Project Conversion

The package in the mail was unexpected. My life changed once I pulled the contents from the envelope. I grew faint and nearly passed out from shock.

This, was a random act of kindness.

Brothers, Right Thought (from the Eightfold Path) consists of thought in which there is universal love. In reality, the love to which all creatures aspire is universal love. In universal love there is compassion and devotion. Compassion and devotion have as their aim the happiness of everyone and do not demand anything in return. –The Piyajatika Sutta

My first lesson in kindness for Buddhism was actually a carry-over from last month’s post on the story of Job. Therein, we talked about the point of view from which we suffer in that, we could make ourselves feel better by comparing our plight to that of another, or we could use the opportunity to take stock of what we have left to give.

Amazing how my lessons throughout the year connect with one another.

Because every moment is an opportunity to meditate in Buddhism, I sat (slightly light-headed) and pondered the idea of kindness. What is it? What is its purpose? How does it grow and how does one use it?

Kindness, simply defined, is any act of good will. In the quote above, the Buddha tells us that universal love is a composite of devotion and compassion. We talked a few days ago about the concept of karma, literally, the law of cause and effect or action. We can see here in the definitions of kindness and universal love that both deal with a projection of one’s self into the world around us. Our action then, becomes a stone dropped into the water. Good ripples sent out typically produce good ripples coming back.

However the Buddha challenges us to go a step further. In his definition of universal love (a quality all should express to everything at all times), he tells us that the aim is “the happiness of everyone and do not demand anything in return.” In general, we use kindness as an investment with the expectation of a return. Here, the Buddha tells us to make a donation.

Love and kindness then, becomes currency.

Healthy economies have a steady flow of currency. When money ceases to flow, value is lost, and the system collapses. One way to clog the system is to hoard currency for yourself. This is called greed. This is also why we have the class system which stretches from the rich to the poor.

Kindness works the same way. One can actually hoard kindness. But how? Kindness is an abstract ideal, right? True, however the Buddha teaches that “With our thoughts we create the world.” So our thoughts become the building blocks of reality. If we accumulate wealth and stash it away only for ourselves, we are building walls against the world. These walls and that wealth are transient and will therefore fade from existence. Why attach ourselves to what is transient? the Buddha asks. It is better to share what doesn’t belong to us anyway.

Another great aspect of kindness is that one has an infinite supply. You don’t have to work to earn kindness, pay the bills, and then whatever is left over you give to charity. Kindness is available in every increment, from the casual smile to a stranger to an anonymous multi-million dollar check to a charity. Interestingly enough, both of these manifestations of kindness bear the same value, they only differ in quantitative, subjective forms. Both could save a life. The power of a smile. The power of a simple gift. Think about it.

So what happened to the gift I received in the mail? Well, I distributed it. The gift became a bag of seeds, seeds of kindness to plant in the lives of others. In fact, on that very same day I was given a huge opportunity to single-handedly change someone’s life. Given my lesson from earlier that day, the lightbulb came on. That lesson now had a practical application. Boom. That’s enlightenment; when we see things for what they are.

If Nirvana is the goal, and by definition the snuffing out of desire and self, then we now know what the point of life really is: a daily, hourly, moment by infinite moment expression of kindness. A life well-spent is one in which we polish ourselves with acts of kindness to the sheen of a mirror. Thus, we remove ourselves and only reflect the happiness of those around us.

In many belief systems, good is done (in some cases) for one of two reasons: the anticipation of a reward (either in this life or some form of heaven), or out of fear of punishment from the divine. By telling us to make a donation instead of an investment of kindness, the Buddha is implying that the reward and benefit of one’s kindness does not belong to the giver, but to the receiver. Anticipation of a reward becomes a motivation for good and therefore an attachment, something the Buddhist strives to rid himself of. The whole idea is to reach Nirvana, that state of absolute selflessness, where desire and ego melt go out like an extinguished flame.

My Buddhist Mentor constantly reminds me that every moment is a meditation. No word, no action, no thought, is wasted. Kindness then, is a meditation. I ask you to make this your meditation today as I have made it my own. Spend kindness frivolously, for there is no credit limit.

Since Project Conversion began, folks have showered me with various acts of kindness big and small. I am continually amazed, humbled, and grateful to share my journey with such a crowd.

You guys rock.

I’d like to hear stories of random kindness from you. This isn’t a time to toot your own horn (that would defeat the purpose), but it helps create ideas for others. Maybe you felt moved to do something special for someone. Maybe you are aware of the direct results of your kindness. On the other side, maybe you were the recipient of kindness. Tell us how it impacted your life.

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