The Chinese character for Generosity

is a two character combination word, spelled Kang Kai
pronounced “Kahng Kii”


Both parts of this character mean “generousity.”  That often happens in Chinese, that the two characters will each mean the same thing with a slightly different flavor.

chinese character

The first character:  Kang means generousity

Left side: Heart/Mind, in the vertical form of script

Right side:  healthy


The second character: Kai also means generousity.

Left side:  Heart/Mind

Right side: A meal, swallowed

The first character’s deeper meaning is that a healthy heart is a generous heart.  The second character’s deeper meaning is very interesting – a heart that has eaten its full is a generous one.  That’s true!

What was most curious to me about the second character, Kai, is that it can combine with another character and mean “angry.”

Anger and generousity?   How do they fit?

Here is a story from Zhuangzi (also spelled Chuang Zi):

There was a man crossing a river, and he saw a boat coming down the river.  The boatman in the other boat seemed to be completely out of control, and the boat was bashing into other skiffs.  Soon it headed straight towards his boat, and was about to crash into it.  He shouted at the boat to steer clear, and when it still came towards him, he started to curse at the boatman.  His heart was full of anger.  But when the boat came close, he saw that there was no one steering the boat at all.

Finding the boat empty, his anger left him, and he quickly steered his skiff out of the way.

Is this an account of early Chinese road rage?  Almost.

Let me tell you a funny story.  When my brother was little he was given a small plastic car to ride in for Christmas.  He plunked himself down in the car and pretended to drive, turning the wheel with great intensity, although he hadn’t learned how to make it go forward yet.  All of a sudden he did the equivalent of coming to a screeching halt, leaned out its “window”, shook his fist, and said some unmentionable words in a really angry voice that sounded much like something another member of our family might have said.  (It wasn’t me!)

He had mastered the beginning of road rage before he was two.

Think about this:  If we are driving and a rude person in front of our car isn’t moving, we honk and get mad.  But it we are driving and we see a stone in the road, we just drive around it.

There is a kind of generousity we can have that is generousity towards others.  It is hard to know why the car is stopped in the road.  They might be stupid and selfish pigs.  But on the other hand, they might have a reason to be stopped.  Mostly we never know.  But our hearts will be lighter and filled with freedom if we can cultivate the sense of generousity that just “drives around” the car in the same way we drive around a stone.  That is Freedom.

Next time you see an irritating car on the road, you can try saying, “Just drive my generous heart around this” and keep on your merry way.

After telling the boat story, Zhuangzi wrote:

If you can empty your own boat, crossing the river of the world, no one will oppose you and no one will seek to harm you.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  ~Luke 6:37-38a

Rabbi Ila’i said: A person is known by three things: his cup (by how he holds his wine), his pocket (by his generosity) and his anger.

~Jewish tradition, Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 65b


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