The Six Perfections: Generosity
In Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament, the discussion of each of the perfections is divided into six topics. The first topic is the reflection on the faults of not practicing and virtues of practicing generosity. Those who do not practice generosity will be reborn in poverty, or as a hungry ghost. So we need to practice generosity to purify miserliness. It doesn’t matter how much you give, but your motivation in giving should be pure. What is important is to purify our mental afflictions and develop the Buddha qualities. Don’t take the teaching personally. Sometimes people say, I don’t like this. Instead we need to open our heart and see the truth of these teachings. Sometimes even though our closet is full of clothes, we can think, I don’t have enough clothes. Bodhicitta is the way to purify all these obscurations.
A disciple of the Buddha saw the hungry ghost realm. He asked for water and they replied, “We haven’t heard of water for twelve years.” Then they said, “By the power of stinginess we did not practice generosity, so we are in the realm of hungry ghosts.” We should consider how fortunate we are to have food and clothes. Because of generosity, we have this beautiful place where people can come and practice.
Without the practice of generosity we cannot benefit others and achieve Buddhahood. In bodhicitta practice there is no negotiation. We have to put our energy into the practice, step by step. Without the practice of generosity we cannot gain wealth, and thus will not be able to gather other practitioners. Running this place is expensive, right? Without money we cannot benefit others, let alone gain enlightenment. So this is a brief explanation of the faults of lack generosity.
One who practices generosity will have wealth through all their lifetimes. The Condensed Prajnaparamita says the generosity of the bodhisattva cuts off the hungry ghost realm and also cuts off all the afflictions. One may be reborn as a king or president and in that position be able to benefit others, like King Ashoka did. We should aspire that our body, speech, and mind benefit all beings. If we don’t purify our mind while attempting to benefit sentient beings, then we will suffer a lower rebirth. Generosity is said to be the best family and relative. But we should do good deeds without any expectation of gain.
Chandrakirti’s Entry to the Middle Way is a very good book to study. It says in the first chapter all beings desire happiness. Those without wealth cannot be happy. Knowing that wealth comes from generosity we should practice it. Buddha spoke of this practice in order that all sentient beings could help themselves. If you want to invest your wealth securely, this is the way to do that. If you practice generosity, you can gain trainees and establish them all in the precious dharma. But we all are trainees, because we need to be trained.
By generosity we can mature sentient beings. Milarepa had nothing, but when Gampopa offered him gold, he said Gampopa should use it for his own provisions. When Milarepa refused Gampopa’s gold, his devotion to Milarepa became even greater than before.
One who practices generosity will find it easier to attain enlightenment. We are trapped in a cocoon of our own afflictions. When we discard this cocoon, things will be so spacious. All sentient beings will be a part of you and you will be so happy to do things to help them. It says in Chandrakirti that a bodhisattva feels great joy from hearing of the opportunity to help others. It says for one who has generosity, enlightenment is not distant.
Bodhisattvas are willing even to give their bodies and their eyes to others. But even giving a smile to others is generosity. It costs nothing, but it is a great practice. But if you show your frowny face, people will be afraid. There are different kinds of smiles: a genuine smile, a politician’s smile, a sarcastic smile. So when you smile, make it a genuine smile.
A householder at the time of Buddha requested a teaching. Buddha explained the virtue of generosity and the fault of not giving. He said wealth left in the house is not yours. A robber can come and steal it. The essence of wealth is generosity. What you give away you keep, but what you keep, you will lose. You enjoy what you have given to others. Things given need not be protected. You won’t need to buy a house alarm. That which is given is free from fear, but what is kept engenders fear. Things given bring you closer to enlightenment, but things kept bring you closer to the Maras. Things given lead to inexhaustible wealth. You will get whatever you need. Things kept in the house are exhaustible. So you should investigate this to see if it is true.
Even if you give a cup of water without attachment, it is generosity. A group of monks at he time of Buddha went on their begging round. One very poor woman felt very sad because she had nothing to offer. Mahakasyapa saw her suffering and asked her to give. She said I have nothing. So he said, fill my bowl with water, and she did. He said you should rejoice in this action and I will say the dedication. After she died, she was reborn in the god realm.
The definition of generosity is giving fully without attachment or expectation. Generosity is defined as a mind co-emergent with non-attachment and with the motivation of giving. We should give with a mind of dedicating the benefit to all sentient beings.
Generosity is of three kinds: wealth, fearlessness, and dharma. Giving wealth stabilizes another’s body from suffering. Giving dharma stabilizes another’s mind. Dharma teaching gives us all these alternatives for helping others. We have to study and practice dharma for a long time, because it take a long time to understand it. It is a lifetime’s dedication. When we have enough wealth and security we can experience the happiness of this life. And dharma establishes the happiness of future lives.
The are two ways of giving wealth, impure giving and pure giving. The impure ways of giving are classified as impure motivation, impure material, impure recipient and impure method. Impure motivation is giving in order to harm others, or giving for the sake of fame, or giving in competition to others. Our motivation for giving should be to attain Buddhahood. We plant a fruit seed, not for the leaves and flowers, but for the fruit. You will become famous anyway if you give. So bodhisattvas should avoid these three impure motivations. They are afflicted practices. As long as we practice in this way we will have no peace and happiness. There is also inferior generosity, which is motivated by fear poverty or from the desire to gain wealth in the next life or be reborn as a god. Bodhisattvas should not give out of these inferior motives. If you get them anyway, that’s good. Indra is not just one being, but a line of beings, like the presidents.
The third type of impure giving is giving impure material substances. These are poisons or illicit drugs or weapons, or anything that harms others. Nagarjuna says if that which helps others is poison, then even poison should be given. So in this case poison can be given. But even if a delicacy cannot help others, it should not be given. So we need wisdom along with our compassion. Wisdom knows what helps or harms. When one is bitten by a snake cutting the wound can be beneficial. Buddha said even if it makes others uncomfortable, helpful things should be done. You should not give traps for animals. Briefly, anything which can harm or cause suffering for others should not be given. You should not give away your parents. Children and wives should not be given without their consent.
Bodhisattvas will do this, as in the case of Prince Vessantra. He had taken a vow to give anything if asked for it. His kingdom had a wish fulfilling gem and another king asked for it The Prince said, “I do not have the permission of my father, the king, to give it.” The king said, “Then your oath to give everything is worthless.” So the prince gave the gem secretly. When the ministers and people found out, they decided to get rid of him by sending him on a retreat in a dangerous area with wild animals. His wife and children wouldn’t let him go alone. He said, “You can come only if you consent to be given away if I am asked.” While travelling to his retreat, people asked for his children and wife as servants. He gave them away. Then Prince Vessantra was asked for his eyes and he also gave them away. When people heard this, people were so ashamed, they brought everything back and apologized. Through the power of truth, his eyesight came back. All the neighboring kingdoms assented to his becoming king and he became a universal monarch.
You should not give a small quantity if you have a lot. You should not save things up to give them later. Instead give them now.
The third category of impure giving is impure recipient. You should not give your body to beings influenced by the Maras, because they only ask in order to harm others. And you should not give to those who are insane or have an impure mind. They will only create negative karma by asking. A bodhisattva should not give food or drink to gluttons.
The fourth category of impure giving is impure method. You should not give with anger or unhappiness or any sort of disturbed mind. You should not give with disrespect for the recipient. You should not give meat or alcohol to others.
There are three topics discussed under purity. The first is pure material. This includes inner materials, or our body, and outer materials, or our goods. It is said you should give your body to those who desire it. But only high bodhisattvas who have realized emptiness should do this. They see no difference between their body and a vegetable. Those bodhisattvas who have not actualized equality of self and others should only give their whole body. You should dedicate your body instead to the great purpose of enlightenment. Then you will see that everything is emptiness and there is no separation between appearance and emptiness, like the heat and light of a candle.
Outside pure materials are food, drink, clothes, horses, and elephants. These should be given with a motivation to attain Buddhahood. Householder bodhisattvas can give all outer and inner wealth. A monk or nun can give everything except their three dharma robes. If they gave those, what would people think? For monks and nuns their dharma robes are their wealth, to remind them of dharma practice and protect them from non-dharmic thoughts. Our minds are like a mountain stream or a rushing wind and easily disturbed. We should take at least the five precepts to protect our minds. Shantideva said if you give away the dharma robes, it may cause your benefit to others to decline.
There are four pure recipients with special qualities. These are our teachers and the triple gem. Then our parents, who have shown us great generosity and compassion. And individuals who suffer greatly, like the chronically ill, the aged, without protection. Finally, our enemies who wish to harm us, who we should benefit with a peaceful mind filled with compassion.
The pure method is to give with an excellent motivation, which means to attain enlightenment for all sentient beings. This is the supreme thought, since it is the source of all benefit and happiness. It includes all sentient beings, so it purifies our attachment and hatred. Give with excellent action, which means with devotion, which means to be happy before giving, have a clear mind when giving, and without regret afterwards. Instead, rejoice when giving. Give respectfully, whether it is a high spiritual master or a beggar in the street. Give with your own hand, rather than asking others. Give at the proper time, which is whenever you have an opportunity. Give without harming others. If others around you weep when you want to give something, go not give it. Do not give what has been stolen or cheated from others. The Collection of Abhidharma says give repeatedly. without bias, and to fulfill all desires. This completes the explanation of giving wealth.
Q: How does not giving yourself to demons relate to chod practice?
A: That is different. Those influenced by demons are not benefited by your gift. In one of Shariputra’s former lives, a demon asked Shariputra for his eye. He stepped on it and said I asked because I like hearing the sound it makes when it squishes. This caused Shariputra to abandon his bodhisattva motivation.
Q: When you make a gift to others, does it make a karmic connection?
A: Yes, but the best thing is to develop compassion for everyone, so we can make a connection to all sentient beings.
Q: You said we should give with proper motivation. If you can’t manage that, is it still ok to give?
A: Yes, because you have to start somewhere. There’s a story of a miserly man who the Buddha told to give an object from one hand to another.
Q: What about Milarepa, who only wore rags instead of dharma robes?
A: In the first place, he never had any robes. But he was the most profound monk, the ultimate monk.
When Gampopa was in his twenties, he met all the great Kadampa masters and studied their teachings. Then he journeyed for months to meet Milarepa. He studied in the daytime and practiced at night. What he studied were the mother tantras, the highest yoga tantra, and the Six Yogas of Naropa. Because of his exhaustion of karma, during his meditation he had visions of the thousand Buddhas of this kalpa and the yidam deities. Milarepa told him to practice in the mountains until you realize that I am actually Vajradhara and have uncontrived devotion. He combined excellence of scholarship and meditation. He gathered many disciples and his lineage spread over Tibet. We should acknowledge and make every effort to study his teachings, so we can experience their benefit and give them to others. I received the transmission of the Jewel Ornament from Kunnu Rinpoche, who said it is the essence of the sutra teachings. Gampopa wrote it from the enlightened point of view for our generation. The sutras have over one hundred volumes. Would you have time to read them? So with this understanding, it’s important to study the Jewel Ornament, because many trainees have gotten great benefit by studying it. We have a responsibility to the future generation.
The next topic is giving fearlessness. This means to give protection from wild animals, bandits, rivers, etc. By protecting people from them, we make them free from all their fears. Life is full of fear. We buy a good house and car as a protection from our fear. We live our life in between hope and fear. When we get sick, we immediately call a doctor. All the weapons we make are made from fear. The security we hire is hired from fear. To protect ourselves, we destroy others, like when ants come into the house. So we all have fear in samsara. Even those who are like monsters and destroy life have fear. So we need to have compassion. The ultimate protection is bodhicitta. We eat meat mostly for enjoyment. We enjoy the taste. So we take another’s life for our enjoyment. Animals run away when they see people out of fear. We should put ourselves in the other’s place.
There are four topics in giving dharma. The first is the proper recipient. Dharma should be given to those who ask for it, to those who have respect for it. That’s why we formally request dharma teachings. Buddha did not teach until requested by Brahma. After that he started to give teachings. Some risked their lives to give dharma teachings. Unless it is respected, then the teaching is useless. We need to have interest and feel there is no alternative to it. Then it is worthwhile to give the teaching. The qualities of a dharma teacher are described in the third chapter of Jewel Ornament. The teacher and student should purify evil thoughts and keep a gentle mind. Evil thoughts are to study for the sake of fame and wealth. Dharma teachings should be given without regard for wealth or any of the other eight worldly dharmas. It is very precious and rare to teach without consideration for fame and wealth. When you die, you will leave everything behind, no matter how famous you are. But activities for the dharma benefit beings life after life. Buddha renounced his kingdom without any consideration for his own benefit and taught for fifty years. And how long has the benefit of his teaching endured?
The Kashyapa sutra says the gift of dharma is highly praised by all the Buddhas. It is the greatest offering to all the Buddhas. Buddha’s intention is to free all beings from samsara and not to get offerings. If you practice wisdom and compassion then there is space to share with others. Just think how much benefit there is from studying the Jewel Ornament all over the world. We need to relax the mind and purify our negative thoughts. We need to practice for all beings throughout time and space, to stretch our mind in this way.
To teach requires wisdom and to do so purely requires compassion. Show the dharma purely and without perversion. This means what we say has to be based strictly on the Buddha’s teaching. We have infinite afflictive emotions. To remove them, the Buddha taught the dharma teachings. So we need skill. The meaning of the dharma should be shown without mistake and in a logical way. A disciple should practice perfectly the three trainings of ethics, meditation and wisdom.
All the 84,000 afflictive emotions are contained in the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. They support each other. Without attachment there is no need to have aversion. And without ignorance, I will not attach to things. Buddha saw this very precisely in detail. He saw how samsara is constituted and the sort of sufferings we go through. So he taught how to purify each and every suffering.
The next topic is the method of showing the teachings. You should not give the teachings immediately. This day it seems with advertising we do just the opposite: “I am so qualified and have studied all these years.” If you ask a great teacher, they will say, “Oh, I don’t know this.” Then when you insist, their teaching is amazing. When you see how the teachings fit together they are all seen as equally important. The Samadhiraja Sutra says, if someone requests the dharma, first say, “I have not studied this in detail.” So you should not give teaching immediately. First examine the person. If you know them well, then you can give teaching even if not requested. The teaching should be given in a clean and pleasant place. The teacher should be seated on a throne decorated with silks. The teacher should be well dressed, neat, and have gentle behavior. This is so the student can generate devotion. The teacher should recite a mantra to overcome the power of the Maras. Then none of the Maras will be able to crate obstacles. The dharma teachings should be related to the subject at hand, clear, moderate, and sensible. This completes the description of giving the dharma.
The fifth topic is how to increase the merit of generosity. Even though the gift may be small, there is a method to increase the merit of it. It can be increased by the power of primordial wisdom, expanded through discriminating wisdom, and made infinite through dedication. Primordial wisdom is sometimes called unafflicted mind. It comes from the full realization which is free from the three spheres. The giver is seen as like an illusion. What does realize mean? Experience it. Experience what? Does that means it is seen as real? Realize means no doubt. You realize the real. I wanted to know if you knew the meaning of this. What does it mean to actualize? Transform. Transform what? What is real? Is illusion real, or is the real real? Are you getting it? This is important. If I am making illusion, then illusion is real. Okay? Now there is a test if you are realized or not. The giver is seen like an illusion, the gift is also like an illusion, and the recipient is like an illusion. Does an illusion exist or not.? It’s like a magician’s trick. You perceive it, right? Do tricks exist or not? They appear, but are not real. So do you exist or not? It’s like a paradox. You perceive it, but it does not exist. We take perceptions as real, but when we realize, we see that they do not.
To receive a great amount of merit from generosity, it should be seen with wisdom awareness and the merit should be dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings. You should have no attachment to the gift or expectation of reward or reciprocation. Then you will receive the great merit of generosity. We have to study this well, because this explanation is not repeated in the other paramitas.
The merit of generosity increase infinitely if we dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. So dedication is like dessert, right? A drop of water put in the ocean will not be exhausted, similarly merit that is dedicated will not be lost. We must have practiced dharma in a previous life. So what went wrong? In many cases, the merit from practice was not dedicated. We practiced for success or to be free from sickness. We got that much benefit, but then the merit was finished. So we didn’t know how to dedicate well, so that the merit would not disappear. Following that logic, we should put a lot of emphasis on dedication.
When generosity is supported by emptiness, it will not become a cause of samsara. When it is supported by compassion it will not become a cause of individual benefit, but instead a cause of non-abiding nirvana. Supported by emptiness means that it is stamped by four seals of emptiness. It should be sealed by the pervading emptiness of the inner body, of outer wealth, of subjective mind, and the dharma of enlightenment. When you see a mirage on the highway, does it exist or not? If it does not exist why do you perceive it? If it does, why do you not reach it? Fame is like a mirage. It neither exists nor does not exist. That is what is called emptiness. It does not mean nothingness. It is interdependence. It is inexpressible. Illusions seem so real, so powerful. They pick you up and throw you in the trash. Generosity means you cannot bear the suffering of beings individually or collectively. They are suffering in the mirage. Their whole being is dominated by suffering.
The result of generosity ultimately is one attains unsurpassed enlightenment. Conventionally you will attain wealth, even if you do not wish it. You can gather trainees and connect them with enlightenment. It cuts off rebirth as a hungry ghost and poverty. One will become strong by giving food, have a good complexion by giving clothes, have stability by giving conveyances, and good eyesight by giving light. By giving fearlessness, you will be unassailable by the Maras. By giving dharma, you will meet all the Buddhas. Giving dharma teachings to those who will listen causes obscurations to be dispelled and you will achieve all that you desire.
In a dharma center just be a kind person and help those who come. Don’t act like an authority figure. Then you will set a good example.
Q: Can you explain the root of virtue?
A: All virtues are the root of virtue. They become a cause to achieve the result you desire. If you dedicate the virtue to Buddhahood, it becomes a root for Buddhahood.
Q: Sometimes people take medicine for mental problems. What is your perspective?
A: What do you think?
Q: I think it’s good for a while.
A: Okay, because I don’t know so much about this.
Q: Is the buddha nature permanent? if the universe is changing and evolving, wouldn’t buddha nature also evolv?e
A: There are so many different types of fire. But does the heat of fire change or not?
Q: The form changes, but the essence does not.
A: Yes, the essence is the same. From the relative point of view the heat does not change.
Q: What if in the time of Maitreya we discover that emptiness is not true any more?
A: Are there any beings who do not wish to be free of suffering? Will that ever change?
Q: I am grateful that you are sharing the dharma, because I am not sure we meet all of Gampopa’s conditions for good students.
A: Thank you. Now I have become famous.
Q: I have a friend who is afraid of becoming blind. Can I give her suggestions for dharma practice, or will that just be giving false hope?
A: There is the story of the mother with a dead child who asked the Buddha to bring the child back to life. Buddha skillfully taught her about impermanence. We need to accept the suffering we have and work with it. The result of dharma practice may happen in this life or in future lives. If she makes offerings with expectations, she may come to regret them.
Kenchen Konchog Gyaltsen
Tibetan Meditation Center
May 28, 2006