Buddhism and Service Rendering
During my service rendering period, I went to volunteer at Kimochi Elder Service Centre. This is around five blocks away from where I live. As the name suggests, this is a centre for the aged. My main responsibilities were to serve the members with their various meals and snacks and to make sure that they were comfortable. The centre has around twenty dining tables to be attended to at evry meal time. I had to wake up early in the morning as although it was difficult initially since I am not an early morning person. Hot water is first served at every table before any meal is served. During breakfast milk is served to the individuals who want it. This has to be done by going to each member and asking them if they want some milk. One has to be very patient at this point since some members are slower than others.
After the serving of the milk, the usual breakfast is served. After the members are through with breakfast, it is time to collect the utensils and clean the tables in preparation of the next meal time. During this cleaning time, I noticed that the elderly people showed a sign of appreciation by either thanking me or smiling at me. This made me happy with what I was doing. I was able to interact with these people and they really shared with me the story of their lives. During this period, I was able to learn how to be patient, helpful and appreciative even with the little I had. I also helped the organization save on the salary costs since it did have to pay for my services. It was a life changing experience.
Different religions have different things to teach as far as service to humanity is concerned. To most, religion acts as a guide on how an individual or a group of people should or will lead their lives. Buddhism in particular, has several concepts and ideologies that substantially put emphasis on service to other beings and especially the mortals. Practices such as compassion, merit-making, Buddhist-inspired activism, socially engaged Buddhism and such people as bodhisattvas symbolize and guide people in the way of service learning (Trainor 35). The doctrine of impermanence in Buddhism greatly sheds the light and the importance of pursuing service learning to human beings.
Impermanence, which is known as Annica in Pali, means the lack of permanency and consistency. When put in the proper context of Buddhism, impermanency means that conditioned existence is in an unvarying state of flux. Since impermanence is one of the three existence marks, others being annata (non-selfhood) and dukka (dissatisfaction), it is significant to understand that such a service learning and application to others in existence try to fill in the deficiencies brought by these states. During the aging process, which is associated with the impermanence doctrine, good should be done to these people as a way of attaining the satisfaction and avoiding dukkha.
During my service learning period, I was able to voluntarily engage in helping the old people. This was a very important time for me, as it was able to change my personality significantly. I was not the kind of person who looked forward to waking up early in the morning and helping out other people, whether in need or not, was not my strengths either. However, this place taught me to be patient, to value the small actions, even though they are as small as a smile and take pride and gratitude in helping others.
Buddhism does not only teach its followers to be religious, but it also teaches people to practice it as a way of life. The socially engaged Buddhism practice was quite evident during my service learning. The aged, even though they are mostly set aside in homes for the aged, are a part of the society. Setting them aside so that they can only be given care by certain people is what socially engaged Buddhism discourages. This practice in Buddhism encourages Buddhists to engage in the society’s problems (King 22). During this learning period, it was evident to me that the problems with the aged are society’s problems. If people constantly get engaged with those problems that we feel are not, “our problems”, then other problems that tag along would be reduced if not avoided. For example, I realized that the more the people volunteered to serve in the centre the lesser the expenses were on staff wages and salaries. This extra money saved on staff salaries was used to take care of other things that were needed in the centre such as providing these aged people with a better diet or buying miscellaneous necessities.
The merit-making practice in Buddhism encourages the Buddhists to accumulate good deeds by being and acting good to others (Gyatso 58). This accumulation of good deeds will be carried over to the next life. By serving their meals and attending to their other needs, I noticed the elderly were extremely appreciative. They either said thank you or smiled, as a sign of appreciation. As earlier mentioned, the state of dukkha, which is the state of be unsatisfied, can be experienced even in the next life. Such kind deeds as serving these old people and the appreciation they showed back enabled me to understand that this stage can be avoided or reversed.
Acting in compassion is not only believed by Buddhists and other people following other religions, but it is also believed by the atheists. When people act in compassion, they not only treat others with compassion, but they also do good to themselves. It has been revealed that people feel more satisfied and happier with themselves when they do an act of compassion thqan when they do not (Burton 166). They are more satisfied especially if the being to which the act was done to shows a sign of gratitude and appreciation. During my service in the centre, I noticed that I felt extremely happy and more satisfied with myself when I saw the elderly people thanking me or smiling at me when I was clearing the tables after their meals. They showed with a sincere face that they were grateful for what I was doing.
Compassion, even to an animal is also of significance. Taking care of a wounded cat or helping a stray dog find its way back to its home is also regarded as an act of compassion. These acts bring an inner satisfaction and fulfillment, which is needed when passing through the other three states of life. During this time of service, it was evident that acts of compassion do not have to be shown by doing mighty things such as a giving a lot of money to a children’s orphanage or starting a foundation for people with terminal diseases. Although these acts are significant, the simplest of acts are also taken into consideration.
Buddhism teaches that anybody can become a bodhisattva as long as they put their heart to it (Trainor 40). Serving these elderly people, sheltering a homeless person for some time before they find a permanent place, providing first aid to an injured stranger or even paying the bus ticket for a person who has misplaced his/her bus fare are all considered as acts of compassion. They are considered to make a difference in someone’s life and can act as stepping stones to someone willing to achieve bodhisattva position.
As earlier emphasized, acts of doing good tend to be of significance to both parties, the one being compassionate and the one receiving the compassion. During my time serving these elderly people, I learnt a number of things. For example, I learnt to be disciplined. Although I did not have discipline issues earlier, I started understanding the significance of discipline even at a later stage in life. These elderly people were disciplined even in the presence of a younger person like me. Though, they deserved to be treated well and to receive the care given to them, they acknowledged it as a privilege rather than taking it as a right.
Another evident teaching I received during this period was the essence of patience when serving or being compassion. It is true that there are as diverse characters as there are people. People also have different personal problems, which affect their behavior. Since we had to ask each and every member whether they wanted some milk, I thought that it was easier to enquire in general thus telling those who wanted to take some milk to lift up their hands. This was in my earlier days of service. I later received complaints that there were those who did not get any milk, yet they wanted it. This was not put to me in a kind manner. I later cane to understand that there were people who had hearing problems or general concentration problems. I therefore, had to be patient enough to walk to each table and ask the people whether they wanted some milk. At other times, the elderly were not very kind to me, but I had to be as kind as I could.
All these encounters show that the inner dissatisfaction felt by human beings is not erased at a go. It does not take one act or two acts of compassion for one to attain the bodhisattva level, but rather it is a lifelong process (Burton 68). Buddhism encourages Buddhists to constantly engage in acts of compassion thus striving to be bodhisattva. It is significant for each follower or human being to engage in acts that encourage achieving merit as far as acts of good and compassion are concerned.
It has earlier been mentioned that the acts done in this life will be of effect in the next life. Anguish, pain and suffering, can be experienced in the dukkha state of life if they were accumulated by the particular being during his/her impermanence (Nicca) state of life. Consequently, good, joy and satisfaction can be experienced in the dukkha state of life if they were accumulated in the nicca state of life. This is why followers of Buddhism are encouraged to be as compassionate and as good as they can in order to avoid or minimize the suffering experienced when one achieves the dukkha state (Lopez 56). Other religions, which believe in an after-life, also insist that their followers show kindness and compassion and are good to others so that they will get the reward in the after-life.
In Buddhism, compassion and other acts that are considered to accumulate good deeds in this life are not only meant to be of significance in these life, but they are also considered to be of significance in the next state of life. Good deeds minimize or eliminate the amount of suffering and dissatisfaction to be experienced in the next life. This is because the acts done in today’s life will be considered in the next life. If one is cruel in this life, then they will receive cruelty in the next life. Consequently, if a person is compassionate and full of good acts in this life, then they will receive the same good deeds and compassion in the next life.
Burton, David. Buddhism, knowledge and liberation: a philosophical study. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004. Print.
Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang. Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom. Glen Spey, NY: Tharpa Publications, 2011. Print.
King, Sallie B. Socially engaged Buddhism. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2009. Print.
Lopez, Donald S. Jr. The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History & Teachings. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2002. Print.
Trainor, Kelvin. Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.