By Thanissaro Bhikkhu from “No Dharma Without Karma”
“There’s no Dharma without karma. I keep running into this again and again – people who want to be told that the reason they’re suffering has nothing to do with them. It’s somebody else’s fault. They’re miserable because someone taught them to fear the world or fear their desires, whereas all you have to do is realize that the world is basically good as it is, your desires are perfectly fine, and you just relax into the goodness within and without, and you won’t have to suffer any more.
“But the Buddha never taught like that. If there’s going to be goodness in the world, it has to start with your *giving* something – giving your time, giving your energy, giving the things that you have control over. And you learn about your mind that way.
“If you can create a good environment in which to practice through your generosity and virtue, you gain a sense of self-esteem. As Ajaan Suwat once noticed, if you come to the practice without practicing generosity and virtue, you tend to be pretty grim about the practice; you don’t learn the counter-intuitive lessons from generosity and virtue: that happiness comes from giving away, that happiness comes from restraining your actions. With generosity and virtue, you learn about your own mind: what’s going on in the mind and what strategies you need to employ to overcome your own unskillful impulses.
“This, the Buddha said, is one of the hallmarks of wisdom and discernment: that if you see something that may be unpleasant to do but you know is going to give good results, you know how to talk yourself into doing it. Conversely, if there’s something you like doing but you know it’s going to give bad results, you know how to talk yourself out of doing it. Generosity gives you practice in this area.
“Virtue gives you practice here as well. Virtue is actually another kind of gift. You give the gift of safety to all living beings by holding to your precepts in all situations, without exception. That makes it a universal gift.
“You also learn the rewards of restraint. There’s a happiness that comes from not doing just whatever comes into your mind; not doing just what you would like to do. There are areas where you realize, “Okay, I like doing this or I would like doing this, but it’s going to cause trouble,” and you can stop yourself. And again, there’s a sense of responsibility that comes with that. Dharma comes with responsibility – if you take responsibility for your actions, then you’re going to be able to learn the Dharma.”