In Buddhist practice, the training laid out for an individual begins with how one practices with others.
This is sila, or virtue – not harming others, being honest in the way one deals with others, being trustworthy in one’s actions and speech. The practice of keeping the precepts is already social action. The precepts remind us of the ways our actions affect others. Oftentimes, people may think, ‘Let’s get to the ‘real’ stuff about Buddhism – the liberation, the enlightenment; keeping the precepts is just a social convention, just the basics.’ But this ‘basic’ stuff has an effect. It is important. The Buddha recognized that our actions have effects for ourselves and for others.
While virtue concerns itself with actions and speech, the second aspect of the Buddhist training is meditation, or samadhi – a training of the mind and the heart, a clarifying of mind fullness, awareness and composure. These are essential to cultivate. If we are going to take any social responsibility, it has to be done with an open heart and a clear mind. We must develop a standard for reflection. We can then start to ask, “What are the effects of our words and actions?”
Sometimes people get enthused about social action and forget about the ordinary activities in life. How do I deal with my family? How do I deal with the people closest to me? Or even how do I answer the phone? What do I put into the universe when I am irritated or upset? These are very ordinary, everyday things, preparing the ground for how we relate to the world around us. Paying attention to these things is social action.
Dealing with the circle of people around us is social action. It is not different.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, The Dhamma and the Real World, (pdf) pp.18-19.