It’s easy to cause harm – but difficult to create benefit. If anything comes of this talk, I hope it will be the genuine understanding that kindness is crucial. I’m sorry if this seems rather disturbing – it isn’t meant to be a hell-fire and brimstone lecture. It’s just a reminder that we’re all ultimately responsible for all our actions. We’re responsible whether we choose to live in the acceptance of that responsibility or not. Everyone we meet, every place we travel, every scene we witness, is our responsibility.
The idea of such far-reaching responsibility is enormous. It may seem quite frightening – but being responsible doesn’t mean that the sole responsibility is ours. It doesn’t even mean that there is necessarily a deliberate positive action we can take. No-one is holding us personally responsible for the world we share. The consequence of abdicating our felt-responsibility however, is impoverishment, resentment, isolation, suspicion, and depression.
What then does responsibility mean in the Buddhist sense of kindness? It means that we are not separate from our world, or anyone in our world.
We cannot say of anything:
This has nothing to do with me.
We are not separate as beings.
We are intimately and inextricably connected.
This idea of connection is subtle, because our connection can take any form.
Only our innate kindness—liberated through meditation—can guide us to respond accurately.
Sometimes all a person can do to help another is to sit with them—through the night—and be with them as they weep.
I did that once.
Did it help?
I have no idea – but at least that person wasn’t alone.
I’d used up my words of wisdom.
I’d emptied my copious sack of similar experiences.
It made no apparent difference – and when I walked to work—bleary eyed—in the morning, she was still disconsolate.
The idea of having failed was as useless as the idea that I had helped.
All I knew was that I’d done all I could – and that that was enough.
At work I wondered if I’d return in the evening and find her dead. Suicide had been a possibility. In the evening she was in a different mood – cheered by a postcard from a long-lost friend. I could have felt worthless. All my effort hadn’t produced a let up in the tears, but a postcard that probably took less than a minute to write had made all the difference.
So what was the worth of all my time?
I could have told myself,
So much for my being able to help anyone, but that would not have been an accurate response.
To offer help always has the power for healing. This may sound a little far-fetched or improbable – but it’s taken from my own experience.
It’s part of life, and variants of this scene must unfold all the time.
The important factor is that although we are totally responsible and intimately connected – we cannot always help. We cannot help unless we’ve the exact quality or capacity to help. We cannot take on every problem in the world. We cannot single-handedly relieve a famine.
We cannot save every tramp from a chilly Christmas death on a park bench. There are many things we will never achieve, but we can have an open heart. If you engage in silent sitting your awareness will begin to open itself. Your capacity will increase in terms of knowing when and how to be of help. Even if you know that you cannot be of help you can still let that situation touch you. We can all wish strongly that painful situations will be alleviated. We can all remind ourselves to make that wish repeatedly until the next time that we find ourselves powerless.
It is not always easy to be kind – but it’s also not that difficult. It’s not difficult because kindness flows naturally from the beginningless nondual state. If we constantly remind ourselves therefore, to be kind – we constantly put ourselves in closer contact with the beginningless nondual state. There’s a great power even in the activity of kindness within dualism. It has a direct effect on us because what we’re doing is true. When I say true, I mean true in the way that an arrow’s flight is true, or in the way that a wheel can run true. True means as it is – and as it is, is without need of correction.