The Buddha taught six paramitas, practices of perfection. Here is the American Buddhist Congress description of the paramitas:
The Six Principles of Enlightened Living
The Six Paramitas occupy a prominent place in the Mahayana scriptures as a Buddhist’s way of life leading to Buddhahood. They are:
1. Generosity (Liberality)
2. Conduct (Morality)
3. Patience (Forbearance)
4. Energy (Diligence, Industrious, Hard Work)
This list of six is a shortened version of the ten qualities for which enlightened beings strive in their every day living. Since they are concerned about the welfare of all beings and strive to end their suffering and unjust treatment, they (1) give alms to all beings so that they may be happy, without investigating whether they are worthy or not, (2) avoid doing them any harm by observing morality, (3) train themselves in renunciation in order to bring morality to perfection, (4) purify their wisdom in order to understand clearly what is beneficial and injurious, (5) constantly exert energy for the welfare and happiness of others, (6) practice patience towards the variety of human failings, (7) do not break their promise once pledging to give or do something, (8) resolve with determination to work for the welfare of all beings, (9) are always kind and helpful to all, and (10) expect nothing in return and they constantly practice equanimity. These qualities are expressed thusly in the Ten Paramitas:
1. Perfection in Generosity, Giving (Liberality)
2. Perfection in Morality (Conduct)
3. Perfection in Renunciation
4. Perfection in Wisdom
5. Perfection in Diligence (Industrious)
6. Perfection in Patience (Forbearance)
7. Perfection in Truthfulness
8. Perfection in Resolution (Determination, Purpose)
9. Perfection in Loving-Kindness
10. Perfection in Equanimity
This is the traditional listing of the paramitas. Just as the Buddha taught that appamada—energetic, mindful care—contains all of his teachings, dana—generosity in thought, word, and deed—is said to contain all of the other practices of perfection. The practice of generosity dissolves judgmental thinking, opens the heart and mind, and brings us peace and happiness. It is a specific antidote for fear, depression, and anxiety.
As we pay mindful attention in each moment we discover myriad ways to offer our generosity. It is not confined to giving money, but includes the willingness to stop, to listen, to genuinely meet others with openness and compassion. If we believe we are expected to give “until it hurts,” or somehow sacrifice ourselves we are mistaken; it is only possible to offer what we can freely provide. The key is mindfulness in this activity as in all things. In this way our horizons fall away and we discover the intimate secret that there is no difference between giving and receiving, nothing that is given and received, no boundary between us as givers or receivers. This is truly the greatest gift of all.
Just as we practice entering present moment experience of life as it is through zazen, we experience the expansion of our limitations and break the confinement of our perceived horizons through the practice of generosity. We discover the many subtle and pervasive expectations or requirements we attach to our generosity. Often this is revealed in our sense of disappointment at the response to what we think of as a “generous” impulse. Yet to practice generosity with even the least or most subtle expectations or requirements is to defeat ourselves. This matter merits deep study.
Just as we return, time after time, to present moment experience after drifting away in zazen, we can continue to practice generosity in large and small ways, over and over, noticing the subtle ways we become hooked by our own expectations. We may imagine we “want nothing in return,” but still be caught by our own need to see ourselves as a “good person,” a “kind person,” a “giving person.” We must be careful not to judge ourselves unkindly for having such expectations, nor should we avoid opportunities to express generosity because we recognize our hidden agendas. Rather the practice of dana becomes an opportunity for exploration and discovery of our very humanness, our vulnerabilities, and our connections with each other.
Generosity is a fundamentally relational activity: it cannot be practiced alone. It establishes connections that are conduits for energy, imagination, care, appreciation, support, encouragement, and attention. True relationality is imbued with generosity that cannot help but flow both ways, and even ripple outward beyond the immediate occasion and circumstances of giving. It actually permeates the entire universe, perfuming it with our highest aspirations. Furthermore, as we become more attentive, we cannot help but notice the vast network of generosity in which our entire lives have been supported and nourished. Our hearts are opened and a profound appreciation naturally flows through us freely finding new expressions in our own generosity. Welcome to the world of abundance, the world of unceasing, universal dana, the whole-hearted expression of appamada.