Generosity in the Streets

Running errands in downtown Hilo, I came across a familiar homeless man sitting on the ground and leaning against a store front. He was heavyset with wild hair. His sixty or so year-old face showed the unmistakable signs of a long life of alcoholism. He was also wearing a the black robe of a Zen priest and being conspicuously ignored by the many people passing him by.

As I approached, I said to him, “Nice robe!” He responded by asking for two dollars, which I gave to him. After a few pleasantries, I continued on my way.

homelessThe two dollars I gave him was not going to radically change his life, but it was what he asked for and what I could offer in the moment. This small act of generosity was not something I had to consider or agonize about. Long ago I decide that my practice would be to try and give to, “all who ask.”

People are often scandalized when they see me give money to someone on the street. One person, who witnessed me doing just this, called me the next day to give me a piece of their mind. It was long lecture about the evils of giving money to drug addicts and frauds who need to just “get a job.”

What could I say? It might all be true. They may indeed take the money I give them and use it to purchase alcohol or drugs. They might be scamming me. They might also need the money to buy food, or pay for a nights lodging at the shelter, or to pay bus fare, or meet some other “legitimate” expense. And, of course, it is also possible that they may not be drug addicts, or even be unemployed for that matter.

Whatever the case, as a person of faith my religious practice is to extend love and compassion to all. Sometimes this means taking direct action to meet a need or alleviate some little suffering. Most of the time it simply means smiling, offering a kind word, a patient ear, and a generous thought or prayer for the well being and happiness of the person right in front of you.

Peace, Paul

Photo by: A McLin

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5 Responses to “Generosity in the Streets”

  1. Michael Weddington Says:

    “Furthermore, Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

  2. Pieter Navis Says:

    What i wanted to say is pretty much summed up in the quote from the Diamond Sutra by Michael.. anyways 🙂
    Who are we to judge those on the recieving end?
    Reminds me of something my teacher says: in the west when you give something, you want a receit.

    But in true giving, there should not be any attachment. Very interesting post Peace Paul 🙂

    • Peace Paul Says:

      Thanks for commenting Pieter. I really like the high ideal expressed in the Diamond Sutra and elsewhere. However, my own experience is that we are all so caught up in fundamental ignorance that practicing generosity without attachment is really difficult. I think that Practice is just about doing the best that we can in any given situation and hoping that some little amount of love and compassion comes through.

      • Pieter Navis Says:

        🙂 I agree that Practice is doing the best we can at that certain moment. But i’m sure that with patience our compassion can grow bigger and bigger!
        With perseverance in practice we can achieve a lot (as long as we don’t cling to it lol) 🙂

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