Attitudes of Mindfulness: Generosity

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Generosity is a fundamental attitude of mindfulness that has been added to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s original seven listed in his book, Full Catastrophe Living.

Many moral systems and forms of spirituality place a high priority on generosity. In Buddhism, generosity it is considered a perfection (or paramita) called dana. In Christianity it is called charity and it is said that it is better to give than receive. There is a concept in yoga called seva, which means selfless service. Secular humanists believe it is our duty to engage in philanthropy in order to build a better world.

Generosity is also getting increased attention in the science arena. The Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame has funded a number of studies which have demonstrated a relationship between generosity, happiness and well-being. They discovered a seeming paradox in which freely giving of oneself makes us ultimately richer than hanging on tightly to what we perceive as ours.

Many of us aspire to be more generous, but we have a hard time putting it into practice. Setting an intention to be generous is helpful, but ultimately its the practice of giving that is key. Consistent generosity requires a certain amount of non-attachment to resources. We must cultivate an attitude of abundance versus a mind of scarcity. For example, in Buddhism, one form of dana is “non-fear”. Greed and stinginess often arise out of fear. It is an act of fearlessness to give what you have to others.

True generosity also requires non-attachment to outcome. We give freely, without conditions on how gifts are used or whether something is received in return. This sort of giving has nothing to do with I, me or mine – it is free from ego. Through the act of giving, something precious is received – essentially the giver and receiver become one. Giving without attachment to ego or outcome connects us with the whole of humanity and awakens us to our true nature.

As spiritual searchers we need to become freer and freer of the attachment to our own smallness in which we get occupied with me-me-me. Pondering on large ideas or standing in front of things which remind us of a vast scale can free us from acquisitiveness and competitiveness and from our likes and dislikes. If we sit with an increasing stillness of the body, and attune our mind to the sky or to the ocean or to the myriad stars at night, or any other indicators of vastness, the mind gradually stills and the heart is filled with quiet joy. Also recalling our own experiences in which we acted generously or with compassion for the simple delight of it without expectation of any gain can give us more confidence in the existence of a deeper goodness … ― Ravi Ravindra, The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A New Translation and Guide

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