Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Perfection of Generosity

Have you noticed in life that the more you freely you give, the more life rewards you with happiness, abundance and riches like good friends and good health?

This seems to fit with the Buddhist concept of karma. Here in Bhutan people believe that by doing good deeds and being generous in this life they will be repaid in their following life. I'm still sitting on the fence when it comes to reincarnation, and personally I can see convincing evidence that by cultivating an attidude of generosity day by day in big and small ways our lives are the here and now.

Love is all you need!

Bhutanese people are incredibly generous. Whenever we have been invited into a Bhutanese home, we are treated like royalty. Hospitality here means the host does not sit down to join you having tea or a meal, but instead stands watch and caters to your every need. It takes some getting used to, and creates a different social dynamic, but there is no doubt that you feel very special and cared for.

A few nights ago we were invited for such a dinner. Upon arrival plates of food -  momos, potato curry and spinach curry were offered with tea in the living room and we mistakenly ate until we were full. At that point we were invited into the bukhari-warmed kitchen for whiskey while dinner was prepared! The food was delicious and our hosts did not eat a bite in our presence. As we were leaving gifts of yathra bags and purses were given and some money to the boys to buy a treat each. We felt loved and cared for, and the hosts had given generously without expecting anything in return.

At school we are often called upon to give money and time to help others in the community in their time of need. Women set to work immediately on catering, leaving their own responsibilities at home without a moment's thought. Men take on the tasks of organising, heavy lifting and constructing so that a family struck down with illness or death is not left alone. A significant portion of each month's salary (about a tenth) is regularly given to others in the form of gifts and assistance. The help and support continues until the family is on their feet again. For Bhutanese, giving generously without a moment's hesitation is seen as a very important quality, and I see this even in the young children I teach who scramble to help me in any way possible and frequently gift me little precious things.

The Buddha taught many simple ways for ordinary lay people to walk the path to enlightenment. Along with meditation he taught the Six Paramitas (or six perfections) as a daily practice to develop compassion, wisdom and love. The first of these perfections is cultivating the heart of generosity and is an antidote to negative states of mind arising from greed, miserliness, and possessiveness.

In this case, generosity is not confined to just giving money or things, but also includes giving freely of our time, energy, care and comfort. It is important to be willing to give freely without expecting anything in return and to give without discrimination of who is deserving of our gift or effort.

In coming to Bhutan this year as a volunteer I had a heartfelt wish to give of myself in whatever ways were possible and see for myself how this practice can lead to a more open heart and mind. We have had to loosen hold of quite a bit of money, and at the same time have looked at the needs in our community and given what we can in terms of time and effort to improve the situation.

Some days I felt more in the mood to give, other days I became aware of a feeling inside of wanting to retreat. It was at times surprising that not everyone wants what you would like to give, and not everything that you give is valued in the way you would like. Sometimes it felt like what I was offering was being thrown back in my face.  At those times it really helped to let go any expectation of what result would come and just give with a pure heart and not be concerned with the outcome.

When it came to offering time and care however, all the attention, the extra time taken to listen to a child read or walk and talk slowly with them home has been a complete pleasure and although the results are intangible, we have planted seeds of a different way of interacting between adults and children. In a simple way we have brought joy to the lives of many children here.

The most amazing result of all of this is that for whatever we have given materially or in time and love, we have been repaid so many times more. Our lives are rich in all the things that matter most.

I marvel at how many new people have entered our lives this year. Without a doubt, each person in their own way is a really precious gift. The opportunity to meet people whose whole life and motivation is to benefit others is incredibly humbling and inspiring.

We have also received so much from friends and even strangers around the world to give to the children at school. These generous people have amazed me with their willingness to act: buy the requested items, package and post them at great expense, trusting that their gift would be put to good use. Although the gifts weren't for us, we still felt the love and care and support with every package that arrived and knowing these people were counting on me to do the best with their gift inspired me to really give my all to the job here in Bhutan.

At the end of the year I feel left with a debt of needing to return much more kindness than what we have given!  I have learned without a doubt that by letting go and giving generously your life is filled with purpose, positivity and possiblities. And so the practise of letting go, of finding ways to help and of setting an example to our children of how to be generous will continue.

I'd love to know if you have noticed the same thing in your life?



  1. A wonderful post, Andrea. Really enjoyed reading your piece of writing on what hospitality means in Bhutan and how you have learned that giving generously makes you satisfied and happy. It's great to see a foreigner learn about some basic yet profound Buddhist principles which are very much part of the Bhutanese people. Keep writing and yeah, enjoy your remaining days here.

    1. Thanks Langa, it is definitely inspiring to see how generous Bhutanese are and I hope its something we've learned and take with us in our life in Australia. We are really looking forward to the chance to see the east of Bhutan next week before we leave. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be writing but as I hope to continue projects involving Bhutan when I return home, hopefully I'll be able to post some updates.