The Paramita of Generosity
The practice of generosity is to give what is worthwhile and to give it with non-attachment. This can be studied through three main aspects: giving things, giving loving protection and giving loving understanding. The teaching on the first of these, material generosity, explains what is proper generosity and what is improper. We should abandon improper generosity and practice the proper one.
Motivation is very important when we give. If we give with a wrong motivation, such as making gifts which we hope will harm others or which we intend to bring us fame, or if we give with an inferior motivation such as through fear of future poverty, then that is improper. What we actually give is also important. A Bodhisattva should never give what is harmful, for instance, when he gives something suitable it should be generously, not meanly. To whom we give to is important - always pandering to the wishes of the crazy and the gluttonous would not be proper generosity. Finally, how we make our gift is important. The Bodhisattva avoids reluctant giving, angry giving, disrespectful giving and scornful, derisory giving, all of which are improper.
Proper generosity is to give whatever we have and there are many wonderful, inspiring stories of great Bodhisattvas who have given their own flesh to nourish starving animals. Whatever we can manage to give we give to those who need it, paying particular attention to help those who represent the Three Jewels, those who have helped us - our parents especially - whose who are sick and unprotected, and also those who are our particular enemies or rivals. The way in which we make our gift to them should be joyfully, respectfully, with a compassionate heart and without regret. It is better to give with one's own hand rather than through others, to give at just the right time, and, of course, to give without harming others. Impartial giving is best and a wise person gives just what is needed.
The second form of generosity is to give our loving protection to those in fear: in fear of others, in fear of sickness and death and in fear of catastrophe.
The third form of generosity is to make the priceless gift of Dharma. This does not mean indiscriminately preaching to anyone and everyone. It means helping those who have respect for the Dharma, for the truth, to understand it. With a very pure motivation, we should humbly and compassionately pass on the authentic teachings that we ourselves have understood well from a proper teacher. The thing to avoid is a mixture of personal opinion and the classical teachings and, of course, any sort of self-centred motivation. The truth is something both rare and precious and deserves to be talked about in a pleasant way and in a proper place. The classical way to give teachings is well discussed in the Sutras and, in a general way, we should know better than to jumble Dharma with worldly conversation.
These are the three basic forms of generosity. It was the first of the paramitas to be taught by the Buddha because it is one of the easiest to understand and everyone can practice it. It is also the foundation for the other five paramitas.