Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Benefiting Others

Continuing on from my last post (Responses), the question is, who are we interested in benefiting? Simply ourselves (or ourselves and our family), or do we want to widen this? I've seen sociologists who suggest that conservatives are extremely loyal to their group--they would want to benefit them, but not others outside their group. How wide do we want to be working for?

It's important when we look at benefiting others, that this is not seen as versus benefiting ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves as well. Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book My Grandfather's Blessings (see my posts on Blessings, 3/9/10, and More Blessings, 3/23/10), points out that the airlines announce, when they demonstrate the low-pressure face masks, "Put your own mask on first before you try to help the person next to you." She claims that, "Service is based on the premise that all life is worthy of our support and commitment." All life includes ourselves.

We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. In fact, this is how we grow in interdependence--from only taking care of ourselves, to taking care of others as a way of taking care of ourselves, to taking care of ourselves in order to help others.

In one of my earliest posts (Two Basic Principles, 6/30/08) I talked about the twin ideas that everyone is basically selfish and that we are all connected. Therefore, in taking care of others we are taking care of ourselves. In benefiting others, we are benefiting ourselves. And, as I just said, in taking care of ourselves, we help care for others. This is what it means to be interconnected. This is want it means to be interdependent. This also changes our notion of what 'self' means.

In my post on Impermanence (7/9/10), I mentioned the Buddhist 'Three Marks of Existence', one of which I called 'lack of a separate self.' Traditionally this has been called no-self or egolessness. But it is hard to talk about 'myself' without a self--or others as well. They certainly exist, as I do exist. Joanna Macy helped clarify this for me in her books on Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory (see my post on Mutual Causality, 12/18/09) and World as Lover, World as Self (see my post on World as Lover, 1/15/10), where she points out how the self always exists in relationship to others. (And she is not the only Buddhist teacher that I've heard refer to this as there being no separate self.) It's not that there is no self, it's that there is no self apart from others. We are always interconnected. This isn't about the idea that there is no individuality; this is about the idea that there could be separation, isolation, removal, the strange idea that we could exist without others and without the natural world.

So, how wide do we want to open ourselves up? We are blessed to be alive. Do we want to share those blessing with others? With just our family? With just our group? With strangers? With those we dislike or find difficult? With everyone possible? This is about compassion as well as social change, or rather compassion as social change. This is about realizing that we are all in this together.

Quote of the Day: "Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it, I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can." - H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama

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