The Thai phrase, “Don’t be selfish,” literally means, “Don’t look after yourself,” as opposed to looking after the common good.
Ajaan Suwat always questioned that phrase, because, after all, who else are you going to look after? You’ve got to look after yourself. In fact, you’re the person you have to look after more than anybody else.
But that’s not telling you to be selfish. It’s saying that you have to look after yourself wisely—which means that you develop good qualities of mind, such as generosity and virtue, that actually help other people, too.
But you do have to look after yourself because nobody else can do it for you. As the Buddha said, when you get yourself as a refuge, you get a refuge that’s hard to find. If you don’t have that refuge, he said, who else could your refuge be?
Or as Ajaan Suwat put it another time, we each have one person in the world, i.e., the one person we’re responsible for. And that person is us. We’re responsible for our thoughts, our words, our deeds. We can’t be responsible for anybody else’s.
Yet all too often that’s what we’re concerned about. We want to stop somebody else from doing this, or encourage them to do that, without turning around to look, “Are we doing what’s right?”
This reflection by Than Ajaan Geoff is from the Dhamma Talks Section, The Meditations Series book, Meditations 9, “Ajaan Suwat’s Gift.”