I had a really unique experience this week and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do this again.
A man came into work today (I’m a receptionist at a small doctor’s office, so it’s only me up front). He told me that all of his belongings had been robbed and he and his wife (who was right outside) had nowhere to go. They were simply looking for help and a place to go. They were on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and he really didn’t want to put his wife in a shelter.
I told him to give me a few minutes to figure something out. My initial reaction included “He’s probably ripping me off” and “I really don’t have the ability to do much.” I then realized that they were obviously homeless judging by the state of their clothes and belongings and getting them a place to stay other than a shelter wouldn’t be a bad thing; in fact, it would most likely greatly help their overall state of mind.
I did some quick research and found a motel (a Days Inn) down the road and arranged to a rent a room for him and his wife for two nights, paid for out of my pocket.
The act of generosity (dana) is an underlying practice that the Buddha taught was the first of ten perfections (paramitas).
Generosity can take many different forms: monetary donations, service and time to the community, and even setting aside sometime to talk with an old friend. Dana is also considered an antidote to greed – if we freely give what we have, we have little wanting to obtain more. We act in service to others.
Many times, society has trained us to assume the worst in people. We have been taught to assume that homeless person on the corner is going to use the donated money to buy alcohol or drugs. We have been trained to judge those we do not even know.
Dana retrains our brains to think without judgement. Generosity is a pure act of loving-kindness and compassion to others. It is a selfless act of love and support for another human being. If we are generous in our speech, actions, and thoughts, we create a positive and wholesome world for ourselves and others.
Sometimes, we all question whether we should help that homeless person or spare some change. We all have reservations on whether that person is going to use that money for alcohol or drugs or whatever. But frankly, the act of giving is what matters, and I can tell you, by the look on his face when I told him I got him a room for the next two nights, giving matters.
Dear Yogis and Yoginis,
Our words are, perhaps more than anything else, an expression of our mental state. It isn’t just what we say that is important, but how we say it. Our inflection, our timing, and our audience are all factors that condition our speech to be positive or negative, harmful or helpful, skillful or unskillful. If we can learn to start training and taming our speech, then we are already working at taming our mind.
Training our speech requires the practice of mindfulness. We must know what we are saying. If our mouths are running at a hundred miles an hour then we don’t have a good mindful hold of our words or of our mind. Try speaking slowly and deliberately for a single conversation, taking a moment to reflect on everything you say before you say it. See how this mindfulness transforms both your speech and your mind.
Training in wholesome speech requires an understanding of right view. It requires seeing that, for example, lies are destructive and gossip is toxic. Speech that is true, intentional (directed towards the good), and uplifting is speech worth speaking. Therefore, we should cultivate this kind of speech if we want to promote kindness, goodness, and joy in ourselves and in the world.
Right speech is also deeply connected with right intention. The four types of speech to avoid (lies, divisive speech, harsh or hurtful speech, and idle chatter or gossip) are often distinguished by the intention behind the words spoken. What is the difference between harmful speech and compassionate speech? Sometimes telling the truth can be painful for others to hear, so how do we keep our speech noble? One way to help us do this is to continually reconnect with an intention of good will. And of course, we must constantly cultivate our own wisdom about when, how, and if a thing should be spoken.
How should we know when to speak then? The Buddha gave some advice about when he chose to speak and when he chose to stay silent.
The criteria for deciding what is worth saying:
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.
 “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”
— MN 58
(taken from accesstoinsight.org)
So take some time this month to reflect on what you say, how you say it, and why you say it. You may be surprised what a little mindfulness of speech can do for your life.