Volunteering in a Buddhist centre

It is great to create positive connections by volunteering our services in Buddhist organization. In that manner, we create the cause for future happiness.

The key word is positive connections.

As a Buddhist, we believe that works associated with the spreading of Buddha’s wisdom generate tons of merits. This is because we are indirectly facilitating the enlightenment of other people and beings.

However, there are also risk and challenges involved with volunteering in a Buddhist organization. If we are unskillful or not mindful, we end up creating tons of bad karma instead.

Best Intention may not create the best result

Many monks and Buddhist teachers taught that an altruistic attitude to benefit others is important. This is true but unfortunately lost in translation most of the time.

This is because, most of the time our starting point is self centred. Therefore we do not spare a thought to be in another person’s shoe.

Sometimes, a self perceived, selfless intent to benefit others can also create stress for the entire community. This is especially so for people with a domineering personality. We may unwittingly create tons of stress for our co-workers.

We have to always remember that our methods of doing things may not work well for others. If someone must cut a potato up before peeling each pieces, why not leave her to her job? It is about coexistence, mutual respect and embracing diversities.

I have seen people rolling their eyes and exclaiming, “Can’t witness that stupidity any longer” That is a sign of the “ego demon”.

If we end up driving volunteers away with our behavior, our bad karma is worse.

On the other end, volunteers have to be “open to new ideas” of doing things too. The Ego demon also applies to us equally.

Our best method may create tons of challenges for our group leaders or co-workers. For example, if we are responsible for peeling potatoes and then handing them over to another group for cutting. Our insistence to cut them up before peeling them may create obstacle to the production line.

Managing disagreement.

This is never simple because we all have ego. Nevertheless, do not ever engage in verbal or physical violence. Do not intentionally provoke one another too.

If we intentionally play the role of a provoker, we are playing the role of Mara.

When absolutely nothing works, walk away with humility.

The wise master said a moment of anger burns away eons of good merits.

Try to lose

Maybe it is only me, but I discover that volunteering allows me to practice “losing”. This is opposite the “winning” mentality so cherished by the mundane situation. I find this refreshing and therapeutic. For once, I do not need to have the last say. If I can get myself to let go of my ego and “lose”, then I win!

Do not create a schism.

It is natural for people to form groups.

The worst situation is to create discord amongst groups.

As witnessed in the scriptures. The paleilai incident saw 2 rival monks creating 2 rival fractions. They were so bitter against each other that they completely disregarded the Buddha and his advice.

Such deeds carry extremely negative karma.

Wastage and stealing.

This requires awareness. The resources in a dharma centre are obtained through goodwill contributions and donations. We have to make an effort to avoid wastage. From food scraps to office stationery. From water utility to electricity. Any wilful wastage means a karmic debt to the donors. The line is Gray. If you feel something is not right, then abstain from it.

For example, I am cautious not to use the temple electricity to charge my mobile phone or laptop. If I do so, I make sure to drop some money into the donation box to help pay the utilities.

Donation in kind

When we make donation to any organization, it is best to give earnestly. So we give the best that we can afford. Otherwise we pool resources with others to contribute.

I noticed people giving used item. Their motivation maybe good but it is not totally pure. Most of the time, when they get themselves a new computer or equipment, they will donate the used one to the organization. This resulted in lots of broken furniture and old equipment in the organization.

On the other end, organization should remain humble and not demand top notch item from donor.

We represent Buddhism

Once we are active volunteers, we represent the the face of Buddhism.

Like it or not, our action and speech will leave a good or bad impression with others. Especially general public.

Sometimes it is good to step back from a situation and ask ourselves. What would Buddha do?

If we are aggressive, it is inevitable for people to conclude that the buddhist education is not working. Through our behaviour, we are tarnishing the Dharma.

On the other hand, good and praise worthy actions will spread like fragrant incense. It has a positive impact to all.

I have witnessed zealous volunteers chiding ignorant tourist and visitors for breaking dress code.

While it is important to have dress code. The uncouth enforcement does leave a bad experience to an ignorant visitor.

Following this is a more serious issue.

If that tourist or visitor became angry and disgusted with Buddhism because of our inappropriate action. Then we had just done one of the most serious deed.

We had burnt another’s opportunity to gain enlightenment. That is seriously bad karma.

What should we do

Always be mindful of our action and speech.

Always try to be considerate towards others.

Always follow the Buddhist ethics and precepts.


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