Making a Leap

by  Shastri Matthew Lyon

The practice of generosity can be paradoxical.

In Buddhist wisdom, the highest form of this virtue is said to be free of self-interest. When we give freely without expecting anything in return we are manifesting beautiful kindness. Yet the teachings also tell us that when we are generous in this way, we are magnetizing great merit and good karma to our lives. In other words, we are also doing something very valuable for ourselves. So in practice we are dancing with two different aspects of the same virtue.

How do we sort this out in our daily lives? We often face decisions that call upon our potential to be generous in some way. When are activating this quality in a pure form?

In my experience, there is usually a leap involved in a powerfully generous act. When it is easy or convenient to give, it doesn’t require much inner strength or courage. When we are stretched beyond comfortable limits, when we find it challenging to move forward with charity, we are leaping into the realm of a selfless act.

If we lead a busy life, offering community service at the end of a tiring work day is a test of our potential magnanimity. If our finances are tight, it may feel brave to give even a small amount to a worthy cause. If we let go of a relaxing afternoon to help a friend move furniture, we are exercising potent generosity which has the flavor of the selfless virtue that the teachings describe.

We always need to apply wisdom in practicing generosity, so that we don’t harm ourselves. Yet we can also understand that a leap beyond the self imposed limits of our convenience can bring great joy.

Just as we strengthen our muscles through challenging exercise, when we make a generous leap we are empowering our heart.

In this paradoxical way, by stepping beyond the threshold of self interest, we are enriching ourselves profoundly.

2 thoughts on “Making a Leap

  1. Hello Matthew,
    In my experience confusion sometimes arises around the activity of extending ourselves appropriately.
    Just as a person can injure their body by over-stretching muscles, tendons, and ligaments they can over-extending themselves financially or energetically. This can result in burnout or other difficulties. I think that the potential for over-doing is sometimes ignored in our community often resulting in poor self-care and irritability. I have heard this referred to tangentially by Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams and I suggest that our community would benefit by approaching the topic of generosity in a balanced way. Maybe Eva Wong could be a useful resource in exploring this topic.
    Respectfully, Kristi Anderson

  2. Hi Kristi,
    I appreciate your comments. Overextending ourselves can be one of the problems that can develop as we express generosity. It is an important theme to discuss.
    In other columns I have written about the principle of generosity to oneself as a basic foundation for this practice. Finding the right balance is the ongoing challenge.

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