I think the beauty of Buddha’s teaching lies in mind training. Each individual invest time sitting on the cushion, delving deep within themselves to become Enlightened. (a perfection of oneself where negativities of craving, hatred and ignorance cease altogether)
By the way, when ignorance is removed, we discover there is no ONESELF. A removal of self attachment.
In this manner, the society should become a better place if more people engage in mind training and perfection of deeds and thoughts.
For individuals who had practice mind training, we know the mile stone are not easy to reach. Each session of meditation or chanting is an inner “battle” within ourselves. For a hyper active mind, the battle is to still it. For a “drowsy” mind, the battle is not to fall asleep. Different people has different challenges to overcome and that is only the beginning.
However, for the “outsider” it would appear that these bunch of people are doing nothing at all. They are just sitting or praying the whole day long. What a complete waste of time!
To be fearless of such criticism or misconception and continue with our practice requires courage. Such determination and conviction is admirable.
However, we can be easily carried away by our passion for mind training or religion that we ignore everything else, including the needs and sufferings of others.
If there is another person who is in need of our help and we prefer to sit and pray/meditate instead. Then something may be going wrong with our practice. Especially if our tricky mind convinced us that our sitting and prayer is for a greater cause; The greater cause of attaining enlightenment so that we can become Buddha to benefit more people.
Such tendency is not new and had also occurred during the Buddha’s time.
At that time, Buddha wandered from place to place to teach. It happened that in one of the monasteries, a monk had became ill and was bed ridden. The other monks were too involved in their own meditation and no one pay heed to the sick monk. Soon he was covered in his own filth, boils and sore developed all over his bodies.
When Buddha visited that monastery, he went to the aid of the sick monk and cleaned his sore and filth personally. Nursing him personally. Then he called the other monks together and taught them the importance of kindness and care in their spiritual practice.
Sometimes it is too easy to become absorbed with what we are doing and become oblivious to the suffering around us. As demonstrated and taught by Buddha, that should not be the case.
I think a balanced approach towards self improvement and helping others would make sense. In times of peace, we find the monastic practitioners devoted to spiritual practices in their monastery and centres. They help by bettering themselves and guiding others to improve.
In rural Thailand of the past, a Buddhist monastery is also a medical clinic, an education centre, a village arbitration centre etc….
During a crisis occur, we see the same respected group of individuals acting fearlessly to protect fellow beings. Be it a natural disaster such as earthquake in Sichuan China / Taiwan or sheltering people from being hurt in riots, we read about monks and nuns risking their lives to help fellow beings.
Thus, when it is time to seat, seat. When it is time to act, act.