The Purpose of Dhamma Service
The following is excerpted from a talk by Goenkaji on Dhamma service which was given at the Vipassana Meditation Centre in Blackheath, New South Wales, Australia.
What is the purpose of Dhamma service?
Certainly it is not to receive board and lodging, nor to pass the time in a comfortable environment, nor to escape from the responsibilities of daily life. Dhamma workers know this well.
Such persons have practiced Vipassana and realized by direct experience the benefits it offers. They have seen the selfless service of the teachers, management and Dhamma workers — service that enabled them to taste the incomparable flavour of Dhamma. They have begun to take steps on the Noble Path, and naturally have started to develop the rare quality of gratitude, the wish to repay their debt for all that they have received.
Of course, the teacher, management and Dhamma workers gave their service without expecting anything in return, nor will they accept any material remuneration. The only way to pay back the debt to them is by helping to keep the Wheel of Dhamma rotating, to give to others the same selfless service. This is the noble volition with which to give Dhamma service.
As Vipassana meditators progress on the path, they emerge from the old habit pattern of self-centeredness and start to concern themselves with others. They notice how everywhere people are suffering: young or old, men or women, black or white, haves or have-nots, all are suffering. Meditators, realize that they themselves were miserable until they encountered the Dhamma. They know that, like them, others have started to enjoy real happiness and peace by following the Path. Seeing this change stimulates a feeling of sympathetic joy, and strengthens the wish to help suffering people come out of their misery with Vipassana. Compassion overflows, and with it the volition to help others find relief from their suffering.
Of course, it takes time to develop the maturity and to receive the training to teach Dhamma. But there are many other ways in which to serve those who have come to join a course, and all of them are invaluable. Truly it is a noble aspiration to be a Dhamma worker — a simple, humble Dhamma worker.
And those who practice Vipassana start realizing the law of nature according to which actions of body or speech that cause harm to others will also harm those who commit them, while actions that help others will bring peace and happiness to those who perform them. Thus, helping others is also helping oneself. It is therefore in one’s own interest to serve. Doing so develops one’s paramis and makes it possible to advance more quickly and surely on the path. Serving others is, in fact, also serving oneself. Understanding this truth again stimulates the wish to join in the noble mission of helping others to come out of their misery.
But what is the best way to serve?
Without knowing this, workers cannot help others or themselves; instead, they might even do harm. However noble the Dhamma mission may be, there can be no true benefit in helping to fulfill it if the volition of the worker is not sound. The service will not be beneficial if it is given to inflate the worker’s ego, or to obtain something in retum — even if only words of praise or appreciation.
Understand that while serving you are learning how to apply Dhamma in day-to-day life. After all, Dhamma is not an escape from daily responsibilities. By learning to act according to the Dhamma in dealing with the students and situations here in the little world of a meditation course or center, you train yourself to act in the same way in the world outside. Despite the unwanted behavior of another person, you practice trying to keep the balance of your mind, and to generate love and compassion in response. This is the lesson you are trying to master here. You are a student as much as those who are sitting in the course.
Keep on learning while serving others humbly. Keep thinking, “I am here in training, to practice serving without expecting anything in return. I am working so that others may benefit from the Dhamma. Let me help them by setting a good example, and in doing so help myself as well.”
May all of you who give Dhamma service become strengthened in Dhamma.
May you learn to develop your goodwill, love and compassion for others.
May all of you progress in Dhamma to enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.