The World is Waiting for Your Action

I’d love to change the world,
But I don’t know what to do,
So I’ll leave it up to you.
— Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, I’d Love to Change the World, (From Space in Time album, 1971)

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I here, what is my purpose?”

The Great Masters of the East, Buddhist monks who devoted their lives to long meditations through which they claim to have discovered the secrets to our existence, believed they knew the answer:  that we are here to make a better world.

In the eighth and final week of my basic meditation course I speak about what they called the highest meditation, engaged meditation, in which one contemplates making a better world.  I ask my students to meditate to discover what it is they want to do to make a better world.  I tell them it may take several meditation sessions before they discover it.

Invariably, students will ask me to choose something for them, and I always refuse.  I ask, “How can I know what it is that you need to do?”

One student asked if her cause was not important enough, and I asked her what it was.  She replied that it was animal rights.

I answered, of course, that’s a good cause, as long as you believe it to be right for you.

She said, “But others seem so important–feeding the hungry, working for world peace, the environmental movement.”

I said I would be very disappointed to live in a world where there were none of my species who cared about the other species and worked for their well being.  After all, it lifts us all as humans to a higher level of being if we can be a species that cares for the others.

There isn’t really a higher cause, or a lower cause.  We need to do them all.  The anti-nuke people say that if we have global thermonuclear war, nothing else will matter, because civilization, as we know it, will be destroyed.

Environmentalists say that if we poison our planet, nothing else will matter, because life will become a living hell.

Social justice advocates warn that if we don’t address hunger, there will be riots and nations will be toppled by violence with blood running in the streets.

They are all right, but so many other causes are also important, and we need people to work on them and solve them too.

We live in a world where many of the inhabitants merely live to accumulate piles of money, and then they die.  This cannot be the reason we are here.  The Great Masters of the East have said for millennia that we are here to make a better world, and the enlightened ones know that.  They say that although there are millions of enlightened ones among us, there are many more who are wasting their lives accumulating wealth, power and fame.

Bodhidharma was said to be an Indian who traveled to China to establish the philosophy of Ch-an, which spread to Korea as Sen, and then to Japan as Zen.  Westerners who’ve embraced Zen generally don’t see it as religious teachings, although it spread from the earlier philosophy of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.

Siddhartha, according to his Mahayana followers, in his last days was asked “Master, are you a prophet come to teach us, or a god?” to which he laughed and said (merely) “I am awake.”  Most of his followers of the northern school of Buddhism do not believe he was a god, but merely an enlightened person, an objective anyone may achieve.

Primary to the teachings is that for one to become enlightened, one must move away from “the three poisons–” hatred, greed and delusion.  The gateway to enlightenment is meditation, where one gets in touch with reality, according to the advocates of the engaged philosophy.

So I have reasoned that to avoid hatred, greed and delusion one may embrace their opposites — compassion, sharing and understanding.  There are countless ways to do this, to contribute toward making a better world.

One friend worked all her life to help battered women at a shelter that took them in with their children.

Another worked her lifetime for the cause of our natural environment, doing both local actions where she lived and international actions.

Yet another worked for world peace, being arrested time after time for peace protests, sitting on boards of peace groups, and persuading others to get involved.

I believe that if a person meditates deeply for an extended period of time, reaching that calmness daily for several days to several years, one will eventually see a cause that is right for them, embrace it, and by acting, change the world.

If a person changes the way another person thinks, they have changed the whole world, according to this philosophy.  We are only powerless if we believe ourselves to be powerless.

This engaged Zen philosophy is not at all religious.  Atheists practice it.  Jews, Christians, and others practice it.  If it were a religion, people might come to your door to try to convince you it is the true faith, but nobody will come to your door encouraging it.

This philosophy is one you must push yourself from within to embrace.  You must search inside and see if your purpose is to become wealthy, famous or powerful (these are called delusions within the engaged philosophy, leading to an imperfect life) or if you have a purpose in serving to make a better world.

Although some enjoy prescribing rules for the philosophy, many Westerners make up their own rules, to suit their interests, always keeping in mind the golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do to you, and opposing hatred, greed and delusion.

Nothing would please me more than influencing a young person away from the kind of ignorance I had when young, believing I didn’t have the power to change the world.

In my classes I like to show students how they can change reality with this visualization:

You are walking down the street with your close friend thinking this is the most beautiful day that ever was when your friend says, “Isn’t it a horrible day?”

You feel awkward and don’t want to offend your friend, so you look around for agreement that it might be a bad day and notice clouds in the sky, saying to your friend, “Yes, it’s overcast and gloomy.”

And you move yourself away from the perception that it is the most beautiful day that ever was into a gloomier outlook.  You have just changed reality.

Reality, after all, is simply our own perception.  If you think it is a crappy day, then it is a crappy day.  You have the power to envision whatever reality you choose.

Belief is the most powerful thing in the universe.  You have the power to change bad days into good ones if you so choose.

You are as powerful as your belief in yourself to fulfill your dreams, and you have the power to manipulate reality.  The time to choose to devote your life to making a better world is this moment, the only moment which exists.  Choose wisely.

Jack Balkwill is an activist in Virginia. He can be reached at Read other articles by Jack.