People do many ordinary things each day to make their world better. For example, they exchange smiles with a stranger, or hold the door open for someone. They let a driver merge ahead in traffic. What does it feel like to share a simple act of kindness? I’m confident you’ll agree that it feels pretty good. This good feeling is one of the rewards of kindness.
Making a Meaningful Differnce
By saying this, I’ve already done part of what I hope to do in this post. That is to remind you that the ordinary good you and I do everyday makes a quiet, yet positive difference in our lives everyday. This is important in itself.
Also, it’s helpful to remember that we can multiply the power and reach of the good we do. We do this by taking a few minutes to emotionally and mentally savor our own ordinary, everyday acts of kindness. As we know though, some people think that reflecting in this way diminishes the good they do. However, to reflect on one’s deeds in a balanced and truthful way is not self-indulgent, even though it can feel refreshingly good.
No, taking time to reflect on and re-imagine acts of generosity and kindness adds to our resilience and happiness. It increases the probability that we’ll act from a heart of goodness in the future. Doing good deeds and reflecting on good deeds generates it’s own momentum and reward.
“To launch a boat or build a bridge is an act of giving…Making a living and producing things can be nothing other than giving.” ~Eihei Dogan Zenji
Moreover, we know that the Buddha taught that each actor’s intentional deeds rebound to the actor for good or ill depending on the intentions they sprang from.
In addition, the Buddha taught that though we can see ourselves as isolated individuals reaping the fruits of our deeds, it is vitally important that we also recognize that each one of us is a consequential part of our community of family, friends, and neighbors.
“‘I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions… Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir…” ~The Buddha
That’s why the Buddha encouraged us to practice right conduct. He knew that right conduct frees the one who abandons killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and intoxication from a guilty conscience and a mind filled with the agitation and sorrow of remorse. In other words, the Buddha knew first hand that practicing right conduct benefits the one who practices it by, among other things, freeing them from the painful emotional and mental states that hinder calm, insight, and compassion.
Moreover, the Buddha also encouraged his followers to live by right conduct because he understood and valued the social consequences of right conduct.
Whats more, He taught that those who refrain from killing and violence, lying and other forms of wrong speech, sexual misconduct, and intoxication, “give to immeasurably many beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression…” Furthermore, in this teaching the Buddha also said that the one who gives such a gift will likewise enjoy “immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” ~The Buddha in Anguttara Nikaya
That is to say, those who practice virtue protect themselves and countless others from the ills that come from harmful and negligent conduct. They are promoters of personal and social wellbeing and happiness.
Thus, when we think about right conduct in this light, we can see that right conduct is not only a matter of individual restraint leading to personal peace and satisfaction, but virtuous conduct is also a generous gift, a gift that frees countless others from fear and oppression.
“Morality is peace.” ~Ajahn Chah
And, if others feel this heightened sense of safety and security in their communities, they too might develop the trust needed to act in accord with right conduct. Thus, engaging in right conduct helps to spread right conduct far and wide along with the safety and peace it entails.
Interestingly, there is a growing body of sociological and psychological research on the contagious character of social goods like happiness, kindness, and virtue.
For example, in a study conducted at Harvard University and UC San Diego, researchers found that happiness spreads in our social networks up to three-degrees, that is from happy me to my friends and their friends as well.
“Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness,” says Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study.” npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97831171
“Doing good feels good, and the ripple effects make a better world that benefits us all.” ~Jeremy McCarthy at psychologyofwellbeing,com
To add on in this vein, here is a link to heart warming story about the contagious nature of virtue with its own further links to research on how virtue spreads through the feeling of “moral elevation.” psychologyofwellbeing.com/201109/the-contagious-nature-of-virtue.html
Ultimately, from what we know from our own personal experience, to what we learn from the Buddha and from other wisdom teachers and traditions, and from the conclusions emerging from sociology and psychology, what we think, say, and do matters for our wellbeing—and for the wellbeing of countless other people. Our actions, even small acts of kindness, and even tiny acts motivated by ill will, each leaves a mark on the world.
Knowing this we know that everything we do makes a difference.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to the SHZ Blog on our home page. It’s free. sweepingheartzen.org
Please visit a Sweeping Heart Zen event. We’re in historic Gloucester on Boston’s North Shore. Here’s a link to our calendar: sweepingheartzen.org/events/
I hope you have a wonderful week!