The cause of selfishness is our mistaken view of phenomena and self. We see it as something solid and permanent and then cling to this mistaken view. This sounds complicated, but in reality it is not. Think of a piece of paper. If analysed, we will not find anything that can actually be called ‘paper’. It is just processed wood, which came from a tree that developed from a seed through interaction with moisture, sunlight and nutrition. Basically, it is a temporary amalgamation of elements that are conveniently labelled as paper. Everything we experience is the same, including our own body.
So, how is this understanding linked to generosity? Well, thinking of everything as clearly separate creates dichotomies, such as I and the outside world. When this occurs, people naturally try to protect this ‘separate’ self. They create a prison-like castle, where the supposed outer world is viewed as either threatening or desirable. The castle becomes a source of aggression.
Generosity, on the other hand, requires a certain degree of surrender of the self and is in tune with the understanding that all things are connected. Consequently, when we commit ourselves to others, we are chipping away at ego’s fortress. We are ending our isolation. The two hands that once gazed at each other with suspicion begin to recognize that they are part of the same body. Preserving the idea of separation, on the other hand, intensifies a selfish attitude and each lie or corrupt act is another stone added to our prison walls.
OK, so it is clear that compassion undermines the ego and severs the root of selfishness, but why offer butter lamps instead of giving to the poor? Well, all action begins in the mind, and offering butter lamps is as an excellent means to ensure the mind’s purity. It is like enriching the soil before planting a crop. However, for the act to function in a positive way it is essential to offer a butter lamp with sincere aspirations that it will benefit others.
IOW, ritual puts bookmarks in your mind which are useful when the occasion presents itself.