Paramita #1: Generosity

Excerpt from The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” The Chinese character used for paramita means “crossing over to the other shore,” which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation.

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness trainings.

(3) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you.

(4) virya paramita – diligence, energy, perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

(6) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight, understanding.

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships. 

This past week marked the start of a 6-week, largely online based, self-propelled, group-supported reflection practice I put together in order to delve more deeply into the Six Paramitas. The group is free and open to our local sangha members and there are 6 of us participating. Each week starting on Mondays, we read and reflect daily on a verse I send to the group on the paramita we’re focused on and on Sundays we report back to the group, via a few typed sentences posted on a shared Google doc, about what was alive for us in relation to working with the paramita over the past week. I also send an audio recording for folks to listen to centered on the paramita at hand.

Here is the verse our group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week, which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the First Paramita from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. What else can we give? Our stability; Our freedom; Our freshness; Peace; Space; Understanding.

The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. What you give is what you receive. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

So for the past week, I’ve been focusing on Giving/Generosity. Here are some of my personal reflections & other things I penned down over the last few days:

– A form of giving and generosity involves lending my voice, my attention, and my desire to expand my understanding in regards to someone else’s struggle to be seen and heard and valued. To give my openness and willingness to learn and educate myself about experiences I don’t have a personal connection with.

– What does it mean to, as Thay says: practice love? How do I engage with love as a verb? It starts with how I relate to myself. If I judge myself, I’ll judge others. And judging others is not just a passive thought; judging is an action (as the Buddha said: with our thoughts we make the world). If I don’t accept myself, I will criticize others. If I don’t understand my own self well, how can I understand others? So to practice love is to practice: being non-judgemental; acceptance; deep looking in order to understand.

– In order to give my true presence to someone else, I must learn/know/practice/strengthen the relationship I have with myself. What does this mean: true presence? It means mind and body together. If my mind is scattered, fragmented, distracted, afflicted with grasping thoughts related to the past or future, although physically I am present with myself or someone else, I am not fully there.

– In order to be able to give stability, freedom, freshness, peace, space, and understanding, I must engage wholeheartedly with my practices of: sitting meditation, mindful breathing, mindful walking, attending sangha, attending retreats, and staying in close connection with the Dharma.

– From Thay’s book For A Future To Be Possible: “The feeling of generosity and the capacity for being generous are not enough. We also need to express our generosity.” And: “Compassion and Loving Kindness are the two aspects of love taught by the Buddha. Compassion is the intention and capacity to relieve the suffering of another person or living being. Loving kindness is the intention and capacity to bring joy and happiness to another person or living being.”

– Reflecting on generosity, I remembered this offering from Thay (which I looked up and found online): “One day in New York City I met a Buddhist scholar and I told her about my practice of mindfulness in the vegetable garden. I enjoy growing lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables and I like to spend time gardening every day. She said, ‘You shouldn’t spend your time growing vegetables. You should spend more time writing poems. Your poems are so beautiful. Everyone can grow lettuce, but not everyone can write poems like you do.’ I told her, ‘If I don’t grow lettuce, I can’t write poems.'”  – from Answers from the Heart by TNH

This to me speaks to the art of cultivating generosity. If I don’t fill my own energetic tank, I won’t have fuel to offer to help support and benefit others.

To close this out, here are three of the haikus I penned this past week:

To pen a letter
Keeping alive a lost art
Is a form of love

A willingness to expand
Our heart’s soft pocket

Be good to people
Our own self included too
Life is here and now


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