Giving, taking, earning, stealing, squandering, hoarding. These are all human impulses, and we wouldn’t be human without them. Yet on this list only one item — giving — appears in the world’s wisdom traditions. Why is giving set apart? After all, there’s no mystery to why someone might want to earn, hoard, squander, or steal a million dollars. One way or another, most of our daily actions follow the principle of more is better, whereas giving means having less. Do the great spiritual teachers want us to have less? Have they figured out instead a higher way to give that will add increase to our lives?
If you ask people why they give, the readiest answers offer clues to the mystery. God wants me to. I feel better about myself. Others need, and I have. I want to share. It’s only right. A hazy halo encircles these good-hearted answers, and if we bring it into focus, the following seems true: Giving takes you out of yourself. You expand beyond your limitations. The inspiration behind CharityFocus, a brainchild of Nipun Mehta, declares that “it’s impossible to create a better world without inner change that results from selfless service.” This is also the philosophy of Venkat Krishnan (who is hosting”Joy of Giving Week” in India). I have recently joined as a contributor to the StartFund, an organization founded by Dutch philanthropist Fred Matser. This is a very innovative way to mobilize funding for worthy projects without the conventional tedium of fund-raising. Others might argue that inner change precedes selfless service, but no matter. “Selfless” means that you have been taken to a place outside yourself. In the Indian tradition, that happens to be impossible, because all of reality is centered in the self. But they don’t mean the self that is involved in tit for tat, this for that, getting and spending. Your true self is an expanded state, and you can only reach it through experience.
When giving results in an experience of love, joy, peace, community, charity, caring, and self-worth, the process of expansion has begun. Some visionaries foresee an economy based entirely on giving. That would be the ideal way to heal the excesses of unfettered capitalism (and many other woes), but the basis for universal giving can only be expansion beyond our present sense of self. Merely turning the tables, expecting to be rewarded for how lavishly you give, won’t work. Expansion of the self brings a direct experience of love, joy, and the other things I mentioned. You get a glimpse of ecstasy, the state of standing outside yourself in the infinite field of Being. Stand there, and all the money in the world wouldn’t buy a ticket back. You would wish to be there forever. Which is why Jesus offered those pungent words about storing up riches in heaven rather than treasure on earth.
The mystery of giving is revealed only when you crave the ecstasy that has been glimpsed. Then a realization hits you with full force. I must give myself away. Without realizing it, you have been trying to do that all your life. In giving away yourself, you open a conduit for the kind of happiness that no one can ever steal from you. Someone once said that permanent joy results when you can give away your last penny. Actually, the penny is only a symbol. Permanent happiness results when you no longer have a personal stake in the world. When you see through the constant needs of I, me, and mine, no more needs will remain. There is only Being, and then every breath is bliss giving itself to bliss. That’s the rhythm of life. I’m sure you’ve felt it. It came over you the last time you truly gave yourself away. You joined reality once more. You entered the space where holiness resides.