It is said in the Dharma traditions that the Buddha flies through the world with two wings. Wisdom and compassion are our wings. They help us cultivate kindness and foster beneficial intentions, which gives clarity and direction to our lives. Together they help us lessen the distress in our lives and in the lives of those we share the world with. All the basic practices of the Buddhist path are informed by, and give rise to, these two beneficial forces. Generosity is one such practice; the mindless, mundane mental habits that can perpetuate an unrecognized momentum towards our individual comfort in every moment are interrupted by an act of generosity. Over time, a well-practiced habit of generosity––directed towards ourselves, as well as towards others––cuts through the forceful human drive that is classically called “craving.” Unseen craving strengthens the unskillful behaviors that we wish we could change. As we practice, we come to know this pleasing shift in our energy at a visceral level, and to clearly see the source of this good feeling. This the wisdom aspect of generosity: we choose to be generous because we know it is liberating.
The caring wing of compassion has its roots in empathy. We know the feeling of the one we see who is in distress. We know that we too are subject to that very experience––perhaps we have even already experienced it––and a natural feeling to help wells up in us. The act of generosity occurs instinctively in this case. It is simply what we do. Recognizing and savoring this in the moment will encourage it to happen again. It is in this spirit that VIMS is once again joining with the United Valley Interfaith Project (UVIP) in the celebration of kindness and the wisdom that nourishes it.
For several years, VIMS has been an active member of the United Valley Interfaith Project. This relationship has given us a way to join with others in wise and compassionate generosity. Together we have engaged in actions as diverse as supporting services for elders in our communities and rallying around the New Hampshire immigrants who have been threatened with deportation by our government. All the actions open our hearts to the needs of others and support the well-being of our greater community. They also all help us to uproot the forces of self-centered craving; in this way, they change us––they change our behaviors and our hearts.
Each year UVIP has a “Micah Award” gathering to celebrate the goodness we nurture in human hearts. This event provides the opportunity for all of us to meet informally for a shared meal; to acknowledge the deep value of the work; and to raise funds for UVIP’s continuance. Each member group is asked to nominate a person or a group within their own organization to represent the ennobling qualities that, when cultivated, can change the shape of our collective. Last year VIMS celebrated the work of the local branch of Showing Up For Racial Justice by nominating those in our Sangha who are intimately involved in that group. This year we are recognizing the importance of encouraging human thriving within the prison system by nominating our own Prison Project volunteers, shown in the photo above, as representatives of the generous heart.
Valley Insight has offered a monthly Buddhist Study/Practice group at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Institute for Men in Berlin for over fourteen years. Working with VIMS Guiding Teacher, Doreen Schweizer, our volunteers have played an invaluable part in the program’s effectiveness. As these meditative practices of reflection and kindness have taken root in prison life, we have witnessed a softening in the attitudes of prison staff, as well as transformations within individual inmates and in our own hearts.
Joanne Bernard of Wilmot, New Hampshire has been involved for a year. “I was fortunate to find the caring, compassionate prison sangha. Our shared meditation practice opens a profound connection with these intelligent, funny men in a place where, against the odds, hope arises.”
Terry Gustafson taught meditation at prisons in Colorado and Arizona before moving to Strafford, Vermont in 2012. He is inspired by the dedicated group in Berlin. “They are so happy and grateful to do this,” he says. “Their energy is uplifting!”
Landon Hall of West Lebanon, New Hampshire has volunteered for eleven years. “Over time, the core group members have become true spiritual friends. The fruits of their efforts reveal the transformative capacities within the human heart. Their lives are often beacons of hope and inspiration.”
Barbara Woodard of Lyme, New Hampshire has volunteered for twelve years: “The gentlemen are motivated, intellectually curious, friendly, dedicated, and grateful. Many have exchanged remorse and pain for wisdom and wellness. This has made me more curious and committed in my own practice.”
Claudia Brandenburg, of Wilder, Vermont, corresponds by mail with a group member. It has been a rewarding experience for both. They share spiritual insights, poetry, and art. “Our friendship has increased our compassion and wisdom for all people. It is an honor to be a part of this project.
“… the real basis for a sense of connectedness comes through [our actions]. When you interact with another person, a connection is made.
“Now, it can be a positive or a negative connection, depending on the intention. With generosity you create a positive connection, a helpful connection, a connection where you’re glad that the boundary is down, a connection where good things can flow back and forth.”
–– Thanissaro Bhikkhu