“Should there be a limit to generosity? What if the best thing to do is not to give anymore? After all, there is only so much a person can do to help.”
These questions have been bugging me for quite some time. I have witnessed people in the course of my life who would be extremely generous, but, unfortunately, others would abuse that kindness and in the end their act of generosity would bring so much pain despite their good intentions. From the Buddhist perspective, it would revolve around karma: the giver would gain merits (good karma) and the receiver who abused the giver would gain bad karma. The pain that the giver felt as a result of the receiver’s abuse of kindness is a product of his/her past actions, i.e. bad karmic seeds that were planted in the past, which now “flourished” in the present.
There is another Buddhist way of looking at the giving process: there is no giver, gift, and receiver. I do not fully understand how this concept works, but I will share my views anyway. I think what the concept of “no giver, gift, and receiver” is telling us is that when we wish to help others, we should do so and then forget our actions. For instance, when we see that our friend is hungry we naturally want to help that person. So we give him/her food. But after giving the food, we should forget about the whole “giving event”. Why? Because in the future when we are the ones in need of food and we remember that we once helped that friend, we will expect that friend to help us as well. Remembering gives rise to expectation, which I think is a form of craving. We expect to gain merit and we expect the receiver to help us in the future. As a result, we suffer in the end. However, expectations will not be present if we forget about the giver, gift, and receiver. In other words, we must give because we want to help, not because we want others to feel indebted to us and not because we want to gain merits.
It becomes apparent with the above concept in mind that there should be no limit to generosity. But this is so much easier said than done. I for one have a simple principle that I have been practicing for many years: I help a person. If the person accepts my help, great! If not or if the person just abuses my kindness, I would simply stop helping them (i do this very easily without regret, mind you) and remind myself that there are other people in the world who would be happy to receive help. I am slowly realizing, however, that my method seems to be prone to indifference, which is bad, bad, bad! As Luc Ferry said in his book, “A Brief History of Thought,” we should always strive to be compassionate and benevolent, not indifferent.
Okay, I’ll try this “limitless generosity” thing. How about you? I would love to hear your insights on the topic too! :)