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Practising Dharma in action by offering service

An article by Zohar Lavie:

“He who takes care of the sick takes care of of me,” declared the Buddha, encouraging his disciples to see the importance of ministering to the sick. This statement of interconnectivity was made by the Buddha after discovering a monk lying in his soiled robes, desperately ill with an acute attack of dysentery. On this occasion, with the help of Ananda, the Buddha washed and cleaned the sick monk. But he used the action as a reminder to the bhikkhus that it is the responsibility of the whole community to look after the sick. (Vin.i,301ff.).

This message of the Buddha is perennial, and it could never be truer than it is today. Our society is mostly meeting the inescapable realities of life; ageing, sickness, separation and death, through a veil of fear and denial. As Dharma practitioners we can use our practice to turn towards these divine messengers instead of away from them. To open to their lessons and their deep teachings. As we do so, we open to a path that nourishes and cultivates our wisdom and compassion. A path that acknowledges our connection with all life, and our relationship to each other as part of the community of all beings.

Through service I have had opportunities to practice Dharma in action; to bring mindfulness, inquiry, loving kindness and compassion into my life and the lives of others. Whether sitting with a dying man in his home in Bath or with a dying woman lying in her bed in a leprosy community in India, what is required of me is the same: To stay present, open and compassionate towards everyone involved, including myself. To breathe and stay steady. To look as deeply as possible at my experience, and to use that which is unfolding in this very moment as fuel for my practice; as the very essence of freedom and awakening.

We may normally shrink away from these opportunities, mistaking them for problems, but that would be a deep mistake. In my own practice, working with the elderly and disabled in this country, and with leprosy affected patients in India, I’ve felt the benefit of meeting my edge. Again and again it has brought me to what seemed like limits; fear, helplessness, and overwhelming pain in the face of another’s pain. But much like Daphne Rae explained “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Again and again in meeting my own limitations I have met that which is limitless, a true strength which we all share and which unites us when we act from it.

Within difficulties we can uncover our capacity as human beings to grow, within painful times we can discover love and connection. Spirit develops in the most difficult and challenging circumstances.

Jean Wilkins and I are both honoured and excited to be part of the Gaia House programme Living Fearlessly with Change: Exploring ageing, illness and death through Buddhist practice and service.

Whether you are already engaged in service work in the above areas (either in your professional role, caring for a friend/relative or volunteering) or if you are interested to explore service by offering two or more hours a week, we invite you to join us for this ten-month adventure, comprised of three residential retreats as well as online weekly practice and contact with teachers and sangha.

Living Fearlessly with Change – Find out more here.