There is an ancient Sanskrit saying or mantra: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my life contribute to the happiness and freedom for all. I think it is a lovely prayer and it is a philosophy I try to live by. It is so simple, but it is not so easy.
For the people who try to make their thoughts, words and actions contribute to the happiness and freedom from suffering for all others, then generosity and helping becomes the goal and as well as the path to their own happiness – because taking care of others does lead to happiness. So if you are one of those people, you try to find people to help. Another way to look at this is the collection of white or black pebbles – white being good deeds and black being not good deeds (sorry about the stereotyping of color here, but this is an ancient Buddhist idea). We all pick up both kinds of pebbles during our lives. But if you are aiming to have more white than black ones in your life, you will actively look for those good deeds. You are actually being kind of selfish because you are doing this for your own benefit, for your own happiness. But if your selfishness – your greed for those white pebbles – results in helping others be happier and having less suffering, then it is a win-win for everyone involved.
So suddenly the homeless man on the corner asking for money is not a nuisance, he is an opportunity for giving. The person who needs a ride to the doctor is offering you a chance to help. The lines between the giver and the receiver become blurred, if you really start wanting to live this way. You want to be generous and the person who gives you a chance to be generous is giving you something, you give and you get a good feeling from doing this – so who is the giver and who is the receiver?
This is all leading up to something that Leslie said last week. She asked me to get her a glass of milk before I left. It was an easy thing for me to do, but Leslie was hesitant about asking. She made the comment that she has to ask so many people to do so many things for her – it is hard to always be on the asking end. So I wanted to remind Leslie, something that I know she knows, that it is not hard to be on the helping end. It is perhaps the most joyful thing we can do. So that each time she asks for help, she is giving someone the opportunity to do something for her, to experience a little bit of personal joy.
Also each of us will be the asker and the helper, the giver and receiver in different situations and at different times in our lives. So we need to practice being good at both giving and receiving. Asking for help and giving help are one important way that we are all connected and it is this connection that is at the core of our lives. So thank you, Leslie, for asking for the milk and thank you for giving us your home each week.