The other day I went to the post office to mail an item. It was a birthday card, for someone living abroad. This person’s birthday was coming up very soon, and I wanted to get to the post office first thing on Monday morning so the card would arrive on time. When I got to the post office, I was irritated to see that the line was very long. Sometimes during the day the line is long, and other times there is no line at all, so I contemplated what to do. Do I stay and wait, be patient and get to mail the card early that day, or do I go away and come back later in the day, but with the consequence of spending more time traveling to the post office, and also delaying the time the card would be mailed? I decided to wait in line. The result was that it turned out to be about a 25 minute wait; but I didn’t mind, for one reason: sending the card was important to me that time, more important than the inconvenience of waiting in line. This was one of two lessons I learned there.
The first lesson: The line was bearable because the task I wanted to accomplish was important. The second lesson: I feel conscious of wasting time. I don’t like it. If I feel like my time is running away like water down a drain, I feel uneasy and consider moving on. However, while standing in line this time, I came to the understanding that sometimes we have to “waste” a little time in order to get a job done. But I must clarify that the action must be a beneficial action, good for me and preferably someone else. Spending time going in the wrong direction will just compound our misfortune. Know that Buddhism teaches that doing good deeds is going in the right direction. So enjoy the journey towards your happy destination.
And on the topic of good deeds and water going down a drain, for those living in Southern California you need to be living in a closed box not to know that there is a water crisis going on as we speak. There has been a drought for the past 3 years. This winter it was expected that El Nino would drop buckets of water, but it hasn’t happened, and the area is still below the normal rate of rainfall for this time of year. Wasting water here is a nono.
How can the average person like me help, I thought? What will it matter what one person does? Anyway, it’s in agriculture where the vast majority of water in So. Cal. is being used, I thought. Regardless, I felt moved to do my part, however small. I set a large container under the gutters to catch the excess water on the rare days that it rains. It filled up and I used this water for the plants.
I noticed how much water is literally going down the drain each time the kitchen sink is used. I put a basin in the kitchen to fill it with water that does not have detergent in it, water that was used to rinse dishes, and use this water for the plants. A small effort I thought, for the big picture of California.
But from this little action I came to question, who is it that I am really doing these little deeds for? From my understanding of Buddhism the answer is that it’s for me. The result of saving water in California is good for the environment, sure, but it’s me that is getting the benefit, too. We must not forget that the doer reaps what they have sown, that while we practice good (towards someone or something else) we must reap a good harvest in the process. The giver is the one who really gains, Buddhism teaches. I feel that too often we get despondent because we do not see results coming to us, that we keep giving but don’t get. But the invisible truth is that we are giving to ourselves when we give. We just have to keep doing it, and the visible results will appear in time.
Frank Costelloe, Los Angeles
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #63, Daily Lessons
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