The Fundamental Virtue

By Matthew Lyon

In Buddhist wisdom, generosity is regarded as the ground, the basis, of all other virtues. Why is this so?

We can understand this by exploring the state of mind which allows beneficial actions to arise and flourish. In other words, generosity is defined by an approach to life, a way of being, and not just by altruistic acts.

A generous vision sees beyond the fearful mind which can dominate our thinking at times, especially in the midst of difficulties or limiting circumstances. It can cause us to contract our energy and to invoke a constant vigilance toward protecting ourselves.

For example, if we have a small income we can become obsessive about our limited possibilities. We may begin to look at all of our life decisions and activities in the light of how much they will cost. We may not notice that this approach leads to a generally fearful mind which looks at life from the point of view of restriction, instead of envisioning possibility and opportunity.

My wife describes a time when she was earning very little by teaching music. She learned to see the situation as an opportunity to meet the challenge with creativity – for example, finding ways to cook delicious meals without spending much, or to find enjoyable activities that were free of charge. She could feel rich and abundant by walking through a lush forest or by listening to a great piece of music. She would even make a practice of giving small amount of money away, just to invoke confidence and optimism.

She was manifesting a generous state of mind – a mind that sees beyond limitation and lack and opens to the basic abundance we can feel simply by being alive.

When we cultivate such a feeling, we tend to drop the constant attempt to protect ourselves. And from this ground, we can cultivate all of the virtues which bring benefit to others. The mind of generosity is like a sun which allows the flowers of compassionate activity to grow.

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