Generosity, praise, good behavior and fellowship: these four methods will bring harmony to all the world.
— Abidharma Samgiti Paryaya Pada
None of us can live alone and none of us should want to. In this world it is impossible not to have many dealings with other people. If we are unskilled in the way we deal with others, our lives will be full of problems. If we are skilled, however, our lives will be full of joy. All of us need other people. We need to engage in healthy and productive relations with others. As soon as we recognize this basic fact of life, we will want to know how to be skillful in our relations with others. How should we behave so that we can always get along with other people? What should we do to promote both our own growth and the growth of others at the same time?
The Abidharma Samgiti Paryaya Pada says that the four methods described in the passage above provide an excellent foundation on which we can base all of our social behavior.
Generosity is compassion in action. It is the bottom line. It is an excellent indicator of whether we are truly practicing Buddhists or not. You may be a great philosopher and very knowledgeable about Buddhist texts and Buddhist history, but if you are not being generous with your life then you are not really practicing Buddhism. If you have not yet learned how to give, you will not have the capacity to fully appreciate the depth of the Buddha’s teachings.
Buddhist generosity can come in many different forms. We can be generous with our possessions, with our time, with our emotions, with our talents, with our wisdom and with our joy. As Buddhists we should never be afraid to be generous. Once we begin to pay attention to this subject, we will find that every day we are presented with many opportunities to be generous in some way or another.
At its most basic level, generosity is active, positive energy directed toward another person in such a way that that person will feel joy or gain in wisdom. When we are generous we learn how to be unattached to our possessions or our beliefs and we provide others with an example of human behavior that is not founded on greed.
The Upasakasila Sutra says that one who is frequently generous will gain five benefits: 1) he will never be far from the wise, 2) sentient beings will take delight in his presence, 3) he will not be afraid to be in large groups of people, 4) he will gain a good reputation, 5) he will increase his understanding of the bodhi mind.
Generosity is crucial to any vision of a harmonious world. One can become acquainted with the value of generosity through contemplation, but a full understanding of it only can come after one has learned to be generous with real people in this world.
Praise and Encouragement
Praise lights up the mind and soothes the heart. Not only does praise provide its recipient with a moment of happiness, it also presents him with an enduring confirmation that his contribution to the world has been noticed and appreciated. All of us are social beings. We cannot live happily without the affection and respect of our fellow humans. When we give praise or encouragement to another we strengthen the social bond between us and we empower that person to reach out beyond himself to yet others who surely also need the solace of friendship and the knowledge that others need them.
Praise is the opposite of insult. Encouragement is the opposite of the negative urge to undermine or harm others in the mistaken belief that their pain can ever be our joy. Just as we learn to be generous, so we must learn to praise and encourage others. Never hold back a kind word and never be stinting with warmth and encouragement. When you encourage others, you begin to mingle your energy with the great, transcendent energy that inspires and moves all the bodhisattvas and Buddhas in the universe.
The Maharatnakuta says that encouraging language is language that is born in a joyful mind and in a mind that is not defiled by selfish distinctions. The sutra says that encouraging language gives peace and comfort to all sentient beings and that it speeds the progress of all activities.
Sakyamuni Buddha was a master of praise and encouragement. Whenever he addressed others he always used phrases like “good men and good women” and whenever he preached the Dharma, he carefully chose his words so that his audience would feel encouraged to practice and be hopeful about their futures. The very fact that he preached at all shows how concerned he was with the well-being of others. In a manner of speaking, the Dharma can be understood as the highest form of encouragement ever spoken by anyone in this world.
Good behavior is behavior that brings benefit both to oneself and to others. Good behavior depends on our being mindful of the actions of our bodies and minds and of our speech. When we use body, mind and speech to help others, we are practicing good behavior.
The Maharatnakuta says that good behavior brings joy both to others and to oneself and that it is born deep within a mind that has nothing to regret. The sutra says that good behavior helps both oneself and others and that it is based on a profound understanding of the essential equality among all sentient beings. Good behavior is behavior that is focused primarily on the well-being of others. By always giving the best of ourselves to others, we raise the level of whatever social group we find ourselves in. Simultaneously, we succeed in uncovering the very deepest levels of ourselves. When we give to others, we awaken the greatest source of wisdom in the universe.
Fellowship can be defined as anything that brings us closer to others and helps us understand their joys and sorrows. By achieving close fellowship with the members of the society we live in, we improve our chances of influencing others for the better. We cannot lead others to the Dharma if we are ignorant of their needs, their fears and their joys.
The Maharatnakuta says that fellowship is that quality within us that leads us to use our wisdom and compassion to bring others to the Dharma. When we begin to understand the importance of sharing the Dharma with others and when we begin to act on this understanding, we can be sure that we are acting out of the deepest sources of fellowship. This is the very same source that inspired the Buddha to preach for forty-five years. When we sense this source even slightly, we can know that we are sensing the Buddha within. Insofar as we understand the need to lead others to the Dharma, we are the same as the Buddha.
The purpose of generosity is to strengthen the roots of the bodhi mind. The purpose of praise is to nurture the shoots of the bodhi mind. The purpose of good behavior is to cause bodhi flowers to bloom. The purpose of fellowship is to ripen the fruits of bodhi wisdom.