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Is Generosity The Most Important Buddhist Virtue?

Mike Mather

Buddha Nature

Giving is a fundamental aspect of many faiths, and for some the pillar of addiction recovery. Generosity is a fundamental aspect of human nature that is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced and self-centred society. It is the quality of giving freely and selflessly, without expecting anything in return.

Giving can take many forms, from donating money to a charitable cause, to giving time and attention to a friend in need. It is an essential quality for building strong relationships, promoting social harmony, and achieving personal fulfilment.

Generosity is not only beneficial for the recipient but also for the giver. Research has shown that acts of generosity can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. A study conducted by the University of Zurich found that people who give to others experience greater happiness and life satisfaction.

Orange robed monks begging in a line

Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash

Physically Speaking

Physiologically, an act of giving can also reduce stress and improve overall health by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure.

It is an important virtue in many religious and spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

In Buddhism, generosity is one of the six perfections or virtues that are essential for achieving enlightenment. The practice of giving is seen as a way to purify the mind, cultivate compassion, and accumulate positive karma.

Likewise, in Christianity, generosity is seen as an expression of love and compassion for others. Jesus Christ taught his followers to give to the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the sick and needy.

In Islam, the act of giving, or Zakat, is one of the five pillars of the faith. Muslims are encouraged to give to the poor and needy as a way to purify their wealth and earn the blessings of Allah.

Despite its many benefits and virtues, generosity is often neglected in today’s society. The pursuit of wealth, power, and status often takes precedence over the needs and well-being of others. However, it is important to remember that true happiness and fulfilment come not from material possessions, but from the relationships we build and the good we do for others.

African children's hands reaching out for something

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Alcoholically Speaking

In 12-Step recovery, the tradition of giving freely of what you have received in sobriety, is fundamental to continued success. One is urged to always give back to the fellowship and to newcomers, and this process ensures the life of the caregiver, the recipient and the fellowship.

One way to cultivate generosity in our lives is to practice gratitude. By focusing on the blessings and abundance in our lives, we can develop a greater appreciation for what we have and a willingness to share with others. We can also make a conscious effort to give more of our time, attention, and resources to those in need.

see also... The Six Perfections

Buddhism emphasises the practice of giving or generosity as a means of cultivating inner peace, happiness, and compassion. Generosity is seen as a way to purify the mind, accumulate positive karma, and overcome the attachment to material possessions that often leads to suffering. Buddhism recognises different forms of giving, including:

  1. Material Giving (Dana): This refers to the act of giving material goods, such as food, clothing, or money, to those in need.
  2. Giving of Time (Kala-dana): This refers to the act of giving one's time and energy to help others. This can involve volunteering at a charity, helping a friend or neighbour, or simply being present for someone in need. Giving of time is seen as a way to cultivate compassion, develop inner peace, and build strong relationships.
  3. Giving of Knowledge (Dhamma-dana): This refers to the act of sharing knowledge and wisdom with others. We see this as a way to promote understanding, reduce ignorance, and cultivate inner wisdom.
  4. Giving of Fearlessness (Abhaya-dana): This refers to the act of offering protection or security to others who are in danger or facing threats. This can involve providing shelter to someone who is homeless, standing up for someone who is being bullied, or providing emotional support to someone who is struggling. This is seen as a way to cultivate courage, develop inner strength, and promote social justice.
  5. Giving of Loving-kindness (Metta-dana): This refers to the act of offering love and kindness to others, regardless of their background or circumstances. This can involve offering words of encouragement, practising acts of kindness, or simply sending positive thoughts to those in need.

In Buddhism, giving is not only about helping others, but also about transforming one's own mind and cultivating inner virtues. By practising generosity, Buddhists seek to develop a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings and overcome the self-centredness that often leads to suffering. Giving is seen as a way to develop inner peace, happiness, and wisdom, and to contribute to the greater good of all beings.

Generosity is an essential quality for building strong relationships, promoting social harmony, and achieving personal fulfilment. It is a virtue that is valued in many religious and spiritual traditions, and has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health and well-being. By practising gratitude and making a conscious effort to give more to others, we can cultivate greater generosity in our lives and contribute to a more compassionate and just world.

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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