Sunday, April 9, 2017

How To Leave The World Better Than You Found It

     Long ago there was a Zen monk who studied under the same teacher for many decades.  He was disciplined in mind, strong of body, and 100% devoted to his meditative practice.  One day, the monk's teacher fell ill, and it quickly became apparent that his beloved teacher was about to die.  On his death bed, the monk's teacher told him that he must not keep the dharma to himself.  Rather, he should go out and teach others in the same way that he'd been taught.  "Leave the world better than you found it." the teacher whispered.  And then he died without saying another word.  Unperturbed, the monk went into the city and found a public park that had many visitors each day.  After deciding that this would be a good place to set up shop, the monk placed his cushion on the ground, sat down, and began meditating.  

     That's where the story ends.  We never find out what the monk accomplished in that park or if he ever got any students.  We just know that he meditated before his teacher died, and he kept meditating after his teacher died.  Beyond that... (shrugs).  What's interesting, however, is where he chose to meditate.  He didn't isolate himself on a mountain top far away from the people he was trying to help.  On the other hand, he didn't try and force people to change their behavior.  Instead, he went out into a public space, and he set an example for others to follow.  I'm sure a lot of people walked by without giving him a second thought.  But maybe a few people sat down next to the guy in funny-looking robes.  Maybe their lives changed forever after that.

     When I think about working to create positive change, I think a lot about this story.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed when one looks at all of the suffering in the world.  Some people respond by lashing out in fits of violent rage.  Others withdraw into themselves and refuse to admit that there's a problem.  But the monk in the story has shown us a middle path.  He wanted to teach people meditation.  So he went out into the world, and he created a space where people could learn it.  He didn't lash out, and he didn't withdraw.  He just made himself available so that anyone who needed help could get it.

     A real world example of this would be Food Not Bombs.  They fight world hunger by cooking vegan/ vegetarian food on a weekly basis and giving it to anyone who's hungry.  I've been volunteering with my local chapter for about 3 months, and it's one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.   Some of the people we feed are homeless, some are poor or mentally ill, and some just want a quick snack before they catch the bus.  But the end result is always the same.  We go out into the world, and we create a space where positive change can happen.  When people walk into that space, they're hungry.  When they walk out of it, they're not.

     If you think the world is full of jerks, walk out your front door and be kind to everyone you meet.  If you think the roads are filled with unsafe drivers, buckle your seat belt, and use your turn signal.  We all have the power to leave the world better than we found it.  We do this simply by setting an example for others to follow.  Sure, some people will walk by and not give you a second thought.  But others will notice what you're doing.  And their lives will be changed forever.

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