By Sensei Alex Kakuyo
I live in an apartment complex where everyone shares a trash chute.
Several times a week I take my garbage down the hall to the trash room, put it into a hole in the wall, and watch it disappear forever. The hole leads down to a trash compactor that smashes the building’s garbage into fun-sized cubes that fit perfectly inside a garbage truck. I appreciate having a trash chute because if it didn’t exist, I’d have to haul my garbage down several flights of stairs in order to throw it in a dumpster that’s half-a-block away.
Sometimes, I meditate on what a miserable experience that would be, and I’m filled with gratitude. For city-dwellers, a trash chute is a man’s best friend. But the world is filled with suffering, and the trash chute is no exception.
One of my neighbors either out of laziness or ignorance never puts their trash in the chute. Instead, they pile it up in front of the hole in the wall. As a result, the hallway is filled with the stink of rotten food and beer until some good samaritan walks up and disposes of the garbage. The building manager has been notified. Signs that plead with people to, “Respect their neighbors,” have been posted, but it’s to no avail. The garbage piles up every day with no end in sight.
So, I’ve made it my spiritual practice to clean up this unknown person’s garbage.
I remind myself that they were my mother in a past life, and as repayment for the kindness they showed me then, I can clean up after them now. This is the compassion that Buddhism demands.
Of course, I’m not the only one doing this. I like to think that there is a small army of people caring for the hallway even as one person carelessly destroys it. Sometimes, I think about this situation as it relates to the world at large.
Being “woke” or “anti-woke” is very popular these days depending on where one falls on the political spectrum. It seems like everyone wants to save the world—everyone wants to be the next Gandhi, Dr. King, or Greta Thunberg, but I don’t think we need more people like them. In fact, I think the last thing we need is more people who are good at giving speeches and rallying crowds.
Rather, we need more regular people who are good at doing regular things.
We need more people who put their garbage in the chute instead of leaving it in the hallway. We need more drivers who obey the speed limit. We need more families that treat each other with respect and loving-kindness. Of course, these things aren’t fun or sexy. They won’t get us an interview on the nightly news.
But in my experience, it’s regular people who have the biggest impact on the world. It was a boss who let me experiment with computers that gave me the first “big break” in my career. And it was a kind-hearted aunt who got me through puberty simply by giving me food and friendly conversation when I thought the whole world hated me.
I feel strongly that it’s regular people doing regular things that will save the world, because those are the people who’ve had the biggest impact on my life. And what’s great about this is being normal is a power that all of us possess.
Of course, how we save the world is for each individual to decide. But we can start with something simple; like taking out the trash.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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