The Bodhisattva, the exemplar of Mahayana Buddhism, makes the vow: ‘Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.’ It is an impossible task, but it represents the challenge for all those who want to help others as part of their spiritual path. And it expresses the crucial willingness not to put limits on what one is prepared to give. What is it to put compassion into action?
For the celebrated Zen teacher Maezumi Roshi, as he writes in Taste the Water, the key to compassion is changing the way we perceive and relate to the world. Other contributors reflect on their experiences of working with people who are suffering. Gateway to Death describes Parmananda’s experience of work in a Buddhist hospice in San Francisco. In Freedom Inside Sarvananda explores his motivations and effect in visiting prisons as a Buddhist chaplain.
Priyananda is the director of the Karuna Trust, a Buddhist charity that funds social projects among India’s Buddhists. In Gift Aids he discusses the Buddhist teachings on generosity and considers why they have not always been put into practice. In Brothers in Alms Matthew Webb, once a financial trader now also working for Karuna, describes how this work has expanded his perspective on life. In The Politics of Compassion Ken Jones argues that we need to transform the destructive forces in social and economic structures as well as changing ourselves, and that Buddhism should be socially engaged.