Saturday, May 8, 2010

At your service . . .

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world"


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

Many Buddhists are under the impression that they are making the world a better place through their Buddhist practice. If these people were formerly spending their time looting, raping, and pillaging, and their practice has helped them to stop doing these things, then they are right. Otherwise, their practice is, in all likelihood, only helping to maintain the status quo. But keeping the world from becoming a worse place is not the same thing as making it a better place.

While using Buddhist practice to calm and center yourself is a good place to start, truly improving the world requires moving beyond the meditation cushion, beyond the zendo or temple, and actively engaging in a life of service. The Buddha himself recognized this when, after his enlightenment, he passed up the chance to live a peaceful, reclusive life and decided instead to spread peace by helping others to wake up as well. He spent the bulk of his life in service as a teacher, counselor, and advisor, and the fruits of this service are still evident 2600 years later.

So, I challenge you to serve. Move beyond the mere intellectual understanding that we are all connected into an active realization of this fact. Pick up trash in the streets and parks. Buy a homeless person a meal. Teach meditation to prisoners. The possibilities are endless - but you have to start somewhere. In time, you may even find that an hour of service can be a more effective practice than 10 hours spent in meditation.

Be the change.

What will you do?


  1. Interesting.

    I do service because I love to do it. Not because I have the urge to change something.

    But I love to be the change rather than busy discussing or criticizing change.

    Guess I will start by sleeping now :)

  2. Hi Hadashi,
    We were not pillaging and raping, I agree. But today there are many other subtle ways to throw shit on this world.
    When you restrain to speak bad to someone, when you try to do not harm, when you try to develop metta, you are actively doing something. It's not being pasive, it requires an active and clear state of mind.

  3. Nice post, Hadashi - thank you.

    It reminds me of a conversation we had on this site some months ago regarding missionary activity. What better way to serve people than to teach them to meditate?

    There's that saying, "Give man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life."

    Preferably, do both: while you're teaching him to fish, share with him the meal you've already caught.

  4. “To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one's self and others.”

    This fundamental to our awakening, we must be able to drop away from thinking of our selves as only being our personal physicality. When we expand beyond our “self” and incorporate our interactions with others (as a fundamental aspect of our practice) we discover that the “self” is forgotten and body and mind drop away.

    When we abandon what we need and give ourselves to the greater good, we ultimately discover that what we really needed- was to give to others in order to find ourselves. This is the foundation of compassion, in caring for others we forget about our own petty worries and embrace the suffering of the world.

    The word compassion means to "share one another's suffering" this is a transaction. Through sharing our center becomes something outside of us, our self expands and the ego is dropped away. This why compassion is so essential to Zen and the Bodhisattva’s path.

    We are not all Gandhi’s or Mother Theresa’s, but we must understand that if we cannot cast our nets beyond our own suffering, we will forever feel isolated and unfulfilled

    “To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”