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Nov 18
Opinion Pieces
Simply, Be Generous

by Jonathan Hanna

Within our sangha as a whole, we often struggle with the dilemma of how to be generous in offering the teachings while ensuring the financial solvency of our centers. Individuals grapple with the same challenge, wishing to contribute financially, either for receiving specific teachings or to support the mandala generally, yet feeling limited by the need to be responsible with their own finances. This is an illusory tension that arises generally from the impulse to protect a truly existing entity first, before looking after the needs of others, and more specifically in modern society from the pervasive conditioning which attempts to commodify and monetize anything and everything. This is effective from the standpoint of maximizing profits but at cross purposes with the practice of generosity.


From the time of the Buddha, the tradition has stated consistently and unequivocally that the practice of generosity is the cause of wealth. I would like to offer two verses that may be used as an ongoing object of contemplation, following the instructions that have been given by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. These verses are extracted from a very famous prayer called the Aspiration of Maitreya, which is used throughout the Nyingma school as one of the primary concluding prayers:

Not abiding in any concreteness
of clinging to a self that grasps,
in order to provide a remedy for all sentient beings,
may I give generously, without any stinginess.
As material things do not exist materially,
may my riches arise spontaneously.
Since all things disintegrate,
may I perfect the paramita of generosity.

You may notice that the second verse answers a natural hesitation that will come up in all beings with ego-clinging, such as ourselves, after reading the first verse. Namely the question: “if I let go of stinginess altogether, how will I gather and protect my wealth?”. The view of generosity presented in these verses is an expression of a profound realization of emptiness. The practice is based upon a genuine recognition of, and trust in basic goodness.

Rather than an actual being or institution that needs to actually exert real effort to acquire and hold onto real wealth, the view and practice handed down to us by the great beings of the lineage is precisely that there is no actual being/institution, there is never any actual acquiring or holding, and there is nothing which is actually ever acquired or held (except what we imagine). This is actually true. The absence of subject/object/act is known as three-fold purity. It purifies the cognitive obscurations that veil the truth of basic goodness and it purifies the emotional defilements so that our conduct is free of contrivance and deceit. Instead of “trying to be generous” and trying to convince others of our generosity, we are able to simply be generous.


So if we truly aspire to generosity, we must be very honest with ourselves and acknowledge where we are rather than blaming difficult external circumstances. It is not that we are intentionally deceitful, but regardless of what we say, as long as we truly believe there is an existing entity to protect while attempting to practice the selfless conduct of a bodhisattva there will be an inescapable dissonance between our intention and our conduct. Body and mind will not be synchronized. This inner discord will continue to manifest as in-authenticity, plain for all to see. We will see ourselves as unworthy and others will see us as hypocrites. This is equally true on an individual and social level.

So as individuals and on an institutional level we should examine ourselves and the views we hold, the hidden assumptions that influence and guide our attitudes and actions. What are the fears, tensions and anxieties that obstruct our practice of generosity? Why do we cling to them, and what do we gain by this? Do we really benefit from it? Or are there unintended effects that are detrimental to ourselves and others?

What would it be like to release such fearful clinging and anxiety without a trace? What would it be like to engage the world with unwavering trust in the boundless wealth of the Great Eastern Sun rather than the paranoid fear of the setting sun? How would our thoughts and attitudes be different? How might we interact differently with others? What sort of culture and institutions would emerge?

What sort of culture and institutions, and what sort of individual attitudes and actions would foster such a shift?


After such thorough self-reflection, we do not need to be unrealistic about our capacity to abide within such perfect generosity, making dramatic, irresponsible, and artificial displays that will only result in disillusionment and confusion. We could instead look forward eagerly to any opportunity to give of ourselves without reservation in whatever way is needed; in whatever way we can. When taking advantage of such an opportunity, it is important to do so with great joy, without hesitation and without any expectation of how our generosity will be received and used. It is not helpful to look for recognition or to get anything in exchange. Rather, we could simply wish that through such acts we may swiftly cut the bonds of ego and emerge from the cocoon of self-cherishing into the brilliant warmth of the Great Eastern Sun. Our path is to become powerful warriors of basic goodness, and through such training others might benefit in whatever way is best both temporally and spiritually.

If we plant our feet with trust firmly on the ground of basic goodness, guided by the genuine aspiration to perfect the paramita of generosity we will make steady progress. If we would swim in the ocean of generosity, we first need to step into the water and feel it, learn how it works. Our first steps may be small and tentative, but as long as they are sincere and we don’t give up, we will quickly learn to swim.


Since our efforts are authentic, even if small, others will be inspired by that authenticity to support us in our practice and to practice generosity themselves. This chain reaction will allow all of us to relax more and more into a sense of abundance rather than holding on for dear life to a sense of scarcity. There within may lie the golden key to riches arising spontaneously.

In part 2 of this essay, we will explore specific examples of how we can be creative and playful in looking for opportunities to practice the paramita of generosity as individuals, and how organizationally we can discover and implement policies that express and cultivate authentic generosity.

Jonathan Hanna received the Shambhala name Garuda Sun from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Although he has received teachings from many other lineage holders, particularly Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, the Shambhala terma of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is his primary heart practice. He has made numerous visits to Tibetan communities in India where the practice of generosity is inseparable from the traditional culture of Buddhism. Inspired by this, he has generated the wish to see this approach to generosity take root and flourish within the Shambhala community, both in the way our institutions offer the teachings and in the way individuals support the teachings. Several years ago, he helped to organize a series of conferences called Active Compassion which (among other things) sought to explore and model forms that would foster a more pervasive practice of generosity. This essay was written at the urging of one of our shastris, made during the recent Kalapa Governance Gathering in Halifax. May it help give rise to profound generosity throughout Shambhala.

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4 responses to “ Simply, Be Generous ”
  1. Gayle Van Gils
    Nov 24, 2011

    Thank you very much for this inspiring essay. I certainly find myself dealing with the tension you describe so clearly….that of truly wanting to give fully and without limit, but also still clinging to a self that feels that it needs to be protected by not giving away everything. That is actually the heart of practice…..examining and evaporating this limiting belief.

  2. David Brown
    Nov 24, 2011

    I find these teachings very inspiring, and the questions for self-examination very profound. I would suggest that offering aspirations, such as thousands are doing at is a complementary means of practicing generosity.

    I am looking forward to Part 2.! Thank you so much!

  3. Excellent Raven
    Nov 24, 2011

    Limitless generosity can feel contradictory to being a householder and having many mouths to feed, children and aging parents. When I was young and without family responsibility, it felt much easier to devote myself entirely to land and city centres. The same seems to be true for the wealthy. Sometimes it feels like this path is made for those two groups of people–the wealthy and those without worldly responsibilities–both of whom can travel to India at the drop of a hat to immerse themselves in various oh-so-wonderful Dharmic communities, or stay here and continually immerse themselves in expensive / time consuming Dharmic programs if they are so inspired.

    My resistance and irritation begins to melt with your quoted Aspiration of Maitreya, however. Buddhism seems to be about grasping a series of seemingly contradictory aspirations, and limitless generosity while protecting and supporting those reliant on me is no more contradictory than giving without a giver gift or recipient, I suppose. Both feel almost possible, if I squint and keep a sense of humour. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Hello ,

    i believe we receive a fine a year ago about the usage of this photo (the golden buddha on top) from G-*E__T__T__Y*. Did anyone check on the copyrights for this photo ? this had costs us around 500 dollars .

    thank you

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