Practice of Generosity

It takes time to practice generosity, but being generous is the best use of our time.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Giving (dana) is an essential Buddhist practice. It is about generosity and openness, our capacity to embrace others with our compassion and love. When we truly see ourselves as others and others as ourselves, we naturally want to do everything we can to secure their happiness and well-being, because we know that it is also our own well-being and happiness.

We exist in interbeing with all of life. When we understand this fundamental truth, our acts of giving will be made in the spirit of nondiscrimination. The merit, the spiritual benefit to be gained from the practice of giving cannot be calculated. Helping to create a meditation hall is an offering for everyone, for the continuation of the Dharma. The practice of dana brings a lot of happiness when we know how to do it in the spirit of wisdom, with the understanding of interbeing.

We don’t have to give $100,000 or even $10; instead we can offer a smile or a loving, compassionate gaze. We can give the gift of our calm, concentrated presence to help someone who is fearful or anxious. We can make an offering of our time and energy and work with the homeless, or with those who are prisoners or are addicted to different substances, or to work on helping the environment. We have plenty of gifts to offer; we are far wealthier than we may imagine. We can help secure the happiness of many people even if we don’t have a single penny in our pocket. When we are motivated by the desire to give, even if we have not yet offered anything yet, just the intention to offer our help and understanding, our willingness to listen and communicate, begins to lessen our own and others’ suffering.

There is a kind of vegetable in Vietnam called he (pronounced “hey”). It belongs to the onion family and looks like a scallion, and it is very good in soup. The more you cut the he plants at the base, the more they grow. If you don’t cut them they won’t grow very much. But if you cut them often, right at the base of the stalk, they grow bigger and bigger. This is also true of the practice of dana. If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of happiness and well-being. This may seem strange but it is always true.