illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
– and recognising some mental patterns hindering the practice
The ignorant mind uses many narratives to cling. Quite regularly, it is possible to see how people would rather postpone Enlightenment if it allowed them to cling a bit longer to their wealth, to their family, etc.
(One day… later… in the future… gplus.wallez.name/Gnbsbi5Bmgy).
This usually comes from a misunderstanding of what detachment is, the confusion of non-clinging with aversion, i.e. the confusion of one extreme with the opposite extreme (instead the freedom from extremes).
Generosity is the first pāramitā ("perfected wholesome manifestation"), and the first quality to be cultivated on the lay buddhist path… but many hope they can opt-out of this one, at least for the time being, at least until they're 'more' enlightened than now.
I will list a few classic narratives used to opt out. If you recognise one of them in your own narratives, you know what to work on… 'now', not 'later'!
As with many other 'resolutions' (going to the gym, being on a diet, quitting smoking…), one of the biggest hindrances on practising generosity is the construction of 'postponing' narratives: « I'll do so 'later'. »
Often, the narratives are based on "having 'more important' things to do right now," or simply having 'other' priorities and pretending that one's cup is full, that no other goal could possibly be added right now.
Some of these narratives may be truly wise, but more often than not these narratives are just excuses to cling.
Regularly, one may take more time to justify not practising than to actually practise: one might read or debate about meditation for hours, instead of trying it out 20 minutes a day for some period (koan.mu/meditation.htm). Similarly, one might easily spend two minutes —or a lot more— talking (in one's head, or to someone else) about generosity, when making a donation would only take a minute and a half.
Another classic hindrance on practising generosity is the reciprocity fallacy. It is based on asking what one gets "out of" giving?
The self-centric nature of the question should be obvious, and so should its association with the unwholesome denial of inter-dependence.
The interesting part though is that such a question contains its own antidote if asked with an open heart: this question can be a perfect opportunity to have a look at one's 'blessings' in life (everything one 'enjoys': being reasonably confident of being alive tomorrow, for starters… which is not a given everywhere on the planet!) and be appreciative of the 'world' one locally lives in! Appreciation is a deep spiritual practice, which indeed pushes most people toward being more generous than they were prior to reflecting on their lives; but this is rarely how the questioning is done.
Moreover, the question "what do I get?" is rarely asked in actuality! Making sure that no answer is given to this question is the 'safest' way to maintain the delusion that one gets "nothing 'significant' in return"… The last thing a mind full of certainties wants is to truly question what's 'significant' (the "end of history" illusion, gplus.wallez.name/PY9GxEbQyAP)!
This fallacy often also takes the form of "others first," or « I'll give once I received. »
It should be obvious that a virtuous circle can only manifest if someone starts it: it is a conditioned phenomena that may only appear if the participants make it appear! If everyone plays the "I don't trust others to participate in the wholesome circle" tune, no one ever starts the circle, and there will never be a virtuous circle!
It then becomes very easy to be cynical, to be 'disillusioned' with the world and with how un-generous or self-centred 'others' are. It then becomes very easy to fuel anger at the 'rich(er)' people, followed by jealousy. But that's a cop-out: this is blaming 'others' for oneself having refused to do the first step (refused out of prejudices against 'others').
The above are a few classic thought patterns. I'll list other such patterns in the future.
If you recognise one of these patterns in your own thoughts, you have three ways to go about them:
• you can pretend it doesn't matter,
• you can be upset with me for pointing them out,
• you can work on them.
The three approaches have different karmic consequences, and most people can guess what these consequences are. Of course, you can also suddenly favour a view that "karma is just a delusion" if the karmic consequences are too inconvenient to accept.
photo: "Bad Buddha, no latte", © Bow- (http://bow-.deviantart.com/)