It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that everything you think of as “yours”…will, in the not-too-distant future, belong to someone else—if it is not discarded altogether. A friend’s mother recently died and he had been sorting through her belongings. He was able to take his time over this, and he noticed that gradually each object “returned to itself.” It was no longer identified with his mother; it was no longer a part of her. There was just a vase; just some writing on paper in a language that he and his sister couldn’t read.
In his elegy to a poet friend, Don Paterson says that death came and “gently drew a knife across the threads/that tied your keepsakes to the things they kept.” If you reflect in this way, you will see that the practice of generosity is a wisdom practice, because it’s aligning you with the real truth of things: what you think of as yours, as part of your identity, is only temporary. As Shantideva says: “Abandonment of all is Enlightenment and Enlightenment is my heart’s goal. If I must give up everything, better it be given to sentient beings.”
From Not About Being Good: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Ethics, by Subhadramati © 2013. Reprinted with permission of Windhorse Publications. www.windhorsepublications.com.
Illustration by Roberto La Forgia