Today I want to add generosity to the list of spiritual principles we’ve been discussing so far. We tend to think of generosity, like kindness, as just a basic trait of good character. We may not imagine that developing our generosity can lead us to experience more wealth and confidence in our lives, but that’s what’s happened for me.
My Weird Secret
I do something that most of my friends don’t do. I never tell anyone when I’m doing it. Lots of folks tried to talk me out of it when I started. I was afraid to do it for a long time. But since I’ve been doing it I love it and I don’t want to stop.
Yes, that’s right — I tithe.
A tithe means “one tenth.” I give ten percent of my income before taxes to a source that spiritually nourishes me. Not to charity, not to a worthy cause, but to a spiritual source. It’s one of the basic ways I practice the principle of generosity.
The notion of tithing comes out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. There’s a verse in the Old Testament Book of Malachi where the Lord says something like, “Bring the tithes into the storehouse that there shall be food in my temple, and prove me now herewith, said the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the doors of heaven and pour you out a blessing of many sexy expensive outfits.”
I may have gotten the last bit confused, but you get the idea. The Lord of hosts said to bring him the bucks and he would pay out big time.
The idea of giving to God is present in other traditions, too. The Sikhs traditionally offer dasvand (which also means “one tenth”) to their place of worship. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna offers that in order to become free of our karma we need to surrender the fruits of our labor to Him, and other Hindu scriptures emphasize the importance of giving. Lay Buddhists offer gifts to Buddhist monks. It’s a pretty standard spiritual practice.
But Why Would You Do a Thing Like That?
For a lot of secular-minded folks, giving to sources of spiritual nourishment might sound odd. Giving to charity makes sense in terms of ordinary morality– but giving to temples or teachers? Even if they already have money? Why?
Well, giving money to a source of spiritual nourishment is a way to practically, deeply acknowledge the divine origin of all the wealth that blesses me. Tithing, like all giving, is a gesture of trust. It’s saying, “I believe there’s more where this came from, so I’m free to offer this.” In the act of giving there’s a deep acknowledgment that has the effect of expanding one’s faith and thus one’s willingness to take positive action.
When I freely offer ten percent of my income to God at the start of the month, even though I’m in debt, even though I don’t know exactly how I’ll buy the groceries and pay the bills– and somehow, by the end of the month, money shows up and I have more than enough– well, that there is a major faith increaser.
Wherein Billions Suffer
I used to get really bugged when I’d hear people talking about how they believed their higher power would provide for them. I’d think, “Man, there’s billions of people struggling to get food and water day to day. Why do you think God’s gonna pay your fat American rent and let them starve? Are you a cosmic favorite?”
I still don’t think that God plays favorites. It’s clear that lots of spiritually evolved people suffer all sorts of calamities, including persecution and disease and poverty.
But I do believe that by aligning myself with spiritual principles, including the principle of generosity, I better make myself available to the flow of whatever beneficent forces would like to come my way. In other words, whether I’m tithing or not I’m still a fragile human being subject to infelicitous happenings (maybe old bad karma?) but when I don’t give at all, I cut myself out of the divine gift circle. I become a self-obsessed closed system.
In other words, when I don’t give, I’m so busy being anxious about my own security and comfort that I’m just not paying enough attention to notice and reap all the universe’s great freebies. Since I don’t notice what I’m being freely offered, I maintain my bleak perspective that life is just a bitter struggle punctuated by death. A birth astride the grave, and a hard labor– as Beckett liked to say.
When I do give, I am much more open and alert and receptive to divine freebies, in part because I feel more entitled to them (hey, I’m tithing!). And noticing all this good stuff helps to encourage me in the view that stuff might not be so bad after all. In fact, stuff might even be great.
Stay tuned — I’ll soon be discussing my own personal journey with tithing and what it’s done for me so far.
Image Credit: “Cash Money” by BlatantNews, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.