Monday, August 20, 2012

Holding the Door Dharma

In Zen we talk about the idea of meditation as practice. What other kinds of practice can we do to help us along the spiritual path? How about holding the door for others?

In Zen there is this character called Bodhidharma. He is alleged to be the first ancestor who took the teachings of the Buddha to the East. There is a question about Bodhidharma that goes: "What is Bodhidharma's family tree?" In this case the answer is "How can I help?". If you are not familiar with Bodhidharma, I heartily recommend doing a little research. There are some teachings attributed to Bodhidharma as well, notably the Bloodstream sermon, the Breakthrough sermon and the Wake-up sermon. They are all worth investigating.

So back to our question, why hold the door for other people? If we really want to help others, we need to actually do it. Granted, holding the door for people is not going to relieve suffering. It is, however, going to change some attitudes within us. Depending on the mind we bring to our practice, many things can occur as you hold the door for others.

If we pay attention, we may notice a tremendous amount of judgment that goes on in the mind. When someone says thank you, we may feel glad or happy. When someone says nothing, we may feel some sort of negative emotion and even begin judging that person. What do we do in this case? Well, why are we holding the door for people? Is it for accolades? Is it for people to like us? No. We are doing it for our own practice. If others are helped, great! Some people really appreciate a helping hand and that is wonderful. Some people could care less, yet it was still a service opportunity for us, so that is wonderful. Maybe holding the door will allow someone to get in front of us in line. More practice!

We can also start to look for other service opportunities. Can we let people merge in front of us in traffic? Can we do it without judgment? Maybe we still make gestures at people when we are out driving. We can work to stop doing that, even if the most we can do at the moment is to keep the gestures below the dashboard so they can't be seen.

In any case, we do not attach to this. We are not good or bad for helping others. As Bodhidharma might say, we are not creating any merit by our actions. This is not to say there is no benefit in this practice. It can and will provide benefit as even the slightest thought and action with the attitude of helping others will help us in our practice.