We live in troubled times, in an extremely chaotic world. Competition is fierce, survival is dependent upon material gain, and apathy has become a protective shield to many. Many of us have been taught that to be kind is to be weak; that gentleness brings one vulnerability. So how do we touch the hearts of others when we are all wearing body armor? And if such a heavily armored person comes to us and asks, "How I can fill my heart with compassion when I am too afraid to lower this wall that protects it?".
Fear of change and fear of the unknown plagues us. In Buddhism, we learn that ignorance is the root of fear. However, just knowing with the mind that it will not harm us to open our hearts is not enough. What the mind knows is mere words. But what the heart knows, is part of us. Experience is our best teacher and the best way to find understanding.
If you do not like to swim in cold, do you not dip your toes into the water to test it? Why not do the same with your heart? Generosity can be the first step toward cultivating a nurturing and compassionate heart. We can be generous in small ways, just to test the waters, just to see what it feels like. Through practicing generosity, we can open our hearts a little at a time, discover that we truly do not lose ourselves when we are kind, that we do not grow weak but find strength in it, and learn to overcome our fears of vulnerability. Practicing generosity is like exercising the heart- the more we give, the stronger the heart becomes.
The following is an excerpt from a Theravadan discourse. May it help you find faith in your heart, the confidence to let your heart grow wings.
Excerpt from the Advice to Layman Tundila
Householder, extremely great alms have been given by you today. Truly generosity has been an ancient custom of the wise. Householder, even I, when I was a being destined for enlightenment, with knowledge still not matured and living for the sake of striving for enlightenment, gave great gifts. Now having become enlightened as the fruit of those gifts, I have received omniscient knowledge. Without generosity, it would not be possible to become an enlightened one, a solitary enlightened one, or a worthy saint. Therefore, it is said that there are great profits and benefits from generosity.
Generosity is a marvel of sovereignty,
it is near to wealth.
Generosity guards goods,
and it increases happiness.
To those who give a gift to the best
the best merit increases,
As well as the best life, complexion, fame,
glory, happiness and strength.
To those who give a gift to the best,
there is the attainment of highest truth.
Whether reborn as a divine being or a human,
he enjoys the best happiness.
Generosity done out of any desire
achieves what is desired.
Generosity is like a treasure pot;
it is like a wish-fulfilling tree.
Just as a town with a water supply
never suffers from drought,
The wealth of one who is generous
never dries up.
Kings, thieves, fire and water,
as well as anything that is not liked,
These five do not destroy his wealth.
Therefore alms should be given,
generosity is a support to the poor,
Generosity is a shelter for humans,
generosity frees from hell.
Generosity is a staircase to heaven,
and the best path to liberation.
Generosity is to be considered like the door
for entering perfect peace(nirvana).
Generosity is increased wealth,
it is running streams of wealth,
Generosity protects material goods,
and it protects life.
Whoever (gives) thinking, "whatever the life,
I will have great power."
He always receives
what he desires of riches and wealth.
Whether they are on top of a tree, or a mountain,
Or in between the sky and earth, or on the ocean,
Those who are generous have food, drink and material goods.
Alms given with faith, they, say, is what has great fruit.
Generosity preceded by faith makes whatever is done
Free from anxiety about its outcome.
Those who are at ease with their past, present and future
Receive threefold happiness.
It gives happiness among humans and in heavens,
As well as the highest happiness.
Thus it gives the happiness of perfect peace.
Everything is received by generosity,
From local sovereignty to the splendor or a universal monarch,
Even divine kingship in heavens, all of it comes from generosity.
Whatever success there is among humans,
whatever pleasure in divine worlds,
And the happiness of perfect peace,
and the enlightenment of a solitary sage,
And the enlightenment of a thus come one (Tathagata),
All are received from generosity.