Buddhism: if your motivation is to be of benefit, then anything you do is meditation.
Perform All Activities with One Intention
By Linda V. Lewis
Atisha’s Lojong (“Mind-Training”) slogans are not rules or commandments to obey, but are helpful guidelines, suggesting how to proceed and be of benefit in everyday life.
Any activity in post-meditation (you know, after formal meditation practice) can be considered further practice if
(1) there has first been some meditation before the activity and (2) if there is the genuine motivation to be of benefit. Motivation to be of benefit is the “One Intention” referred to in Atisha’s slogan:
Perform All Activities with One Intention
But this motivation needs to be continuous throughout the activity, because the inclination toward self-interest can rob us of that altruistic intention.
It doesn’t matter if we work inside an office in a crowded city, or do manual labor out on a farm in the spacious countryside. If our motivation is to eliminate suffering, our activity is dharmic. And we can evaluate our post-meditation practice by honestly examining whether our speed, aggression, and ignorance are decreasing or whether our conduct has become more gentle.
This slogan captures the essence of the bodhisattva vow and what are known as “The Four Limitless Ones”:
May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice.
Furthermore, this willingness to be helpful and to work for the well-being of all beings can spread from individuals to an entire society. As environmental eyes are watching the climate conference in Copenhagen, my Canadian Prime Minister drags his feet there. Yet, in a tiny corner of the world, out of the spotlight, is a small example of what a nation can do if its intention is to be of benefit. Bhutan, located at the base of the Himalayas, surrounded by the giants of China to the North and India to the South, is a quiet leader in environment, economics, and education—largely because its view of gross national happiness (GNH) is based on altruistic intention rather than on GNP.
For many decades Bhutan has created sustainable development, conservation, and sane governance. Formerly a Buddhist kingdom, it is now a democracy. It looks like the Switzerland of Asia with its snow-capped mountains, freely flowing rivers, densely forested hills, and farming areas. But Bhutan’s GNH motivation offers a unique and viable alternative to the usual paper-profit economies of modern democracies because it provides a measure of progress based on sustainability. For example, over a quarter of its land is protected (26%) by legislating against old growth logging and the export of raw lumber.
Bhutan is also attempting to create an educational curriculum based on holistic and contemplative approaches, critical thinking, and indigenous knowledge. Among other things Bhutan is introducing meditation in the classrooms; strengthening its arts programs; having students do field work to learn the medicinal value of native, herbal plants and agricultural biodiversity; and in general is emphasizing the view that eco-consciousness is prerequisite for the sustainability of the nation.
Being a predominantly Buddhist nation has inspired the Bhutanese to act on the awareness that humans are only one species in an immensely complex and interdependent web of life. Every form of life is precious. By not placing monetary profit above human and natural resources, the Bhutanese link this awareness to the welfare of ALL beings.
Bhutan is not utopia. It has its problems like any nation. Yet because it has the motivation to be of benefit, it is a leading example of sustainability and well-being in the world today.
Linda Lewis lives and teaches in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the mother of all things elephant.
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