Putting Aside What I Want to Do

Ajahn Yatiko • December 2012

In last night’s Dhamma talk, Ajahn Karuṇadhammo said that one of the most valuable things we can do as residents of the monastery is develop generosity of heart by helping to create harmony in our community. Instead of looking at things solely from the perspective of what we like and what we want, we also consider the wants and needs of the group and what is best for everyone in the community. It is good to think of the Saṅgha as an organism of which we are a part.

There is a lovely passage that is often quoted from the suttas in which the Buddha is talking to a group of three monks living together, Venerables Anuruddha, Nandiya, and Kimbila (MN 31). When the Buddha asks how they cultivate harmony, Venerable Anuruddha says, “Well, Lord, I ask myself, Why should I not put aside what I want to do and instead do what these venerable ones want to do? Then I put aside what I want to do and do what they want to do.”

It is true that while we are here we cultivate solitude. Solitude is an important part of our practice, but equally important is the need to ask ourselves, What am I doing in solitude? Is it helping my practice or not? Am I cultivating wholesome, bright mind states in solitude, or might doing acts of service and helping the community be more beneficial for my mind? We don’t have to be out there all the time doing things, but whenever there is a possibility of helping the community or an individual, that is an excellent opportunity to say to ourselves, Okay, here’s my chance to do something, to break out of my mold of solitude and contribute to the life of the monastery. For example, let’s say I needed a volunteer to give me a hand with something outside of the work period this afternoon, and I asked, “Is anyone available for an hour?” In a situation like that, while we may have it in mind to get back to our cabin and do some sitting, have a rest, read some suttas or whatever, instead we could spontaneously drop that thought or desire and offer assistance. For this to be a special gift of generosity, it takes a willingness to be spontaneous—this is how it comes from the heart. To say to ourselves in the moment, Sure, I’d be willing, I’ll volunteer for that, I’d love to. That’s a beautiful way to create harmony and appreciation, and it’s a fine example of the generosity that comes from the heart.

My intention is not to be one-sided. I’m not saying that solitude is not important and that as monastics and people living in the monastery, we don’t have the duty to cultivate a love for solitude, but we should also remember that a love of generosity is an important part of the path.

I remember a time when a person who’d lived as a monk for ten or fifteen years was clearly going through difficult times and was suffering from serious mental problems. One of the senior Thai ajahns was talking about the reasons for this person’s breakdown and said, “It’s because he hasn’t developed enough generosity in his practice.” You could see that was true from this monk’s behavior. He spent most of his time in solitude, but didn’t do it in a skillful way. He tended to run off to be by himself at every opportunity. He rarely served or gave of himself. It is not as if other monks didn’t want him in the monastery or didn’t want to be around him. It was simply that they could not appreciate his presence, because he was never really there for anyone.

A community is like an organism that requires care, attention, and participation in order to function and remain beautiful, comfortable, pleasant, and healthy. As members of the community, each of us has to do our part in order to make that a reality, because it does not come about accidentally or on its own. In terms of cultivating the path, I think this is worthy of reflection for our daily practice.