An Important Buddhist Practice of Generosity 

-Trung Thanh Nguyen From Vietnam

In Buddhism, generosity is the ground of compassion and an important practice on the path of the merit and wisdom cultivation for the ultimate enlightenment. It offers a possibility to purify and transform the mind of greed, clinging and self-centeredness. By this, the basic prerequisites of the wisdom are also possibly developed, especially for the practice of generosity in the sense of selflessness. Therefore, in this article I will maintain a thesis that generosity is one of the most important Buddhist practices because it plays an essential role on the path of cultivating merit and wisdom for the ultimate enlightenment, especially for the engaging path following the Bodhisattva way of life. To demonstrate this, I will mainly focus on the reading response to the commentary of Mipham Rinpoche on the Mahdyamakāvatāra of Chandrakirti. Specifically, I will work on the first ground1 of the ten Bodhisattva grounds in which the practice of generosity is preeminent. In detail of my demonstrations, firstly I will offer a general view of how the generosity is understood in Buddhism; secondly, I will give an explanation of how generosity plays an essential role as a preeminent paramita on the first bhūmi, and additionally a basic Buddhist practice for the ordinary beings; and thirdly, how the practice of generosity in its highest form of the perfection of the threefold purify could lead to the wisdom of emptiness.  

Firstly, how is generosity generally understood in Buddhism? Generosity is one of the engaging practices of compassion. It is basically understood as the practice of giving. Like many other Buddhist practices, generosity is largely related with the mind. For this, the core value of generosity is not based on the value of the gifts, but the mental attitude toward the act of giving. For instance, the act of giving with the unwholesome intention of building up a certain fame would be certainly found as the unvalued and unconducive practice for the spiritual growth in Buddhism, even it has no reason for a slight sign of merit. However, when we throw away some leftovers with the benevolent intention of feeding the ants or other small insects, this act of giving is still very beneficial and even plays an important support to the progress of the higher generous practices. According to the given things, the practice of generosity is generally classified into three main kinds: the giving of material aids, the giving of protection from fear, and the giving of Dharmas. Each of these three kinds of generosity plays their particular role in the essence of generosity that mainly bases on the essential needs of the receivers in different circumstances. However, the giving of Dharma is commonly found as the most important practice of generosity because the Dharma guidance could bring people a better way of life with truly living, less suffering and more joy. Additionally, under the Dharma guidance, there would be no much worries about material aids, or even any fear of the truths of all phenomena such as death or impermanence.  

Secondly, generosity plays an essential role as a preeminent paramita on the first ground of the ten Bodhisattva grounds. According to Chandrakirti, in the first ground of Perfect Joy, “The initial cause of perfect Buddhahood is generosity, which here is now preeminent.”2 On this first ground, thanks to the practice of generosity, the Bodhisattvas can be quick to obtain perfect happiness and supreme joy, the resultant effect of giving. Therefore, they constantly and perfectly delight in this preeminent paramita. With the perfect joy, the Bodhisattvas can donate their own body while still “free from even the most subtle attachment and clinging to its existence.”3 Moreover, with the bodhicitta, they can joyfully dedicate all their merit and wisdom for the benefit of all sentient beings. 

Besides, in praise of the benefits of generosity for the ordinary beings, generosity plays an important role as a basic and ‘easy’ Buddhist practice which could bring happiness and joy in samsara and lead to the bliss of Nirvana. For instance, with the giving of materials the practice of generosity could bring the ordinary beings the happiness of material satisfaction. Or with the Dharma giving, generosity could lead the ordinary beings to a better life with more virtuous actions. By this, it offers the ordinary beings the possibility to purify their habitual mind of clinging and attachment, swiftly find themselves in the presence of superior beings and progress toward the bliss of Nirvana. Additionally, generosity brings the ordinary beings the possibility of rebirth in higher realms according to their accumulation of generous merits. For those reasons, generosity plays an important role in Buddhist practices, not only for the Bodhisattvas—the holy beings on their bhūmi progress, but also the ordinary beings on the need of happiness satisfaction or a higher rebirth within samsara.  

Thirdly, generosity in its highest form of the perfection of the threefold purity could lead to the wisdom of emptiness. According to Chandrakirti, “Giving, void of giver, gift, receiver, is called a paramita that transcends the world.”4 It means that with the transmundane perfection of generosity, the three factors of giving—giver, gift, and receiver—are totally purified and ‘empty’ in the sense of selflessness. In this case, generosity is combined with the wisdom of emptiness and beyond the three spheres. There is no any clinging or attachment to the three factors of giving. This also brings the practitioners the highest form of merit which is supremely supportive to their ultimate enlightenment. Therefore, all Buddhist practitioners, especially for those who are following the Boddhisattva way of life, need to make a start on “the training of the mind in the notion of selflessness”5 to progress their practice of generosity to the final approach of the perfection of the threefold purity. By doing this, the wisdom of emptiness is gradually developed. 

In conclusion, even though generosity is commonly found as an easy and basic Buddhist practice, it plays an important role on the path of cultivating merit and wisdom for the ultimate enlightenment or at least for the sake of all sentient beings in samsara. Specially, it is the preeminent paramita on the first Bodhisattva bhūmi and the ground of the compassion which is the main ideal of the Boddhisattva way of life. In its highest form or not, generosity certainly brings the practitioners to ‘the far shore’ on their spiritual journey. 

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