The lord Buddha continued:
“Subhuti, one should realize the egolessness of all things and understand selflessness. Why? because great disciples do not see merit as a personal possession, as something to be gained.”
Subhuti asked, “What do you mean?”
The Buddha replied:
“Because great disciples do not seek merit, they do not see them as personal possessions, but they see them as the common possession of all beings.”
It’s important to remember that we are practicing the six perfections: generosity, patience, virtue, diligence, concentration and wisdom, not for ourselves and our own generation of merit, but for the good of all beings. When one being becomes Awakened, it truly helps all beings and makes the world a better place.
The Buddha continued:
“If a follower were to give away many treasures, would a great blessing and merit be generated?”
Subhuti replied, “Yes they would acquire considerable blessings and merit.”
The Buddha said:
“Subhuti, if such a blessing had any substantiality, if it were anything other than a figure of speech, I would not have used the words ‘blessings and merit’.”
The Buddha is challenging public ideas about karma. Karma is a complicated matter in Buddhism. Many people then, and now, thought of it as ‘if you do good things, then good things will happen to you’. The point is we should practice virtue because we want to practice virtue, not because we believe it will generate good karma for us.
“If any person in any place were to teach even four lines of this Sutra, the place where they taught it would become sacred ground. Any student who studies this Sutra will attain something deep and profound. Any place in which this Sutra is honored is holy ground, the abode of venerable Buddhas.”
Again, this Sutra is worthy of study.
” Subhuti, if a person filled the universe with treasure for the purpose of kindness and generosity, would this person gain great merit?”
“Yes. This person would gain great merit, even though, in truth, this person does not have a separate existence that could gain merit.”
The Buddha continued, “Then suppose another person understood only four lines of this Sutra, but nevertheless took it upon themselves to explain these lines to someone else. This person’s merit would be even greater than the first person. Why? Because this Sutra contains the highest and most excelled teachings.”
The Buddha is saying that understanding and teaching this Sutra is more beneficial to the world than almost anything an individual can do. The teachings contained in this Sutra can led anyone to immediate Enlightenment. This Sutra is described by the Buddha as the most important Sutra.
“Also, in the practice of kindness and generosity, a disciple should be detached. Give for the sake of giving, not for the sake of appearances. Be compassionate because being compassionate is good, not for some external reward. Why? Because practicing kindness and generosity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”
“Subhuti, do you think that you can measure all of space?”
“No, Most Honored One. One cannot possibly measure all of space.”
“Well, Subhuti, the same is true of the merit of the disciple who practices kindness and generosity without any attachment to appearances, without cherishing any idea of form. It is impossible to measure the merit gained by this. Subhuti, my disciples should let their minds absorb and dwell in these teachings.”
The Buddha is telling Subhuti (and us) that what we should do is give for the sake of giving, not to create a good reputation. Generosity is the first of the Six Perfections in Mahayana Buddhism. The perfection of generosity represents more than just giving material things. Obviously, it does represent giving money or items to the needy. It also represents giving your time, things like helping a friend move or spending time comforting someone who is suffering from a loss.
We can also give someone less tangible things, like our love, respect, or patience. We can offer stability, being reliable. If we make plans with someone and keep those plans, we are giving them stability. We can give someone space when they want to be alone, or quiet when they are being bothered by too much noise.
The practice of generosity is beneficial to us. It increases our confidence and self-esteem. It also helps lessen our attachments. If we give material things, it helps us lessen our attachment to material things. Cultivating generosity is helpful in developing love, joy, and compassion.