In order to feel comfortable helping others, we have to leap over the hurdle of self, of me and mine. We put ourselves in a vulnerable position by helping others; it can be frightening or trigger our vulnerability. Acts of service invite us to step out of the boundaries that we set up for ourselves. Whenever those boundaries are jostled in any way, we feel uncomfortable or threatened. These boundaries are totally conditioned and part of the conventional realm. We need to be able to consciously stretch our boundaries from time to time. Helping others and offering service are ways of stepping beyond the boundaries of our imaginary self. This gives us a lot of confidence in negotiating the human realm instead of getting bogged down in the protected areas of our being that are easily threatened. A sense of ease and well-being in any situation is one of the best gifts we can offer to ourselves and to others.
There’s an old story about the difference between heaven and hell. The hell realms are filled with people who sit at long banquet tables piled high with all sorts of delicious foods and drinks. But everyone is completely miserable and hungry, because the utensils are too long to maneuver. No matter how hard they try, they can’t put the food in their mouths. The nourishment is there, but nobody can get to it. The heavenly realm is the same: the tables are laden with the same delicious food and with the identical utensils that look impossible to maneuver. But the people are happy and bright because they are using the utensils to feed one another. There is no hunger or frustration, only fullness and well-being, within the identical conditions. Giving and sharing is what turns a hell realm into a heavenly one. There is a sense of security and trust that people are there to help one another, which is why abhayadana is a higher form of dana. With practice and spiritual maturity, different forms of dana become integrated and ultimately, inform each other.
When you think of the people who have had the biggest positive impact in our lives, they embody integrity in some way. It’s not because of the kind of cars they own or the vacations they’ve taken. We value them because they have been trustworthy, kind, and patient with us. They’ve made us feel good, no matter how badly we feel about ourselves. This kind of giving is not beyond the capacity of anybody. Increasing well-being and decreasing dukkha are gifts we can all give.
Generosity feeds and flows into everything we do. We can even bring an attitude of sharing into our meditation practice while sitting alone in our kutis. Meditation is not just about me. Sharing it with those we care about and with all beings has a different effect. This kind of giving transforms the heart by taking us out of the capsule of self and of me. We quickly realize that the me and mine universe is terribly cramped and crowded. When we can turn our attention to the world that is outside of that, we realize the world is spacious and expansive. There are so many opportunities for sharing, giving, and for living in accordance with Dhamma. Embracing these opportunities allows petty concerns and ways we perpetuate suffering to drop away.
This reflection by Ajahn Pasanno is from the book, A Dhamma Compass.