The following article is an excerpt from the post: In The Spirit Of Service at Tricycle.com
International aid leaders explain how Buddhism’s boundless states—lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—manifest in their work.
By Sharon Salzberg, Pierre Ferrari, David G. Addiss, Ellen Agler, and Jeffrey C. Walker
Over the past few years, as despair across the globe seems to deepen, many have told me that these troubling times have, ironically enough, inspired them to discover newfound reservoirs of goodwill. Moving forward in times of great difficulty, after all, calls for drawing on one’s buried resources. Perhaps adversity reminds us to pay attention to the immediacy of love or the necessity of living a meaningful life. When we meditate or reflect on what in Pali are called the four brahmaviharas(boundless states) of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, we can get back in touch with the depths of wisdom and love within each of us. We can choose to pursue these not only for our own sake, but also for the benefit of those in more desperate circumstances than our own.
These four mental states—lovingkindness, a profound sense of connection to ourselves and others; compassion, the trembling of the heart in response to seeing pain; sympathetic joy, joy in the happiness of others; and equanimity, the balance born of wisdom—can also benefit us in our aspiration to create a better world. Practices that cultivate these states foster a connection to our own inherent capacity for wisdom and love. They put us in contact with a world beyond the moment-to-moment fixations of our mind.
One of the results of meditation practice is the transformation of self-preoccupation into inclusive, open, connected awareness. We can easily go from morning until night engrossed in worries: “What do they think of me? Does he like me? Am I winning?” This habitual state of disconnection leaves us feeling uncertain, afraid, and often exhausted. Practices of ethics, meditation, generosity, and service shift this anxious tendency toward broader engagement and eventually become, in and of themselves, the manifestations of a liberated mind.
Service, which fosters concern with others more than with ourselves, is certainly a form of spiritual or contemplative endeavor. In addition to the way it changes a community or society, philanthropic work can be most liberating for the person practicing it. Seeing service in the context of ritual, one wonders how contemplative disciplines such as meditation might enhance the intention behind that work, so the endeavor can continue regardless of personal frustration or disappointment.
The reflections that follow come from four engaged global service leaders focused on manifesting the boundless states in their work. These are their stories and the stories of those that inspired them to make service their life’s vocation. Modeling genuine love, wisdom, and compassion, each one of them inspires me, as I remember that each one of us can collectively, step by step, create a more enlightened, joyful, and openhearted world.
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Image from Flickr by kcmckell. Creative Commons License.