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.