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When we can see that that it is true for everyone, we begin to respond with more care, love, and compassion to ourselves and each other. Eventually, this comes naturally. It is the heart’s natural expression of our own process of liberation, our own inklings of freedom, of being awake. Once we’ve acknowledged how much suffering we have experienced in our lives and have clearly seen how much suffering there is in the world, the only rational response is an engaged, compassionate response to all forms of suffering. As spiritual aspirants, we must commit our life’s energy to creating positive change in the world.
Just as we have a personal intention for awakening, we also have an altruistic intention to bring freedom to this world by responding with care and compassion to the overwhelming ignorance and suffering. We can do this by directly addressing the constant destruction of life through non-violent actions, and by responding to the greed and hatred that pervades the human experience with compassionate and generous acts of service.
The practitioners in the communities I’ve founded have developed collective responses based on the realization of individual practitioners of the suffering of others and the need to alleviate it. In San Francisco, our community teaches meditation in institutions and to at-risk youth. Ten years ago, we began a meditation class at the local juvenile hall, and over the years, that one class has grown to over twenty a month throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In support of this engaged expression of our community’s Buddhist practice, the Mind Body Awareness Project, a non-profit organization, has come into being, and similar organizations have been founded in New York and Los Angeles. Thousands and thousands of kids, in the midst of a difficult time in their lives, have been introduced to the practice of meditation, not in a strange, mystical, religious way, but in their own language or idiom.
In New York City, the meditation community that began while I was living there continues to grow. They’ve expressed their engagement primarily by serving the homeless. The community supports a soup kitchen with monthly donations and warm bodies to help cook and serve food on the Bowery, which is down the street from the center where they meet twice a week to meditate.