This is Lobsang Phuntsok. I read about him on NPR this morning. He’s a former Buddhist monk who’s running an orphanage in India near the Tibetan border. He has 85 children in the orphanage, and he travels widely from village to village looking for orphans and children whose families cannot support them. He provides a loving home, food, education, rigorous structure, and spiritual instruction for the children.
I was really struck by his nickname, given to him by the villagers. He is known as the man who says no.
The man who says no.
It’s because the need is so great. For each child he is able to take in there are dozens that are left behind. He’s doing all of this hard work, he’s really making a difference and yet even in that small area it’s not enough.
He is the man who says no.
When I read the story, I immediately went to his website and donated some money. What I really wanted to do was to sell my house and buy a ticket and fly out there and start working. But I am a coward. Okay, maybe that’s too strong a statement – I do have obligations of my own, as do we all. But, you know. It’s still kind of chickenshit. Small beans.
The thing that’s remarkable to me about what I did is that I did it at all. That’s new to me. That kind of action is due to my exposure to the teachings, and to my own very small and limited Bodhichiita. The teachings tell us that there are two types of Bodhichiita: conventional or relative, and ultimate Bodhichitta. All of this activity, running an orphanage, donating to a charitable cause, helping those in need – all fall under the heading of relative or conventional Bodhichiita. There is duality in this view: a subject, an object, and an interaction between the two separate entities. In ultimate Bodhichitta there’s no duality: there’s no object, there’s no subject, there’s no action between the two entities. There’s only emptiness and form.
So the action that I took by donating some money is both relative, and mixed. I gave out of a sense of wanting to help, wanting to do anything I could for those children and to support the man who was supporting them. But I only gave a very little bit, and I felt good about it – it wasn’t a purely altruistic act. It was mixed with ego clinging. And there’s another thing, too: I think I’m obviously motivated to give because this guy was a monk. He looks like someone I relate to as spiritual. There’s an aspect of grasping, of clinging to my egoic ideas about myself as a “spiritual” person.
The thing is that this is totally fine – it’s much better to take an action that is somewhat mixed in motivation than to wait until you are already perfectly purely motivated before taking any action. All of these small acts have a benefit. They have a relative benefit in the conventional world because a little bit of money given to someone who is very poor can be helpful. But they also have a benefit for the mind.
And what I’m finding is that on this path I am more able take these baby steps towards becoming a better person. If I get no farther than this on the path, at least I’ve got here.
My wife is off in the wilderness teaching a soap making class to a bunch of off the grid herbalist curanderas. I couldn’t be more proud of her, but I miss her terribly.
Time to make a big ass batch of kimchi.
Namaste, curanderas! Don’t put no works on me!