Service (as an aspect of Brotherhood)

Service starts with being helpful to the people around us, and not worrying about what’s in it for us. Not wanting to be paid for doing things around home etc.

One simple way we can be of service is to be a good friend. If you think about what it means to be a friend to someone, you generally need to put up with a bit, you need to try to understand the other person, and listen to them without judging them and you need to share something with them.

Jalaladdin Rumi was a famous Sufi who lived 800 years ago. In his book Fihi Ma Fihi (Discourses) he talks a lot about friendship. He says we must learn to pass beyond the good and bad qualities that are there temporarily in everyone and look more deeply into the person. He gives the comical example of someone who claims to know a fellow very well, but when pressed can only offer “He’s a mule driver. He has two black cows…”. Sometimes we fail someone as a friend, and we have to face up to that also.

Abdullah says that we need to learn external considering as a step towards service, and he explained that understanding is the most important part of external considering. Being a good householder means serving others as good sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents, husbands and wives. But even animals will often look after their family and close allies. Abdullah reminds us that as human beings we should try to include all of the people we come into contact with. Abdullah says that sometimes all that is needed is a few kind words. Within a group like this, a little more may be required because the brotherhood we are aspiring to is a spiritual one.

Abdullah says that the need to work on ourselves can come from many places. He says that it may be that a person becomes aware that this is simply something they have to do. This is a kind of recognition of the need to serve. Sharing our experiences in trying to make our bodies obedient, and being open to the experiences of others, is part of serving in a brotherhood like this. When we come together to do the fast of Ramadhan this provides an added opportunity to understand ourselves and others better and see how much we have in common.

Today we have two Buddhist stories.

There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for more than 20 years. She had built a hut for him and fed him while he was meditating, but after 20 years she wanted to know what progress he had made. To find out, she hired a young woman who was rich in desire. “Go and embrace him,” she told her, “and see how he responds”. The young woman traveled to the monk’s remote home and approached him and asked him if he would like to share her bed that night. But the monk would not be tempted. He simply turned aside and continued his meditation undisturbed, so the young woman returned to the old woman and told her what had happened.

The old woman threw her arms in the air in exasperation and said “To think I fed that rice bag for twenty years and what has he learned? He could see your life was troubled yet he turned aside, without even talking to you, without making any effort to be of service… Such a man still has much to learn.”

The second story today is also a Buddhist story.

The Abbott of a zen monastery was sitting in meditation one morning when he heard the sound of arguing coming from just outside the monastery. He decided to investigate, so he followed the commotion to the garden behind the monastery, and out into the pumpkin patch. There he found that the pumpkins had grouped into two factions each with a leader and they were arguing angrily with one another. The Abbott called the pumpkins to be silent, and then said to them “it is very inappropriate for you who grow in our zen monastery garden to be arguing like this – I will teach you to sit in meditation”. Out of respect for the Abbott the pumpkins agreed, so the Abbott taught them zazen and as they meditated they slowly began to feel that they no longer wanted to argue with each other. Then the Abbott said to them “Pumpkins, I want you now to focus your attention on the top of your heads” so they did this and one by one they realised that growing out of the top of their heads was a vine which connected them all together. So rather than being separate pumpkins, they realised they were in fact all part of the same plant.

Abdullah says that to serve properly we must work for our fellow men and try to remember God at the same time. He reminds us that the Sun shines on everyone, saint and sinner alike. He says that we must learn service with non-attachment in a spiritual way and that our conscience will teach us how to do this if we learn to listen to it.

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