Posted by: Upāsaka | 12/02/2012

Giving Well Isn’t So Easy


Today, inspired by yesterday’s reflctions, I decided to take my son out for a walk around the nieghborhood and look for people that we could give to. Sounds like a pretty easy proposition in the East Village doesn’t it? Well, it would be if it weren’t for me. It was funny to
watch but each time we came upon someone I would immediately evaluate their worthiness. I soon realized, much to my surprise, that I had very definite idea of who I wanted to give to: a dirty, preferrably older man or woman with all of their belongings in a shopping cart. Instead I found the punk rock street kid at 14th and Broadway to whom I could only bring myself to give a dollar or the junkies under the scaffold at 3rd Ave to whom I gave some bananas.

Needless to say, I was disappointed by my acts of charity as I had wanted to make a much grander gesture. It wasn’t until my son and I got back to First Ave that I found my ideal homeless person: an old man with a cart gingerly carrying a bowl of hot, microwave ramen in his hands. Ironically, when asked if there was anything I could get for him he politely declined.

So, I think the moral may be to give while you can and to whomever you can although today’s experience left me slightly confused and disturbed by the limits of my generosity. More grist for the mill I suppose.


  1. As I see it, you had the intention to practice dana and you translated that intention into action. So you made good kamma. It seems to me that you just got a little attached to an idea of the ideal recipient. As the Buddha said, the best motivation for giving is to equip the mind for serenity and insight (AN 8.33). Since generosity helps to weaken attachment and greed, it doesn’t matter too much to whom one is generous, at least from the standpoint of training the mind.

    Here’s a good article about generosity, based on references from the suttas:

    On Vesak, my wife and daughter and I go around town to different places and leave anonymous “Have a happy day” cards with $5 bills in them. We never know who gets them and never get any thanks, but we just do it to train our daughter to give without expecting anything in return, just because it’s good for the mind and leads along the path.

    • Savaka,

      Thank you fr your reply. The Vesak Secret-Buddha thing is great! I’m stealing it if you don’t mind! Have a great one and thank you again for your great and thoughtful replies!

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