The question is about the balance between inner work (work on yourself) and outer work. I’ll tell you, each person has got to intuitively trust themselves about where they are and what they can handle. Say you join the anti-WIIP (Nuclear waste disposal issue). Or you join the Central American Committee or something. You will find a group of people who are deeply entrapped in righteousness and anger. Social activists are not the most conscious people. They are good people. But they are not very conscious.
And they will guilt trip you continually for not doing more. And if you say, I’m going to go home and meditate, they look at you like you’re killing little children. You hear that. And you’ve got to have this incredible strength, and you feel like some kind of a viper for saying I’m going to take the afternoon off to go swimming. I mean I was in New York working with the homeless. And I’m so good. I am so good. Seva is good and I’m good. And we do good things. And it’s all wonderful. And I realized that I have been busy being good for years. This is an interesting little story. I have been busy for years absorbing suffering into my being. Because at first, you go Oooh, suffering!. Oooh, oooh, oooh. And then I’ve worked with dying, and I saw that I could be in the presence of dying and keep my heart open and there was even another part of me that was delighted in the Universe and the forces of change and the awakening that dying allowed. At the same moment, my heart was engaged as a real human being and the pain and the sadness and all of it was there.
It was a very alive moment. Just as being in the presence of birth is a very alive moment. Very awakening moment. So I cherished that. And then I started working with other kinds of suffering in the world. And I found that slowly, slowly I could look directly into the eyes of suffering and feel- and I wasn’t afraid of my own emotional reactions. I wasn’t afraid of my heart breaking. Sure, let it break again. Let it break again. Let it break again- because it was balanced with this deeper place of equanimity in myself.
So I’ve been doing that for years, and that has been my Sadhana and it has worked beautifully. And Seva as a group is working, the foundation that I am connected with, is working very hard as a collective entity to be able to live in the world of suffering. Help it. Not lose our sense of humor. Seva has three definitions of itself. One is to do something to relieve suffering. The second is to grow in the process of doing it. And the third is to have fun doing it. If we miss one of those, we blow it. It’s not good enough to do good if you’re not having fun. Because you’re just adding more suffering into the network of the human condition. “God, I’ve been doing good and I hate everyone!” But in the total world push, you’re really screwing things up. So get on with it. So, then I looked, and I thought gee isn’t this wonderfully Jewish of me? That I’ve been able to ease suffering and Oh boy! What about joy and pleasure and fun? And sensuality? I’m not sure I have consumed my sensuality yet. I don’t think I’ve really dealt with all the pleasure of life. And it’s always something that’s a little bit better to deal with than suffering.
So I decided that when I was moving out to California, one of the things I needed, because I was an uptight New Englander, was that I needed for my own psychological and spiritual and sensual growth, I needed to have a hot tub. Because I was moving to Marin, and in Marin you have to have a hot tub. And not only was it because of Marin. I shouldn’t bad mouth Marin, it is a nice place. But I needed the hot tub. I needed to be naked, around naked people. I needed to have the sensuality. I needed to play with pleasure for a while. But here I was teaching a course on homelessness in New York City. The hot tub was going to cost me $3,000. The question that arose, I was dealing with the architect out in Marin in this house that I was renting, working out plans for the deck and the hot tub. And then I was going to this lecture about homelessness. The question that arose in my mind was, am I going to tell these people that I am building a hot tub in Marin. Do you hear the issue? Or is it going to be another compartment that one keeps on the side. Because the group, the class, had in it not only all the people – about 200 people in the class – all of whom were required to be part of the class to do something in a shelter or do something in political action around homelessness. And there were also homeless people in the class. And finally I announced to everybody that I was building a hot tub. And I could feel, I could feel the righteous judgment that awakened. And people – they sort of loved me but they couldn’t quite handle it – you know “Why would he do that?” Because they have projections of me as somebody that was so good. He never went to the toilet for example. And I began to see that if you aren’t free, you are perpetuating your entrapment in others. And that it is hard for me to explain that my hot tub was part of my service to the homeless people. And I feel like I am using the height of rationalization when I do that and at the same moment I understand that in my being it is my truth. And I am perfectly willing to live with that truth. And I’ll tell you that hot tub has been a mitzvah. What I did was, it is an eight-sided bath tub – it’s a fancy one – it’s the “eightfold bath” for those of you in Buddhism. And I got those sticky letters that I put on each side – effort, mindfulness, understanding. It’s the “eightfold bath” of the upper-middle way.
Ram Dass from The Listening Heart Lectures