By Sensei Alex Kakuyo
My community is sitting under three feet of snow, at the moment, and we get a few more inches every day.
So, I’ve been doing many of the jobs that one associates with winter snowstorms; insulating the chicken coop, putting salt down on the porch steps, and shoveling the driveway.
Today, I happened to see my neighbor shoveling her own driveway, so I grabbed my shovel and walked over to help. With the two of us working it didn’t take long to get the snow cleared, and we had a pleasant conversation. It was good times all around.
When we finished, she offered me money for my time, and I politely refused; explaining that helping in this way was part of my spiritual practice. She looked confused for a moment, and then she said, “Oh, I thought you were just being a good neighbor.”
It was at this moment that I realized my neighbor is a Zen master, because she’s right. As Buddhists, we create convoluted stories and liturgies around compassionate actions. We do them to make good merit, to learn equanimity, to save all beings from suffering.
Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path remind us that life is hard, and we’re all in this together. Sometimes, our hardship is aging, sickness, and death. Other times, it’s unexpected snowfall, but if we’re good neighbors, if we work to end the suffering of others, our own lives get easier as well.
Buddhism teaches us how to be a good neighbors, and then it encourages us to expand our neighborhood to include all sentient beings. But it’s a difficult practice. And we need to start small, by being good neighbors in our own households and our communities.
Each time we help the people who live near us, whether they’re our roommates or the people next door, we move one step closer to enlightenment.
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