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Excerpted from Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake by Sylvia Boorstein. Copyright 2002 by Sylvia Boorstein. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 

"Not feeling needy is what allows generosity to happen, but it doesn't obligate it to happen."

  Sylvia Boorstein, Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake, Part 2

Louise M. Davies was the principal donor for the building of the very beautiful symphony hall in San Francisco. It's named for her. A newspaper story, just after the building was inaugurated, quoted her response to an interviewer's question: "Why did you give this gift of six million dollars?"

She was said to have replied, "Because I had it."

I thought her answer was wonderful. It was so uncomplicated. It was stating the obvious. Of course she had it. Otherwise she couldn't have given it. And although she could have offered an opinion ("San Francisco needs a symphony hall with modern acoustics") or a personal reflection ("I've always loved music. It's important to me"), she didn't do that either. She just said, "I had it." So simple.

Sitting in Davies Hall enjoying a performance, I've often thought, "She could have had it and not given it." Not feeling needy is what allows generosity to happen, but it doesn't obligate it to happen. The impulse to do something has to be present. Recognizing the possibility of creating delight or of alleviating suffering are both sources of that impulse. Both are responses to people other than ourselves. Both provide pleasure.

In 1990 James and I traveled to India with some of our friends to visit the venerable Advaita teacher Sri H. W. L. Poonja in Lucknow. Every day for three weeks we traveled (in three-wheel taxis, then by pedal rickshaw, then on foot) to arrive in time for morning darshan (teachings) at his home. We sat with perhaps twenty other students from all over the world, squeezed in close to each other on the floor of the small living room. Poonja-ji (the -ji is an affectionate honorific title for a teacher) sat on a raised platform in the front of the room. For three hours he told stories, laughed, and included each of us, one by one, in dialogue. We all loved it. On the last day he agreed to see James and me in a private interview.

"What do you teach?" he asked.

"We teach Mindfulness and Lovingkindness meditation," James replied, "and we especially emphasize Generosity."

"There is no such thing as Generosity," Poonja-ji said. James and I exchanged glances that said, "Uh-oh! Have we just started this interview and already done it wrong?"

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