Is meditation practice ultimately selfish? Is it right to spend our energy focused on ourselves when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?
This dilemma is not a new one, and is explored in one of my favorite stories - the story of The Bamboo Acrobat. Here is what it says:
I love the lines "Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself." This is a mantra we can all live by.[The Buddha addressed the monks:]Once upon a time, monks, a bamboo acrobat, setting himself upon his bamboo pole, addressed his assistant Medakathalika:"Come you, my dear Medakathalika, and climbing up the bamboo pole, stand upon my shoulders.""Okay, master" the assistant Medakathalika replied to the bamboo acrobat; and climbing up the bamboo pole she stood on the master's shoulders.So then the bamboo acrobat said this to his assistant Medakathalika: "You look after me, my dear Medakathalika, and I'll look after you. Thus with us looking after one another, guarding one another, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down the bamboo pole."This being said, the assistant Medakathalika said this to the bamboo acrobat: "That will not do at all, master! You look after yourself, master, and I will look after myself. Thus with each of us looking after ourselves, guarding ourselves, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down from the bamboo pole. That's the right way to do it!"[The Buddha said:]Just like the assistant Medakathalika said to her master: "I will look after myself," so should you, monks, practice the establishment of mindfulness. You should (also) practice the establishment of mindfulness (by saying) "I will look after others."Looking after oneself, one looks after others.Looking after others, one looks after oneself.And how does one look after others by looking after oneself?By practicing (mindfulness), by developing (it), by doing (it) a lot.And how does one look after oneself by looking after others?By patience, by non-harming, by loving kindness, by caring (for others).(Thus) looking after oneself, one looks after others; and looking after others, one looks after oneself.
In the audio below we have a short exploration of what this story means to those of us who meditate, together with a fully guided 30 minute Mindfulness Meditation.
If the embedded audio player above doesn't work for you, please click here.
Translation from Sedaka Sutta: The Bamboo Acrobat" (SN 47.19), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013.