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As a Mahayana follower I keep growing my wish to help all beings. To accomplish this, I have developed the wish to become a Buddha. As I meditate and follow the teachings, I really wish to help all beings to be free from suffering and want them to be happy, and I really can feel by my own experience that I can make them happy by practicing.

Although sometimes I also have the feeling I should help in other ways. Like giving them food or even doing some volunteer work to help them to be free from suffering, at least for a short period of time.

When is the time to meditate, and when is the time to help others (and of course by doing this wanting them to be free from suffering)?

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I think there is a certain tendency in the west to take the Bodhisattva vow as mandate for humanitarian action. The reams of material that have been written on socially engaged Buddhism are pretty exemplary of that. I personally don't think there is anything wrong with working to make someone suffer a little less. I also think that proponents of this kind of engaged Buddhism are on some pretty solid theological ground. Helping others is an essential part of anyone's practice. It's no accident that the first paramita (in all traditions!) is generosity.

I think I need to qualify this though. No matter how much effort you exert, you aren't going to end suffering in the world. No government plan, social service, or movement can accomplish that. It's impossible. To even think along those lines is completely contrary to Buddhist teaching. The only surefire means we have of ending suffering is through our own liberation. It is imperative that we don't lose sight of that. So many people get caught up in outward directed effort that they lose touch with their individual practice. One wonders how truly useful they can be as Buddha-beings when their best weapons in the fight against suffering - their loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and generosity - aren't sharpened by daily practice!

It's always time to help others and if you practice Buddhism sincerely, you will always be doing exactly that. The hours that you sit benefit all sentient beings in ways just as powerful as any hour you spend working at a soup kitchen. If you feel called to do something more tangible than just sitting, that's fine. It's even recommended lest you begin to develop an indulgent attachment to the bliss of concentration. Just don't let outward efforts distract you from your own liberation.

  • I really appreciated your answer. Many Thanks :) – Pedro Gregório Nov 12 '15 at 19:38
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    I'd like to add Buddha's quote from the Diamond Sutra to your answer: "Subhuti, if a person collected treasures as high as 3,000 of the highest mountains, and gave them all to others, their merit would be less than what would accrue to another person who simply observed and studied this Sutra and, out of kindness, explained it to others. The latter person would accumulate hundreds of times the merit, hundreds of thousands of millions of times the merit. There is no conceivable comparison." – user5716 Nov 23 '15 at 14:07
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    The greatest charity is the gift of the dharma! – user698 Nov 23 '15 at 14:30
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In my opinion... in Buddhism this kind of worry is called "udacca-kukucca" :) -- "Am I not doing enough of what I should be doing? I am doing this but shouldn't I be doing that instead?"

Instead, the perfect mind in Buddhism is A) free of the conflict between "this" vs. "that" and B) makes the best use of any situation.

So if real situation presents itself when someone needs help, and you see how you can help - go ahead and help. But if there is no situation and no clear idea, then it's just worry. Especially when you are meditating - all kinds of thoughts can come up, but your goal is to keep going.

So it's not about prescriptive guidance: "you should spend 50% of your time helping others" - but rather about doing your best as you're letting your life unfold.

Of course we have all these grand ideas about the great business we want to open, or the great way we could help people, or other visions of great success - but they are only projections of thought into the future. This projection creates a mismatch between "here" and "there". From this mismatch comes dukkha, the feeling of wrongness.

Instead, for any success you will have achieved, there must be a pathway from where you are now, to there, with the first step being within reach. Therefore the only way to get there is to work with what you have right here and now. So do your best with what life gives you at every given moment, acting with most compassion, most openness, most wisdom, most sincerity etc. - and you will get to the best possible place you could have gotten to - and on the way there you will have many chances to really help someone - and it will be real and within your powers - and not some abstract idea that generates dukkha :)

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