list of aspirations.

This post was adapted from Lesson One of Suzanne's "The Six Paramitas" training created in 2014.

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