HOW TO SERVE YOUR SELF-INTEREST
My dear Dhamma sons and Dhamma daughters:
This evening I would like to say a few words about serving on courses, segregation and the use of dāna.
Earlier today I read the Code of Discipline for Dhamma Servers once again; it is a beautiful article, full of Dhamma. You all must have read it, so there is no use in my repeating it now. But if the pamphlet is left to lie in the office and you don’t follow the guidelines, it won’t help. You must observe this code of discipline.
You are here on Dhamma land for your own benefit. Even when you are serving others you are doing so for your own benefit. I want every student of Vipassana to be selfish. This is the Buddha’s teaching: be selfish. But understand where your real self-interest lies: Your mental action is the real action, not the physical or vocal action; this is what you learn in Dhamma. If your mental action is unwholesome you will harm yourself, even if you appear to be giving enormous service to the students. There are two kinds of Dhamma service. In the first type you don’t come in contact with meditators; for example, you might water plants, whitewash buildings or clean bathrooms. The second kind involves direct contact with students. Whether your service brings you in contact with students or not, you should get the maximum benefit from your stay here.
When you serve in a way that doesn’t involve contact with meditators, keep examining how much sympathetic joy you are generating. While you are cleaning or whitewashing you should joyfully think, "The first impression for a new student arriving at this Dhamma centre is so important. My service will help so many who visit!"
When you are watering plants, you should be filled with joy. You should feel a rapport with each plant and as you tend it lovingly you will begin to feel how it generates vibrations of love, of Dhamma. It is not worth doing any job here unless you generate sympathetic joy while you are working. If you think, "Well, I want to sit continuous courses but the management won’t allow me, and I don’t have enough money to stay in a hotel, so I will stay and serve with negativity," you will pollute the atmosphere of this Dhamma land and simultaneously harm yourself.
If your service brings you directly in contact with students, you must keep examining yourself, "By this service am I harming or helping myself?" Be selfish. Sometimes during the one-hour group sitting I see a new meditator, perhaps without understanding or perhaps with real cause, get up and leave. Then I am sorry to see a frowning Dhamma server run after the student. How will this server behave outside? I know very well that whatever is said will be full of negativity. If you have a frown on your face, what sort of service can you give? You cannot help others while generating negativity. Even if this person has broken a rule deliberately, without respect for the discipline of the centre, how will your frown help? You need a smile on your face and compassion for the student. You are here to serve this person. If this point is missed, your service is not service.
I receive letters from students who came to Dhamma Giri saying they admire the Dhamma servers so much, many of whom work with such joy, compassion and mettā. But I also receive critical letters saying, "Was this an example of Dhamma? The server I met was full of negativity, there was no trace of mettā in that person, and I found the whole atmosphere to be full of negativity." If a server generates negativity towards a student, the student will feel surrounded by negativity. By mistake, perhaps out of your enthusiasm to serve, you have created a barrier for someone to progress in Dhamma. This person will never return to a Dhamma centre, and in turn will become a barrier for others who might have come, by saying, "At those centres people talk of Dhamma but do not apply it."
By behaving harshly, without a trace of love, compassion or sympathy for the students, you are not serving them no matter how hard you work. Instead you should feel, "By my service I can encourage those students who have storms to face. I passed through the same storms when I came to my first courses." Don’t overlook the fact that students break rules, but be human in dealing with them. If you work in this way, then you are serving not only them but yourself.
Many Western students come to give Dhamma service at Dhamma Giri, where there is a large number of Indian students. Communication is difficult since you don’t know the language, but I keep saying, "Dhamma language is understood by everyone, you need not say a word." If an Indian student is breaking a rule, just go and smile and place your hands together in the traditional Indian gesture of greeting. This will be enough for the student to understand; you need not say anything. If you say a hundred words with a frown, it does not help anybody.
Now a few words about segregation: I know most Western students come from a culture where segregation is foreign and you can’t understand why it is needed. But the Buddha was very particular about segregation; this is part of the teaching. We find not one or two but hundreds of cases where Māra [the forces opposed to liberation] creates difficulties for meditators in this area. Your biggest enemy is passion. Without too much difficulty a meditator can usually take out the other defilements one after another, but the defilement of passion is so deep that it is difficult to root out.
There are two possible dangers. One is that Māra might stimulate the seed of passion in you. You might talk with somebody of the other sex without any wrong intention, but once you start talking, standing nearer and nearer to that person, the proximity might stimulate passion. This is a hospital where a deep mental operation is being carried out and because of this operation saṅkhāras of passion may be stirred up. While talking to and standing near someone of the opposite sex, the saṅkhāras may overpower you. You could make a mistake that would be very harmful for you, and also for the other person.
There is another danger, especially for Western students staying here in India. It has been said, and well said, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." When you are in this country, forget what you do in your own country and understand that you are living in a society where there is a totally different attitude from that in the West. Unfortunately, some so-called gurus from India have taught garbage in the West in the name of meditation, and because of that many Indians are suspicious about Western meditation students and also about meditation teachers. They suspect that a meditation centre is a place for free sex, where people are exploited. If Indians see a Western couple on this Dhamma land sitting in a certain way, or lying down, or walking together in a certain way, suspicion arises in their minds. You don’t understand what an obstacle you are creating for the progress of Dhamma on this land.
It is quite possible that a Western male and female are walking together without any passion in their minds, and one puts a hand on the arm of the other. When somebody in the East sees this, he or she may start to generate passion because nobody here would behave like that; not even a husband and wife would do that in public. You have become a seed of Māra for the Indian students and have started harming them.
The Enlightened One knew this. When you are on Dhamma land you have to learn how to live as a bhikkhu, a monk, or as a bhikkhunī, a nun. Be very careful. Segregation helps you to eradicate your own passion at the deepest level; it makes it easier not to generate passion.
However unpleasant this rule may look, it is for your own benefit. When you go to a hospital the rules have to be obeyed whether you like them or not, because they are made in your interest. Similarly, when you come to a hospital like this, a Dhamma hospital, all the rules have to be obeyed. Obey them willingly; don’t have negativity towards them. They are for your own benefit and for the benefit of all those who are coming here.
Now, a few words about the use of dāna: If while giving service a Dhamma server wastes even a cent of Dhamma money, he or she is not giving real service. People have to work hard to earn money honestly, so it is difficult for them to give it away. Therefore any donation that has been given must be properly used. A Dhamma server must not waste a cent of it.
During the time of the Buddha, a wealthy king gave 500 new robes to the monks. The cost was nothing to him yet he was attached to his wealth, so he questioned Ānanda, the private secretary of the Buddha,
"I have given 500 new robes to the Sangha, what you will do with them?" Ānanda replied, "I will keep them in storage." "Why?" "Only when I find that a monk’s robes are worn out will I give him one of these new robes. This is how we use the donations we receive." "And what will you do with the old, torn robes?" asked the king. "From the worn robes I cut out some portions and make bedsheets." "Good. But when these bedcovers are worn out, what do you do?" "Again I cut out pieces, and make towels," replied Ānanda. "Good! But when these towels wear out, what do you do then with the cloth?" "I cut out small pieces and make small hand towels." "These will also wear out; then what you will do?" "I will take small pieces, join them, and make some washing rags for those who arrive with muddy feet." "Wonderful! When those also wear out what you will do?" "I beat them, pulp them, and make something useful from the pulp." "Wonderful!"
This is the Buddha’s way. Those who give donations expect their dāna to be used properly. If they come here and find things lying around wasted they will think that people here don’t take care of the donations received, and as a result they won’t give anything. If this happens, you are certainly not helping either the previous donors or the new students. Every cent donated must be properly used.
Keep these three points in mind: Your service must be true Dhamma service that gives you real benefit. Segregation has to be observed; it is in your own interest. And lastly, make best use of the contributions received; this is also in your interest. When you work for your own benefit you will find that you have also started helping others deeply. Dhamma is for one’s own good and also for the good of others, for one’s own benefit and also for the benefit of others. Dhamma is for one’s own liberation and also for the liberation of others.
Make best use of the Dhamma while you are staying here. If your service is good, continue, and improve it wherever possible. If you have not yet learned how to give good service, learn now, give good service and gain merits. Gain purity of mind, develop your pāramīs, and come out of all your miseries.
Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ