The Buddha Walks into the OR, Part 1: Generosity

Don’t shy away from today’s message- my intention is not to tell you that you need to give all of your material goods and money away.  I’m undoubtedly a big believer in philanthropic giving, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Over the last couple of years I’ve done a fair amount of reading of Buddhist philosophy. If you’re looking for modern distillations that are easier to start with, I would recommend almost anything by Susan Piver (including joining her Open Heart Project!), and I’m admittedly a fangirl of Lodro Rinzler; his The Buddha Walks into the Bar and The Buddha Walks into the Office are admittedly the inspiration for this series, the Buddha Walks into the OR.

Within Buddhism there are the 6 Paramitas, or transcendent actions; the Paramitas assume that we wish to live in a good world, and they are tools by which we can help make that happen. The first paramita is generosity (see, now it’s all coming together!); this one was also a relatively easy place for me to start because it has synchronously appeared both in my self-directed Buddhism homework and in my favorite recent self-improvement read, Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. I took that as a sign that it was time for me to start the Buddha Walks into the OR series that I’ve contemplated for the last 18 months.

Generosity, from the standpoint of the paramita, allows us to acknowledge and share our riches in terms of heart, intellect, and experience. Generosity may consist of three different types of giving: material things, fearlessness (loving protection), and wisdom (Dharma). Importantly, giving any of these three things requires that we give freely, with no expectations in return.

No expectations in return provides a perfect segue into generosity’s appearance in Rising StrongRising Strong includes a practice that is simplified as living BIG as a way to maintain our resilience- with BIG as an acronym for Boundaries- Integrity- and…yes, Generosity. In this instance, generosity digs into our relationships with others, and our assumptions that we make around their behaviors.  Specifically, I challenge you to ask yourself this question:

In general, do you believe that people are doing the best that they can?

For those who believe that people are doing the best that they can, you’re offering generosity in your assumptions about people when they make mistakes.  Yes, this assumption still allows (even requires) that we have boundaries, but think about the impact of believing that in general people are doing the best that they can.  Think about the impact of believing the opposite, which Brené refers to as thinking everyone is “scofflaws and sewer rats.”  Believing that people are doing the best that they can requires that we have no expectations in return, and when we practice this, we’re being generous with our wisdom.

And, honestly, it makes all of interactions with the world significantly simpler…

I’m biased here, I’ll admit.  I am someone who believes that in general people are doing the best that they can. In general, I’m doing the best that I can, and I am all to aware that means that there’s lots of imperfection going on here- I do not get it all right every day. But I know my own motivations and I know I’m trying my best; I have also learned that in order to allow myself the space to mess up every once in awhile, I have to offer that same grace to others. We’re human.  We’re fallible. And as long as we’re all doing our best (and I do believe in general we are), there is hope.