Enlightenment: A Call To Action

I read an interesting Facebook post from screenwriter and author, David Gerrold today. He wrote about the Buddha and enlightenment. The article starts like this (quote): “The story of Buddha, the short version, is that he was a prince or a noble of some sort. When he saw the great poverty of the people, he abandoned his riches and became a stoic. After a while, he realized that was a mistake as well and then he sat under a Bodhi tree for a while and became enlightened.”

A very short version indeed. The Buddha discovered that life is full of suffering. With enlightenment came the ability to deal with the suffering in your mind and finally the ability to eliminate suffering from your life through changing the way you think about it. This, according to Buddhism, is enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching these things to others. That’s all fine, writes Gerrold but:

“If he truly was a prince or a noble. If he truly was rich, then he was in a position to actually help the people living in great poverty. There were things he could have created — hospitals, schools, shelters for the homeless. He could have been more than some eccentric old guy sitting under a tree saying stuff that’s supposed to make people feel good about what’s going on inside their heads.”

It’s an interesting thought. In other words, it’s good to know about the troubles of individuals, and of the world, but knowing is not enough. Once you know, and if you are in a position to, you should be doing something about it. As an example, he say’s this: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The author also left this comment: “I will add a note to that. I wash the dishes every morning. It’s a relaxing ritual while the coffee perks. This is how enlightenment turns a chore into a service — I am being in service to my son and daughter-in-law. I am making a difference by providing a cleaner space for all of us. I am still chopping wood and carrying water, but now I understand why I am chopping wood and carrying water. I do it as a service.”

These are some good things to think about. We know about the troubles of the world. We see it and read about it in the news everyday. But knowing is not enough. I’ve read books about Buddhism, about monks spending their lives in meditation. But I often wondered, what good does this do beyond the good of the monk doing the meditation. Enlightenment is awareness, Gerrold writes: “But awareness itself is useless — unless you roll up your f**king sleeves and do something. If you are not going to work and making a difference, your enlightenment is merely narcissism in drag.”

Do something. Anything. Even something as simple as writing about what’s happening to people, to bring awareness. And then people turn that awareness into action. Even, Gerrold says, doing the dishes in order to create a cleaner space. Being in service to others, even if it is something as simple as smiling and greeting the cashier at your grocery store. Even that is a service. It can help brighten someones day, and who knows what they might do with that. They might go home after work and be nicer to their neighbors. And do it without expecting anything in return. If we do things because they should be done, and not for some kind of reward, (like a “thank you”) we’re providing a service to others, and that in turn is enlightenment. Knowing you’re doing things that should and need to be done to make a better world without expecting or desiring a reward.

So let’s go out and do stuff. There is a lot of injustice in our country and right here in our towns. Let’s make things better. Be encouraging, smile, or open a door for someone. Or go out and build houses for Habitat for Humanity. A lot of us are busy people. Many don’t have time to build houses. But we have time to smile. We have time to help someone load their groceries into their car. This is enlightenment.


  1. I’m finding much of interest here, thanks to your seeking mind and good writing! I grew up UU in Northfield and have been SGI Buddhist since college. By the way, my sister Joan Prefontaine writes haiku, too! She insists you don’t have to do 5-7-5, but you might disagree.


    • Thanks for your comment. It’s not necessary to follow the 5 7 5 “rule” because that is for Japanese word sounds as opposed to English syllables. Much has changed from when haiku came West! I follow that way because it works well for me. Thank you.


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