Are we doing enough?

who wants changePeople everywhere are suffering. Mass murder in Las Vegas. Climate catastrophes. Rampant racism. Growing inequality. Sanctioned homophobia. The clear and present danger of nuclear war. Millions more animals butchered without conscience. Even bad so-called Buddhists in Myanmar. Oh, and let’s not forget what’s been going on in all the other realms of samsara.

And that’s just today.

When I read these things I wonder, as a Buddhist, am I practicing enough? Am I giving enough? Am I helping enough? Am I putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak? Or am I still allowing myself to get too distracted or too complacent, “I’m alright, Jack”, given that Buddhism, or Dharma, makes it increasingly easy to feel all peaceful and happy inside? Or discouraged and fatalist, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s nothing I can do about this mess of a world so there is no point even trying.”?

We can always operate on two levels – inside and outside. Training our mind does not preclude being active to help our world. With a peaceful, grounded, and stable heart, above all practicing compassion and wisdom, we can also act externally to try and make a difference in whatever way seems appropriate, and according to how much time and skill we have.

What to do about Las Vegas?

sign-americansFor me, for example, I am using what happened on Sunday to remind myself that I have to address any hatred or even dislike in my own mind. If this is what uncontrolled aversion can do, I cannot afford to let this delusion feel at home in my heart.

And then I’m trying to figure what I can do to help counteract the culture of violence in the USA, partly by seeking to understand it more fully in the first place. I may not be able to do much, but I can contribute in some ways.

There need be no contradiction between practicing Buddhism on the inside and on the outside – when we try to protect others by, for example, campaigning for gun control with a good heart, this is a Bodhisattva perfection, giving fearlessness.

And we also have to practice patience with the outcome. We cannot be attached to the results of our actions in the near future because so many other factors are already in play. However, we can know that this giving and patience are creating good karma that will lead to good results.

And I accompany any actions with a prayer for the best possible outcome, for prayers are never wasted.

And North Korea?!

What about even more seemingly out of control situations such as climate change or the nuclear escalation between North Korea and the US? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll be faced with a “limited nuclear option” that would claim an impossible number of lives and throw this world into hell. So what do we do about that?

I don’t think we should pretend it is not happening. I don’t think we should pretend that we are not part of this world or that this world is not part of us. I don’t think this is a good time to be distracted by our own small problems and entertainments. I do think we need to be motivated by this to become Bodhisattvas and Buddhas as quickly as possible, so that we can use our wisdom to destroy our own and others’ samsara.

And as prayers do make all the difference, we need to direct our prayers toward world peace not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but NOW.

It is not an either/or

Some Buddhists frame our activities as an either/or: either we are studying and meditating to attain enlightenment or we are helping others “externally”. But that’s a bit precious human lifeof a red herring because we can do both, and both can be leading us closer to enlightenment.

In any event, it is not as if many of us get to sit around in monasteries or their equivalent any more, studying and meditating all day long, like it was in Tibet. The chance would be a fine thing! Although I am of the opinion that most of us could indeed profitably spend more time studying and meditating, most of us will still have to go to work every day in any case to earn our keep, obliged to interact with a bunch of people, acting “externally”. So what are we DOING all day long at work? Most of us are probably in a position to love and help and influence at least a few people every day, to help transform their lives.

Fact is, too, that we never know how we are being received. We never know how far our influence might be spreading. An old friend of mine, Kathleen Dowling Singh, died on Tuesday. She was a wonderful woman, a fearless warrior for love. In mid-SeptemKathleen Dowling Singhber she had written to tell me she had just been diagnosed with cancer, requesting prayers and thanking me for “all you have given me.” Her heart was always deeply grateful to Geshe Kelsang and his teachings, some of which I was able to share with her when we both lived in Florida. And tributes are coming in from many people to say how much her series of “Grace” therapy books have helped them, books whose ideas come mainly from Buddhism.

You can’t keep a good idea down. So let’s share these ideas whenever possible.

Our Buddhist Centers

As I talked about in this last article, helping our Dharma Centers is always going to be an invaluable, even cosmic, use of our time — helping at the core of things. Even if you have no clue what to do about some of this other stuff, you can always volunteer practical help at a Center. Helping keep the doors open to people seeking refuge is increasingly vital and meaningful.

Can we up our game?

web of kindness

A friend sent me this article called Radical Buddhism and the Paradox of Acceptance. Someone on Facebook pointed out that this article may be a bit of a straw man misrepresentation of Slavoj Zizek’s apparently complex arguments, but I think that reading it could still serve a useful purpose because people do sometimes have these questions about the relevance of Buddhism.

In this tumultuous day and age — and as we seek to integrate Buddhism as a new development into our Western world — each of us probably needs to try answering these kinds of questions for ourselves individually. At least, I have found recently that in questioning myself, “Am I complicit in the status quo because I am personally alright, or am I doing enough to end world suffering?”, I have been inspired to up my spiritual game. So with that in mind I asked a question on Facebook:

How would you debate this misconception about Buddhism? Do you find Buddhism helps you escape or engage the world? Or both?!

Related to this, I also asked:

What can we as Buddhists do about (a) violent incidents like the one in Las Vegas (2) the real and present danger of nuclear strikes (3) the growing divisions and inequality in modern society (4) climate disasters. Answers on a postcard! No, seriously, what are we each doing individually and as a Sangha to end this kind of suffering?

Please give your own answer in the comments, if you have time! And I am going to share some of the excellent replies I have already received in the next article.

Related articles

A case for Buddhist Centers

What is modern Buddhism for?

A vision of hope in these troubled times

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

20 thoughts on “Are we doing enough?”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article, i often grapple with just this issue. I have come to feel that unless you are willing to go into politics or start a nonprofit with a mind and heart of Dharma changing things on a really large scale is extremely difficult. What can i do? I can make a difference in the lives of the people around me through my practice. If we can integrate the 6 perfections into our daily life we practicing dharma in action. Live your life to the best of your ability with virtue. We shouldn’t minimize the impact this has on people and the world.

  2. What can we do to bridge the divide?

    We can make sure everyone has an opportunity to come under the umbrella of Dharma. In other words, let’s begin branch classes in the forgotten and neglected neighborhoods of our counties and cities. Wherever possible, if people aren’t coming to us, we must go to them.

  3. Apologies. I am re-entering my endless comments, this time with the questions intact:

    I had several hours on some of these very topics this morning over coffee with a friend. The coffee got cold. In this case, a good sign.

    Q – Am I complicit in the status quo because I am personally alright, or am I doing enough to end world suffering? How would you debate this misconception about Buddhism?

    I am complicit in the status quo for each moment that I am in mental cruise control. A Buddhist is only a Buddhist when they are being a Buddhist. You’ll notice that we aren’t issued “Official Buddhist” cards that then allow us to claim the status of Mr. or Mrs. Full-Time Kindness regardless of whatever silly distraction has claimed our mind.

    So yes…I’m complicit quite a lot. My job is to continue to do the work so that I will rewire and rewire and rewire…and one day reach the point of No More Rewiring. The circuits will be complete and humming perfectly.

    My own awareness of my fallibility, my in-the-groove/out-of-the-groove movement is the crucial bit. A fool who is aware that he is a fool is less a fool than the fool who is not aware that he is a fool. (does that hold up?)

    But yes. Feeling personally alright is a danger when it comes to the need to continue to turn outward and open our heart to others. Selfishness is a seductive mind. And so is despair, the giving up of hope or effort because it all seem so impossible for little old me to affect. Being Buddhist is recognizing these misery-minds for what they are, copping to the fact that we have them, and being so very jazzed that we have gobs of methods at our disposal to thwart them. “I’m happy to help” is a wonderful mind, even while that help has not yet flowered. ie, fixed all the woes of the world.

    Q – Do you find Buddhism helps you escape or engage the world? Or both?!

    Both. Drats.

    Q – What can we as Buddhists do about: violent incidents like the one in Las Vegas

    Display non-anger toward the shooter. Show it.

    Q -What can we as Buddhists do about: the real and present danger of nuclear strikes

    Comfort those who are freaked out

    Q – What can we as Buddhists do about: the growing divisions and inequality in modern society

    Exchange self with others…a lot. A LOT. Get into the skin of those who are being oppressed and feel what they are feeling (to whatever degree we can). Especially if we are among the privileged race/gender/etc., we need to make this practice mighty. I think this is the big one.

    Q – What can we as Buddhists do about: climate disasters.

    Send strong prayers, send money, volunteer to be on-site, remain mindful of the inevitability of what-rises-must-fall, and keep from getting shrill about the planet’s beginning to go on the blink. It would have happened without us…and with us it is happening much earlier. It is the nature of fire to burn, as it is the nature of self-cherishing people to muck up the environment. I don’t feel that this is pessimism (nor an excuse for inaction), but fairly clear-minded.

    Q – What are we each doing individually and as a Sangha to end this kind of suffering?

    We are setting our best intention…we are setting our best example…we are talking to our friends til our coffee goes cold.

    1. fantastic Tim…. care to think any more on this and craft this into a longer blog article? It wouldn’t take you long, it’s almost there, and i’ll put it up if you do? Go to town on it?!?

  4. Just another point – the fact that the dangers are so real now, such as the great the potential for social conflict as a result of climate change, proliferation of devastating weapons of war etc, all of which could come about in my lifetime (at the age of 48); if I contemplate the reality of the situation it makes me realise I really need to train my mind in order to gain the resiliency I will need to cope with these things, if and when they occur, and to be able to support my fellow human beings.

    1. Yes, totally agreed. These close and present dangers are a good wake-up call that we are in samsara — have been, in fact, since beginningless time undergoing far far worse scenarios, but lulled into complacency of late by a relatively comfortable human life. We have the methods, no time to waste in applying them now. We need to go for refuge to pure minds so that we can swiftly become a real refuge to others.

  5. I find the saying ‘think globally, act locally’ helpful when I feel overwhelmed. I can’t single-handedly, for example, solve the problem of global climate change, but, as well as taking individual measures such as being conscientious about my energy consumption, I can support local green energy initiatives and do a small amount of volunteering with a local conservation group; if everyone takes this approach in their local community then we get closer to solving some of the big problems facing the planet.

    1. And if our motivation is universal compassion, we are in a way “acting globally” as well. (Especially if we remember the relationship between our mind and its objects.)

  6. Thank you from my heart for this excellent articel you are so right with it…and i feel very inspired by it and wish to follow…
    What came to my mind is a story i heard once or read in one of Geshes la’s books about these monks( or us) doing the great Mother Prajnaparamita Puja and clapping all dangers away…
    Of course i belief to use the wisdom i have up to now to act in my specific field also i think regular big group pujas to end the madness we see and expetience will have great power to make a diffrence too….

    1. yes!

      Prayers for world peace and other pujas are such an important way for our Centers and Sangha to contribute. The upcoming Fall Festival, with thousands praying, will rock this world.

  7. I think the truth is that we actually engage and take responsibility in the most profound way. If we believe that the world and it’s problems are the appearances of the results of the actions of living beings, or that more personally still that which appears to us is the results of our own past actions, then we stop discriminating between one side and another and take personal responsibility for our own thoughts speech and actions.

    It is hard to think where to think where worldly actions don’t not have unwanted side effects that cause others suffering, and never really solve anything. The war to end all wars…didn’t – did it?

    If we control our own minds, change our behaviour then people will see that there is another way to be in the world, we are the change, each on the macro level of our own relationships and contacts – the only part of our lives where we can probably truly influence change – and gradually we purify the world, starting with ourselves.

    What may look to be a disengagement is actually a true engagement, for the first time in our lives, with the reality of things.

    1. Yes, I agree with all of this, thank you.

      I suppose one question I am having is how we “change our behavior”?

      What we deeply believe inside always comes out. So, I know for myself I was becoming complacent/lazy about how much social media, for example, I wasted time with — and when I checked it was BECAUSE deep down I thought that world peace was not really possible, that I was only meditating for some future good outcome for living beings as it were, so I may as well “relax” despite the mess. I feel differently about that now (as explained in other articles). I am not running around doing more stuff, per se, and I am certainly not meditating less each day; but I am feeling more engaged with the people here and now.

      Interesting point about side effects — I addressed that a bit in the last article. Hence the need for patience, but not the need to disengage completely.

      Buddhism is a new development in the West — will it take off? I really, really want it to as I feel it has the answers. But I think that as modern Buddhists we (me) have to show that we are not complacent or lazy or self-satisfied, that our compassion and wisdom are very active, very engaged. How that shows up is still a work in progress, hence my interest in everyone’s replies to these questions.

      (Also, to be clear, I am talking about us as individuals, not as an organization. Is there anything “I” could be doing to improve? The New Kadampa Tradition already has its work cut out ;-))

      1. It’s a really good question, I do sometimes get caught up with the story of the monk who found the fish dying on the road…should it go in the pond or not?

        On a local level I try to be a more visible Buddhist at work, not in a gushy, or pushy way, at least I hope not – I do some breathing meditation sessions for people and advertise these openly and also put up publicity for local GP classes. I have a small picture of Geshe la on my desk and often one of his books.

        ..and I am trying to be better at explaining Dharma at work, where it is appropriate, in a class situation I am quite confident but sometimes is seems out of context at work, where it should feel the opposite, as these may be the people I could really help. I find it tricky where to start – so I am trying to improve this.

        But just this week I had someone come up and ask me about mindfulness and what books I would recommend and I had a nice chat with them.

        So I think trying to be visible…which could also be the thing for the bigger issues we see. Call out our politicians about dodgy military action, arms sales or whatever, protest and petition about injustice or cruelty – engage with politics without being political if that makes sense, with equanimity.

        Even though we may not have the wisdom to know the results of actions we may take through a good heart, then perhaps at least if we act with the courage that we know we will take on the karmic result of that action, then this is almost like taking on someone’s suffering?..almost fearlessness perhaps…just thoughts.

        1. Very good thoughts 😊 , thank you. Courage needed, yes. And I like that point about trying to be visible – for years I think we may have been erring on the side of over-modesty.

  8. Giving money to the Salvation Army for hurricane victims, spreading kindness and love by helping tourists find their way, letting people go first (into the subway, doors, etc.), giving smiles, and helping an elderly homeless man who I’ve seen for months with some money and warm hellos.

  9. I’m trying to help the next generation by teaching meditation to all the students in the school where I teach.

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