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Lions Roar : May 2019
stopped. As long as the sun shines, life in some form will continue. It’s true that human activity is mess- ing up life as we have known it, and this is terrible. We absolutely must correct this. But we are not smart enough or destructive enough to kill life. Life is too generous and resilient for that to happen. And it’s not as though we exist in a spe- cial category outside of life. We are life as much as anything else. Life goes on even if we do not. The practice of the perfection of gen- erosity eventually effects a basic attitude shift toward the recognition that we are living creatures who share in life’s great abundance, freedom, and energy. So we always have possibilities. We always find a way, no matter how or what, to further our life. We just have to figure out how to stop getting in our own way. This is where the intentional practice of the per- fection of generosity helps. Someone once asked Tang dynasty Zen Master Baijang why giving is the gateway to the bodhisattva path. Baijang answered that it is because to practice giving is to practice letting go. The monk then asked, “What do you let go of?” Baijang said, “You let go of narrow views. You let go of the idea that things are small and tight, graspable and possessable.” Baijang is emphasizing the open and wide spirit of generosity. He is show- ing us that it is the crabbiness of our thinking, the stinginess of our minds, our desire to judge, evaluate, separate, define—holding on to scraps—that stop us from opening to the abundance that must be within us, living beings that we are. Why can’t we be as generous as trees? How to Open Up How do we go about challenging and opening up our stingy attitudes about reality? First, we pay close attention to our thoughts and viewpoints, which are expressions of our attitudes. If as living beings we are heir to a generous spirit, what blocks it? We have to investigate this. We have to become diligent students of our own minds, messy and unpleasant as they often are. We study our minds by noticing in detail whenever we feel pinched, small, fearful, or stingy; whenever we find our- selves seeing the glass half-empty rather than half-full, or clenching up with defensive and protective feelings. We learn to identify these feelings in our bod- ies and minds—noticing the tightness in our chests and breathing, the clenching in our shoulders and faces, the old familiar paranoid and panicky trains of thought. With lots of patient repetition and training, eventually we learn how to notice these things before they run away with us. We learn to catch ourselves in midstream and just, literally, stop. If we are walking, we stop walking. If we are sitting, we stand up. We take a conscious breath or two and ask ourselves, “Is this really true? Am I really under attack? Is there really not enough to go around?” And we ask further, “What are the effects of this habit of mind?” This process and these questions are practices. We take them up repeatedly. We work at them. Usually when we ask these questions, we answer no. We are not really under attack, and there really is enough to go around. What’s bothering us is prob- ably more a matter of pride and habitual defensiveness than reasonable neces- sity. When we reflect further, we notice that the consequences of this habitual response are not good: we end up with words, deeds, and feelings that cause us trouble and mess and that compromise our health, state of mind, and relation- ships. If we investigate and intervene like this again and again, we will eventually see our small-mindedness for what it is: an unsuccessful habit based on inaccu- rate information—a bad attitude. Doing this consistently takes men- tal discipline. It is a kind of emotional yoga. But when you are motivated and determined, you can do it, especially if you have the support of your meditation practice and a community of friends to help you. In fact, meditation practice is the best way I know to cultivate the expansive attitude of generosity. It is, of course, possible to sit down in meditation crabbed into yourself, obsessed with your thoughts, worries, and the constric- tions of your situation. To practice the perfection of generosity in meditation is the opposite of this. When you practice the perfection of generosity in medita- tion, you open up, your fear and anxiety soften and dissolve, and you sit in the middle of the great gift of limitless, imaginative life. Settling down and paying attention to body and breath will absorb the free- floating anxiety that is usually there in your mind, without your knowing it. This enables you to relax and let go into that generous spaciousness. Sit in the midst of it. You can say to yourself, “This is life: body, breath, consciousness. I share it with everyone and everything. It holds and protects me.” Be willing to keep sitting like this every day, and bit by bit you will be able to see some daylight in your basic attitude that wasn’t there before—patches of blue sky peeking through the clouds. ♦ THE WORLD COULD BE OTHERWISE Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path By Norman Fischer Shambhala Publications, 224 pages, paperback, $17.95 HOT OFF THE PRESS FROM LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 78