Simply being in the present or living in the present is necessary but it’s not sufficient.
We can recognize something that’s present, but it’s not necessarily mindfulness. If we’re observing the experience through a filter of wanting or not wanting aversion delusion so mindfulness is that particular kind of being with experience with a mind that’s not colored by greed or wanting; not colored by aversion not colored by delusion. We begin to get a sense of the clarity and the power of mindfulness so as our understanding of what mindfulness is deepens and our experience of it deepens. We can begin to see that mindfulness a methodology for answering some of life’s very basic questions.
One of them being, “How can I be happy?” This is something that all beings are in search of. John Lennon had some good words about this, he said:
“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
There is another way of expressing the question of “How can I be happy?”
We might ask ourselves, and I think this is an essential question that often is not asked, “What do I learn from being mindful?” You know, we give so much emphasis to understanding what mindfulness is – to the practice of doing it – but mindfulness is not an end in itself. Mindfulness is a way or it’s a methodology for the development of wisdom.
So the question that we really have to examine in our practice and in our lives is, “Okay I’m doing all this practice, i’m putting so much energy into the cultivation and the development of this quality what actually am I learning from it?”
One of the first things that hopefully becomes apparent as we learn to pay attention in this particular way is that what we do matters. That our actions, whether it’s of the body of speech of mind, have consequences.
Our actions bring about results. In classical Buddhist terms, this is expressed as the law of karma – but we don’t need some esoteric teaching about this. We can see very directly when we’re being mindful that our actions. Again, whether it’s actions of the body if a speech of our minds – we can see directly for ourselves if we’re paying attention that each of these actions has consequences for us. Some kinds of actions lead to happiness some kinds of actions lead to suffering and if we look even further following the buddha’s guidance we can see that what most determines.
The quality of the outcome is the motivation behind the action so motivation becomes really important.
It’s easy to hear this is Buddhist philosophy and it’s interesting on that level but it’s not transformative. It is transformative when we see it for ourselves, in our own experience. So that’s why we need to really be mindful of these various mental states that accompany various actions. There are some very simple areas of investigation, some very simple basic everyday situations. I’ll just give a few examples of how we can examine this and see for ourselves not only that what we do matters but what actions or what qualities lead to what results.
Asking ourselves a very simple question, “What does it feel like when you’re being generous and what does it feel like when you’re being self-centered you know holding on?” This is something that we can examine many many times. It’s not something mysterious when we’re feeling generous and acting on it. What’s the quality of our mind? It’s very interesting, sometimes we can get extremely subtle in our appreciation of what’s going on when we’re being generous because very often it’s spontaneous and we just offer something. It becomes interesting if we just pay a little more attention to the qualities of the mind involved in that.
What I have found that is really quite beautiful is that two things are going on among others when we’re being generous. That when the qualities of mind and of heart that are present, generally there’s a feeling of Metta. You know we’re being generous because we’re having loving fear friendly feelings to somebody and that becomes obvious in the very act of giving. There’s a renunciation, we’re letting go of something in giving it to someone else and so we if we’re paying attention.
Doing this, we can get an experiential head of exactly what the feeling of Metta is because we’re experiencing it. We can also begin to taste the pleasure of renunciation – which is generally not so obvious, especially in our society.
You know, renunciation doesn’t have great PR. People hear the word and it has connotations of deprivation and lack. But actually, when we’re experiencing the quality of renunciation you could think of it as non-addiction, not holding on. Not being addicted to things in an act of generosity. We’re not addicted, we’re offering. In that very act we can experience the beauty of that letting go. We begin to see that just by paying attention generosity is its own practice.
How can we cultivate generosity?
Generosity is a quality of mind that we can cultivate, that we can practice, and we’re all at different places. That development for some people is very easy – it’s well developed in them and it’s easy to be generous. For other people, with a different kind of conditioning, for whatever reason, it may not come so easily.
We really need to practice. start practicing in a very slow and gradual way.
Personally, I had some very early lessons in this, and in looking back this goes back to my early college years. Before I knew anything about Buddhism or the teachings or mindfulness, I was in a situation. I was maybe a freshman in college, living the poor student life. I had no extra money at all, but, I had a friend come visit from Europe and he really needed some money. I forget exactly the circumstance, but there was a real need.
I had a few hundred dollars saved and I thought, “Well I’ll just give it to him, he really needs it more than I do.” But in my mind at that time, because I still didn’t really understand the whole dynamic and meaning of generosity, I remember wondering, “Is this okay?” I’m just a young kid and here I’m giving away $300.” An amount which now doesn’t seem like a huge amount, but at that time it felt like a lot. “Is it okay to do this?”
Looking back that now made me realize that for many of us, we need to be told that it’s okay, it’s okay to be generous.
The practice I’ve been doing now for quite a few years is that if I have the thought to give something, I make the practice to do it and not to second-guess myself. Sometimes it’s just a little thing, maybe offering something or offering some time or whatever. Just a little gesture. Sometimes a thought comes and it’s a big thing, it’s something that maybe I’m attached to or maybe it’s quite a large gift.
The practice is that if I have the thought, do it. What’s been amazing for me is that at first, it’s very spontaneous. I’m not ‘not thinking about it’, I’m just going on with my life – but paying attention to those thoughts of generosity and not second-guessing myself. No, “I may need it later.” No, “They don’t really need it.” None of those doubting thoughts about whether we should be generous or not.