When Help Is Needed

Luang Por Pasanno • August 2012

One focus of our practice is to look after each other and help each other out. In one discourse where the Buddha finds Venerable Anuruddha and his friends living in the forest, we see that they are intent on formal practice, but whenever something needs to be done, they come out of meditation and help each other. That is a very beautiful story from the suttas. Our tendency, however, is to try doing everything by ourselves, which is usually not so comfortable. But when we learn to help each other, it’s much more convenient for everyone. It’s like the convenience of using two hands to wash. When one hand is trying to wash itself, the job takes quite a while and is less than thorough. But with two hands washing each other, it’s quicker and everything gets clean.

Similarly, as human beings living together with duties and chores, we can learn to look out for the many ways we can help one another. A lot of this practice comes from the cultivation of mindfulness, of paying attention. It’s so easy to have our blinders on and think, I’m only doing this task, this is what I’m doing. We don’t have enough attention and clear comprehension to reflect and ask ourselves, What are other people doing? Do they need assistance? Is there some way I can help out?

When we reflect like this for the sake of others, it helps us cultivate mindfulness. It is also a way we can step outside of ourselves. So often we set boundaries—me and my autonomous self. While this can have a useful function, it can also be quite limiting and isolating, and sometimes leads to selfish behavior. What we are doing instead is learning how to let go of the fixation on “I, me, and mine”—to relinquish that self-centric modality of living in the world. This fixation, the Buddha said, is one of the main sources of dukkha. By looking out to see how we can be of assistance to others, we undermine that modality and give ourselves the opportunity to experience well-being.