On the Magic of Being Generous
I was told this story long ago.
A local thief used to regularly steal from Swami Shivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh, India.
During the ashram’s annual festival, hundreds of poor people lined up to receive prasad, (consecrated gifts) in the form of blankets, foodstuffs, and other necessities. The thief also came to receive prasad.
Some residents of the ashram went to Swami Shivananda and advised him not to give prasad to the thief. They felt that the thief had already taken many things. Why should Swami Shivananda give him more?
Swamiji answered simply: Thieving is what he does. Giving is what I do.
Much of my life, I felt angry at other people’s lack of kindness and generosity.
I nursed a mixture of mourning and outrage because of what I perceived to be the poverty of human relations.
One day, when I was already in my early 40s, I was doing my daily meditation practice under a tree in the hills above Oakland, California.
I realized that if I felt so keenly sensitive to other people’s lack of kindness and generosity, I must have knowledge of kindness and generosity.
We can only deeply mourn for that with which we are deeply familiar.
I realized that complaining about others while holding back what I obviously had to give was supremely stupid.
I decided to stop complaining and to just give without restraint.
From that day onward, I experienced the deep nourishment and contentment that arises only when we are giving our all.
Preach from your housetops that which you will hear in your ear. For no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place, but rather he sets it on a lamp stand so that everyone who enters and leaves will see its light. — Gospel of St. Thomas, Nag Hammadi Scrolls
Most of us hide the lamps of our kindness and generosity. We light them only for special people: those we deem worthy.
Or we trim low the light of our kindness and generosity for fear of running out of oil.
Or we focus on how other people are falling short rather than on how we can shine for others.
We also deploy our kindness and generosity like currency.
We don’t want to be generous, or loving unless the recipient of our “gift” is generous and loving back to us.
We don’t want to work hard and do a good job unless we will be recognized and praised.
Our fundamental relationship to giving is manipulative. We are always bargaining and cutting deals
This attitude creates a lot of suffering for us.
When we are being recognized and praised, we feel cheerful. But if it happens that our good work goes unapplauded or our kindness unappreciated, we become resentful.
We have strong ideas of what we should get as a return on our love, and we expect other people to enact the drama of exchange exactly as we imagine it should be.
When other people don’t play their parts as we dictate, we ask: What’s wrong with that person? Or worse, we feel unwanted and impoverished.
The fundamental truth of our existence is that fulfillment comes from giving, not from getting.
When we define happiness as getting what we want, then we are defining our base state as one of lack.
If we happen to get what we want, we fear losing it and returning to lack.
When we give without any reason other than the pleasure of giving, we discover the inexhaustible source.
Giving for a return is exhausting. Giving for its own sake is vitally nourishing.
Swami Shivananda gave because he could and because he enjoyed giving. Nothing more, nothing less.
Kindness and generosity are great refuges. No matter how much we feel we’ve messed up or missed out, we can always offer a kind word, a kind gesture, or a generous thought or deed.
Giving kindness and being generous instantly put us directly in touch with our essential goodness, that which is never mistaken or wrong or bad.
The simplicity and accessibility of this medicine, this balm, is a profound mercy.
God is great.