Dhamma practice: passive or active?

1 April 2533

Dhamma practice: passive or active?

In one sense, it’s almost as if we “lie in wait” for sensations to arise, and relate to them in such a way as to not give rise to defilement. It’s as if we were a passive receiver of sensations. In this sense we may feel we should sit and wait for things to happen and do our best to avoid getting involved in anything. This is one way of looking at Dhamma practice.

Another way is to use our practice to improve the world, by training to see it in a more skillful way. So the initial practice is not only to be a passive experiencer, but also learning to get up and go outside to meet the world also. This means practicing toward the world in a good way.

One who practices like this practices correctly in relation to himself and also, having seen the truth, practices in the world in such a way as to be helpful, not harmful. Helping others also helps us to develop good qualities in ourselves. The mind tends toward skillful reactions in its everyday contact.

In this way the practicer sees the relationship between his own personal practice and the practice of relating to the world. One sees that all beings are related, and so deals with them with mettā, goodwill, and karunā, compassion, helping them in their need. Furthermore, we understand that all other beings are afflicted with the same illness as we are, they are bound by the Three Characteristics just as we are. Therefore it is proper that we learn to help each other as fellow travelers on the path of practice.

Dhamma practicers should therefore not only consider the right way to relate to the various experiences they encounter in the course of their lives, but should also help others.

This type of practice was recommended by the Buddha, even up to the level of those who have experienced insight. At one time the Buddha compared the Stream Enterer (sotāpanna1) to a mother cow. The cow eats grass to feed itself, and also to feed the calf which follows her around. “Eating the grass” can be compared to one’s own personal practice of Dhamma. Even though she is eating grass, the mother cow doesn’t neglect her calf, she is constantly looking after it and watchful to keep it from falling into danger. Likewise, one who practices the teaching of Buddhism practices primarily to train oneself in the correct practice, but also gives consideration to one’s fellow men and all other beings, so as to help them with goodwill and compassion.

So this fits in with the principle I mentioned at the beginning of this talk: In helping oneself one helps others, in helping others one helps oneself. All in all the practice boils down to behaving in the right manner, both to oneself and to others. In this way Dhamma practice leads to progress both for oneself and for others.

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เชิงอรรถ

  1. One who has experienced a first glimpse of transcendental insight, thus entering the stream to Nibbāna

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