Tag Archives: generosity

Refining The Practice Of Generosity

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.

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The Social-Self: Ethics Without A Creed

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

When we speak about the Buddhist principle of non-self (anatman) we attempt to envision the notion of a self as expressing Universal realities without making the distinction that we are independent of all other Universal expressions.  Never an easy exercise.  One example of this would be that our human expression is only different from other animals simply by the complexity of our behavior — not just behavior, but our ability to reason.  Our ability to learn, gain knowledge that promotes wisdom, and thus act with reasoned intent, is what advanced human specie development.   In general, most individuals work to understand knowing something by penetrating what lies behind the appearance of things.  This approach is good enough most of the time perhaps, but considering how our mutual causal Universe expresses itself, we need to work hard to find the change that is presented in each moment’s situation in order to awaken to truthful-realities that consistently challenge the view we have of the world around us as having some kind of permanence.  Our quest for “truth” can never be fully realized when we ignore that change is always a factor in everything we encounter, so “truths” are only momentary, and a state of permanence is only an illusionary concept.

This brings to my mind several questions.  Is our knowledge of things sufficient to understand how they really are?  Is the language we use to describe how we are interconnected to things capable of fulfilling our needs as realistic as how they actually can?  Is our Buddhist practice, as manifest in our intentional actions, able to help us realize a better future for ourselves and others?   Is there such a thing as unconditional obligations in a Buddhist practice?   When considering ethics pragmatically, I have great doubt about the suggestion that anything is unconditional as the driving force of self-interest is a natural aspect of the human condition.  When we introduce the element of social relationships weighted against the distinction between routine and non-routine civil behavior as judged by cultural norms, we encounter possible inhibitors when we act from a feeling of what is natural to “us”,  but interpreted as unrealistic to others, even when we are both using the same set of ethical expectations.  These inhibitors come into play when our personal needs begin to clash with those of others.

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