Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, announced in June 2006 that he is giving 85% of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help the foundation pursue its longstanding goal of curing the globe’s most fatal diseases and improving American education. This is a $31 billion gift, certainly one of the largest acts of generosity in world history.
Two thoughts came to mind when we heard this news. First, we recalled something Bill Gates, chairman of the Microsoft Corporation, said three years ago…. Gates recounted a litany of reasons why some people think addressing global health problems is a good idea. Some use economic arguments. If we cure something like malaria in an African country, say, then that country’s Gross National Product will be higher (and presumably they will buy more things). Some use security arguments; “If we don’t cure these diseases, the instability in these countries will be bad.” Others use the neighborhood arguments; “Somebody could get on a plane from one of these places and you might get sick.”
None of these arguments, Gates said matter-of-factly, is the right one. “The right argument is this mother’s child is sick. And that child’s life is no less valuable than the life of anyone else. And the world has plenty of resources to go solve these problems.”
So we decided to look into our databases of quotes collected from our reading and see what teachers of our times and earlier ones have said about the spiritual practice of generosity. We encourage you to take them to heart, as we have, and to share them with others.
Elaine Pagels: Tertullian, a Christian spokesman of the second century, writes that, unlike members of other clubs and societies that collected dues and fees to pay for feasts, members of the Christian ‘family’ contributed money voluntarily to a common fund to support orphans abandoned in the streets and garbage dumps. Christian groups brought food, medicine, and companionship to prisoners forced to work in mines, banished to prison islands, or held in jail. Christians even bought coffins and dug graves to bury the poor and criminals, whose corpses would otherwise lie unburied beyond the city gates… such generosity, which ordinarily could be expected only from one’s own family, attracted crowds of newcomers to Christian groups, despite the risks.
Anthony de Mello: Those who expect God to be generous with them must be generous with their fellows. ‘Give,’ says Jesus, ‘and gifts will be given you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured out into your lap; for whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt out to you in return’ (Luke 6:38). If you are tight-fisted and calculating with the poor, the needy, with those who ask you for help and service, how can you expect God to be generous with you?
Sharon Salzberg: The Buddha said that no true spiritual life is possible without a generous heart…. Generosity allies itself with an inner feeling of abundance — the feeling that we have enough to share.
John O’Donohue: A generous heart is never lonesome. A generous heart has luck. The lonesomeness of contemporary life is partly due to the failure of generosity. Increasingly we complete with each other for the goods, for image, and status.