Editor's note: We harbor a strange notion that we understand what it means to practice generosity, when truly it is one of life's most mysterious interchanges, a profound acknowledgment that we belong to each other. The following quotes point to some surprising themes alongside familiar ones. How many people, for instance, recognize generosity as an experience of flexibility and warmth? Let your conception of this rich and varied practice expand as you read.

Generosity is:

Abundant Even without Money
The Seven Kinds of Generosity Without Money
At Kozen-ji, a Zen temple in Japan, there is a plaque that lists the seven kinds of generosity without money:

• Generosity with eyes — look at someone with gentle eyes.

• Generosity of a harmonious face — smile with a gentle-hearted face.

• Generosity with words — speak kind words.

• Generosity with body — work with sincere attitude.

• Generosity with heart — have deep concern for others.

• Generosity with giving your seat — give your seat to elders.

• Generosity with hospitality — welcome people with a kind heart.
— Brenda Shoshanna in Jewish Dharma

Best Practiced Joyfully
"While you are engaging in the practice of giving you should do so with great happiness and radiance on your face. One should practice giving with a smile and with mental uprightness."
His Holiness The Dalai Lama in The Path to Tranquility edited by Renuka Singh

Better than Extravagance
"Be generous rather than extravagant."
— William Penn in Some Fruits of Solitude edited by Erik K. Taylor

The Classic Expression of an Accomplished Spirit
"Generosity is the classic expression of the accomplished spirit, when the self is open and unguarded and can freely share with others."
Lewis Richmond in Work as a Spiritual Practice

The Cause of Prosperity
"People understand about generosity in the East. They believe that everything that comes about happens due to causes and conditions, so if they want to be prosperous, they have to create the causes for future prosperity. The cause of prosperity is generosity. Knowing this, they are very happy to give and very grateful to the recipient for enabling them to accumulate this good karma. Not only does it help them to open up their hearts, but it also plants seeds for their future prosperity. For this reason, when a person gives something, the recipient doesn't say 'thank you,' because it is the giver who should give thanks for the opportunity to manifest generosity."
— Tenzin Palmo in Reflections on a Mountain Lake

An Experience of Flexibility and Warmth
"The journey of generosity is one of connecting with this wealth [fundamental richness in everything], cherishing it so profoundly that we are willing to begin to give away whatever blocks it. We give away our dark glasses, our long coats, our hoods, and our disguises. In short, we open ourselves and let ourselves be touched. This is called building confidence in all-pervasive richness. At the everyday, ordinary level, we experience it as flexibility and warmth."
— Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart

The First Step and a Key to Liberating Qualities
"Generosity is the inception of the path. The Buddha himself always started with new practitioners by teaching them dana, the practice of generosity. This method has remained as the classical tradition of Buddhist teaching. It is often true that we Westerners prefer the enticement of transformative meditative states; we understand the need for effort toward that end and are willing to put it forth. However, the actual springboard for those meditative states is the cultivation of generosity and morality. These qualities, which we consider more mundane, allow those other states to unfold most gracefully and easily.

"Generosity has such power because it is characterized by the inner quality of letting go or relinquishing. Being able to let go, to give up, to renounce, to give generously these capacities spring from the same source within us. When we practice generosity, we open to all of these liberating qualities simultaneously."
— Sharon Salzberg in LovingKindness

The Foundation of True Spiritual Life
"Compassionate generosity is the foundation of true spiritual life because it is the practice of letting go. An act of generosity opens our body, heart and spirit and brings us closer to freedom. Each act of generosity is a recognition of our interdependence, an expression of our Buddha nature."
Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart

The Gauge of a Life
"We make a living by what we earn.
We make a life by what we give."
— Winston Churchill in Living Kindness by Donald Altman

A Genuine Cure-All
"True sharing is a panacea, a genuine cure-all for the spiritual malaise that afflicts so much of mankind."
— Michael Berg in The Way

A Giving beyond Measure
"Share with others the fullness of spirit that flows from your religious life. Give to others beyond measure, just as no one has measured the great gifts you receive. Give of yourself: give time, not just money; give directly, not just impersonally. Above all, give love."
— Arthur Green in Ehyeh: A Kabbalah For Tomorrow

Giving to Others Their Own
"Whoever
does not give to another
what belongs to that other
does not eat his own bread
but steals the bread of that other.
For nothing
that we have acquired unjustly
is ours."
— Meister Eckhart in Meditations with Meister Eckhart by Matthew Fox

Impartial
"Generosity should always be exercised impartially toward all the poor, the sick, the aged, the traveler from afar without discrimination between friend and stranger, between those on whom we count and those from whom we can expect nothing. In giving, be free of ostentation, of favoritism, and of any expectation of reward."
— Dilgo Khyentse in The Hundred Verses of Advice

A Loosening of Egoism and Consumerism
"While consumerism preys on the alienated ego of modernity, generosity (dana) offers a way of loosening the grip of egoism on the heart. By practicing dana genuinely, we undermine the psychological structure of consumerism as we liberate ourselves from its selfishness."
— Santikaro in Hooked!, edited by Stephanie Kaza

A Matter of Presence
"To be present is the most fundamental generosity of all. When there is nothing else to do, when we are in a situation that seems hopelessly blocked, there is still one thing we can do: We can be there."
Lewis Richmond in Work as a Spiritual Practice

Openheartedness
"A Nigerian proverb says, 'It is the heart that gives; the fingers just let go.' What is your heart open to giving? How does this heart generosity make you feel? What is your heart closed to giving? How does this affect you? What might you like to change?"
— Holly W. Whitcomb in Feasting with God
A Payment of a Debt
" 'Warrior-travelers don't leave any debts unpaid,' don Juan said.

" 'What are you talking about, don Juan?' I asked.

"'It is time that you square certain indebtedness you have incurred in the course of your life,' he said. 'Not that you will ever pay in full, mind you, but you must make a gesture. You must make a token payment in order to atone, in order to appease infinity.' "
Carlos Castaneda in The Active Side of Infinity

Princely Giving
"Generosity is a primary virtue in Buddhism. In the past, some teachers have attached greater importance to giving than to meditation or wisdom. According to a traditional classification, there is tentative giving, friendly giving, and princely giving. When one happily shares or gives up the best one has, whether it be time, energy, or material resources, that is princely giving."
— Kenneth Kraft in The Wheel of Engaged Buddhism

A Reminder of Sufficiency
"I have practiced one little discipline for many years. The first time each day that someone asks me for money on the street, I give either fifty cents or a dollar. I have long since stopped worrying about whether or not this is good social policy. I figure that my meager amount will neither make nor break the person I give it to. Instead, I use these encounters as reminders that whatever possessions I have at the time are more than enough."
— Gregory F. A. Pierce in Spirituality@Work

"We can hardly call a beggar an obstacle to generosity."
His Holiness The Dalai Lama in The Path to Tranquility edited by Renuka Singh

A Righting of Wrongs
"The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."
— Basil of Caesarea in At Home in the World by Margaret Guenther

Sharing with Everyone
"Charity means sharing. It means cutting your cake into as many slices as you can, and then inviting everyone to join you at the feast.

"You'll be surprised how much better everything tastes."
— Dwight Currie in How We Behave at the Feast

A State of Mind
"Generosity is chiefly a state of mind characterized by nonattachment. How generous we are is an indication of how detached we are from what we have."
— Ringu Tulku in Path to Buddhahood

Unforgettable
"Don't forget that the people are as generous as the clouds and their hearts can be as tender as the raindrops."
Mahatma Gandhi in Path Without Destination by Satish Kumar

The Virtue that Produces Peace
"Generosity is the ornament of the world;
Through generosity one turns back from the lower realms;
Generosity is the stairway to the higher realms;
Generosity is the virtue that produces peace."
Buddhist Meal Chant in Enlightened by Design by Helen Berliner

A Way of Keeping What We Give
"Somewhere I read that we take into the next world only those things we have given away here on earth."
John Skoyles in Generous Strangers

A Way to Thrive
"If we are generous then our ways will be generous. And if we as a species can grow in generosity then we will be worthy to continue and indeed to thrive on this kindly planet in this kindly though tumultuous universe where all flesh and spirit, creation and Creator are kin."
— Matthew Fox in Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh