Serve Others, Practice Generosity,
Do Not Avert Your Eyes from the Suffering of Others:
The Practice of Compassion
What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.
That is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary.
All major religions speak about service to others as an important component of a meaningful life. Even monks in solitary hermitage have a significant relationship with all other people on the planet. Interpersonal relationships influence our mind-body health strongly. The health of one determines, in part, the health of the other.
The way of service expands our sense of self to others. In a way it is like surrendering the personal ego, not to a higher authority, but to a valuable cause or those in need, whether it be the family or the underprivileged. There are many examples: Albert Schweitzer, Florence Nightingale, the millions of devoted mothers who get rich fulfillment from nurturing their children and family ties, and all those participating in the many service organizations for the disadvantaged.
Sometimes livelihood is our primary mode of giving to humanity. Others dedicate a certain amount of time, money, and effort per year in volunteer service. In whatever form seems best to the individual, sharing our life energy with others can be some of the most uplifting acts we can do. And it is not without its personal rewards. It is a well known, documented phenomenon that helping others improves the helper’s health physically. It also let’s us see more clearly the interdependent nature of all things.
There are pitfalls to the practice of generosity. It sometimes comes from blind, mindless devotion to the service without adequately looking at its potential adverse results. There are examples of religious aid organizations bringing so much relief food to an area that it ruined the local farming economy. How many millions have died in holy wars fought to save the souls of nonbelievers? On a personal level there are those who have wrapped themselves up so much in service to others they neglected their own well-being (the typical co-dependent personality) and became ill or died an early death because of it.
So it will take some work and refinement to wisely practice compassionate action as a part of a richer life. Use the books in the resource section as guides.
A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Lifeby Jack Kornfield
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happinessby Sharon Salzberg
How Can I Help?Ram Dass and Dan Goleman
Compassion In Action: Setting Out on the Path of Serviceby Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush
I shall pass through this world but once.
Any good that I can do, or any kindness that
I can show any human being, let me do it now and not defer it.
For I shall not pass this way again.
Read the books in this lesson’s resource section. Make a special effort to practice lovingkindness meditation for a month or more. Even something simple such as 5-20 minutes per day of repeating phrases such as:
“May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings be at peace.
May all beings feel joy in their hearts.
May all beings be happy.”
Or as a daily mindfulness practice focusing on the interdependence of all life, remember to silently say to yourself frequently throughout the day’s activities:
“May the benefits of this action be shared by all beings, so they may be free from suffering.”
Assess where you may be closing down your heart. (Most often it is compassion for ourselves which is our most hurtful failing.) Pay particular attention to criticisms and judgments of others and self in the coming months. Is there a softer, kinder way to be?
Consciousness Hygiene Course Summary
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love
will have the final word in reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Throughout this course there have been many opportunities to wake up bit by bit to a richer sense of oneself and the universe around us. You may have noticed more questions arising from the course’s exercises rather than more answers. This is a good sign. One aspect of the universe is its mysteriousness. There is always more to know and this drives our curiosity towards greater truth. Our questions will become more relevant and lead to more interesting discoveries. Available to us are experiences of profound peace, love, strength, and clarity if we persist in deeply investigating our inner essence of each present moment. It is difficult to be curious about uncomfortable feelings. But if we can be compassionate with ourselves to stay present with whatever arises in our experience that is the surest road to the vast realms of awareness at the furthest reaches of human consciousness. Hopefully, this course and the resources in it can be a strong support for the continuing journey of awakening.