By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
Compassion and generosity are two of the primary practice refinements in Mahayana Buddhist thought. It might be easy to see them as interchangeable when connecting with others. While there is a relationship between them, it is also helpful to examine them in the context of how each is approached when cultivating an aware practice. They are each a characteristic of our behavior when we begin to awaken from a self-centered world to one interconnected in a net of dependent relationships with all living things. While generosity is an element of the Six Perfections, compassion is not, and stands at the threshold of an awakened bodymind. In the Ch’an tradition, in all Mahayana Buddhist traditions in fact, an enlightened path is one that acknowledges that wisdom and compassion is essential if we are to experience full awakening to what Buddha nature is. Generosity is a necessary intentional action that is preparatory for wisdom and compassion to emerge into the light of our awakened bodymind.
We must come to understand that when acts of generosity are fully present in our everyday interactions with others, it is only then that the compassionate human emotion arises making further concerns for displaying generosity unnecessary. Our efforts of generosity are necessary only when we lack compassion for others that is the foundation of the ethical and moral precepts of the bodhisattva’s path. While genuine compassion might seem a natural element of a Buddhist practice, or what it means to be human really, it only emerges with great sincerity when we walk the cultivated path of awareness. Until that is achieved, the teachings and practices of generosity are available to help inaugurate a practice of wisdom and readiness. So the role of generosity is the first important element of refining a practice that moves us toward compassion that plants the seed capable of stripping away the filters that sees the self as separate and independent of all other universal expression. Generous and compassionate treatment of others may be the only path toward an awakened bodymind, and is why the dedicated practice of the Three Pure Precepts is the golden thread the must run thought every action we take in a world full of possible awakened moments when we are ready.