Helping without doing
October 1, 2015

Advaita Post, Volume 16, no. 10

Text Satsang

From an introduction and talk with Douwe Tiemersma in Gouda, April 5, 2006

Helping without doing

People who are concerned about the suffering of the world ask: “Shouldn’t you work for the world?” The question also comes in a slightly different form: “With the realization of non-duality what remains of the commitment to the world?” The answer is: “Nothing, and that’s best for the world.” Whatever good things you would have liked to achieve by working in the world, with a real breakthrough of non-duality, the good then shows itself to possess the greatest chance for manifestation. Let’s look at that more closely.

“I want to help”

When you feel that it’s necessary for something to be done in the world and you make yourself ready to contribute there is a personal wish and a personal will. A will is a focused energy. It starts from a source and is focused on something else. But what is the source? As a focused energy it starts from a person who focuses himself on something and wants to work on it somewhere. That happens from out of an ‘I’, from a self-centeredness. Of course, it’s great when there is no selfishness. That means that it’s done not just for self-interest. But functioning from an ‘I’ always still has an egocentricity in the attention, in the desire, in the will. The work becomes characterized by the person with their standpoint, with their ‘I’-limitations. All kinds of images come into play there: a self-image, a worldview, a body image and images of others. All kinds of feelings and concepts are at play in the perception and activities and thus define them. To the extent that there is an ‘I’, there is always an ‘I’-interest, because the starting point is from the will to change something. The attention is a fractionalized consciousness, the will is a conditioned energy specialized to the person. Then you see that when someone wants to do something, or when an institution wants to do something, it often goes wrong. Aid organizations, for example, often have a focused energy for offering help, even though it may do more harm than good. The energy of wanting to provide aid also creates blinders. That assistance arrives in all kinds of situations is of course obvious, but there is often an over-kill to the help which then makes the others dependent. People see the pictures of others who suffer and make a big thing out of it, because they dislike these images, that suffering – as a kind of indulgence, so from an ego-motive. Because I don’t like something, I’m going to do something about it. It turns around the egocentric starting point. The self-interest is situated there. Of course there are also the general considerations that injustice should disappear – and rightly so. But, as long as the starting point is from your own personal center, as long as you “want to help”, there are less favorable elements in the consequences due to the interest that you have in it and your own limitations.

 Suffering and openness

When there is only openness in consciousness and feeling, there is no self-interest. Also, you are these other people. You are everything. In this supra-personal realm the self-being of yourself and the others coincides. There is no directedness but rather an openness of attention and energy. That is the precondition that makes real help possible. That is in fact the situation when real help is given. Look for yourself. The bulk of the suffering that people experience is shaped by the ideas they have of suffering and pain: “I don’t want this”, “why do I have to go through this?” This superstructure of suffering can disappear when the ‘I’-situation begins to appear in a sphere of openness. That applies also to the comforting of someone who has suffered a great loss, for example, when a loved one passes away. When there is even a trace of ‘I’ still present in those who want to comfort, there can arise a feeling of resentment or aversion in those who are in need of the comforting. “No, I don’t need anymore visits.” People who do come, show their fellow-suffering and say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry”. That’s a nice comfort. But comfort is only possible when there is an atmosphere of openness, that is, when there is no ‘I’-center. The ‘I’ and the focus from the ‘I’ are tensions. When the focus of attention, will, and action disappear, tensions disappear. The whole structure disappears. Then a very different sphere suddenly begins to arise in distressful situations. The whole superstructure of suffering disappears.

Of course, pain can remain, but this is only on a basic level: hunger, injury, disease, decay, death. These things belong to the bodily human-being. This pain is a fraction of what is usually experienced as suffering. And, when there is an open sphere, this pain can be incorporated into the great whole in which things happen as they happen, as the resultant of all forces and events. The sting is taken out of it. Then there is true consolation.

The spontaneity of the good

In openness there is a great feeling-sense. As self-being your feelings have come open. You have no boundaries, and recognize yourself in the other person who suffers. Therefore you stand fully open to the suffering. When you start out from your ego-self, you have a resistance and defense towards the suffering. “This is too much; I don’t want to see this; I don’t like this”. In openness this defense mechanism is not there. That is even more than sympathy and pity: there is no difference between yourself and the other. What happens then is a matter of course, filled in by what the circumstances may require. And that happens by itself, without an ‘I’-thought. The whole ensures that the energies flow towards where they’re needed.

When you have the good of the world in mind, the first thing to be aware of is the degree of openness of your own self-being, to open yourself as much as possible for openness. Only when this is realized, is there the basis for a continuing good effect. There is often the clincher: change the world, but start with yourself. There is great wisdom in this saying: when your own sphere is completely open: just look what happens in the world! The good things that you had wanted to realize in the world then have the greatest chance of becoming realized, a much greater chance than if you were to be coming from the perspective of an ‘I’.

I find it hard to comfort people. That probably has to do with the fact that I can’t really give of myself.

You’ve got it. You see it correctly: if you could console, you would have to give yourself completely. In other words there is nothing of you that remains other than the open self-being as one-being.

When the “I have to give myself” remains on an ‘I’-level, internally there is a torn-up state. That’s because the ‘I’ can’t give itself. The ego is the center of personal interests, focused on itself as the center. The ‘wanting to give’ is an externally oriented counter-movement. “Do I have to give my fullest? No, I will give just a little; I also need to think about myself.” It’s precisely the very likeable people who are very sensitive and care for the good of others that give themselves to a great extent. They are very susceptible to severe stress and burnout. The only solution for stress and burnout is the dissolution of the ‘I’-center. Then there’s no inner conflict any longer between “I want to devote myself” and “I must think about myself.” Then there is no attachment point for externally arising stress. When the individual realm is blank, whatever happens, happens, without stress.

When I tried to comfort a friend, it didn’t feel real. So he went away. I didn’t really empathize with him.

If your friend would benefit in any way from his contact with you, this would prove your being open, not only in your wish to hear and to help him, but also in your feelings. Your feelings can be open and the other feels that directly. When this feeling is personal, a human empathy, it’s nice but the other doesn’t get much from it. For the self interest remains, the interest of your ‘I’. Within it is also the avoidance of pain, not only the pain of the other, but also the pain that remains within the realm of your own ‘I’. These are all kinds of unprocessed pain points, traumas. They sit in the ego. When these dissolve, there is the openness of real comforting.

How do they dissolve?

That’s what we’re always talking about here: you becoming aware of your own situation. See the ‘I’-tensions. Note that it’s not necessary to remain sitting in it, recognize that as self-being, you are boundless and identical to the other. That’s more than pity, more than compassion: you are this other person, too. Even in supra-personal compassion there is still the separation of ‘I’ and other. There is a sympathy and a wish for the suffering to stop. That’s wonderful, but in being-one with the other, the sympathy disappears.

But what if the other has pain?

Then the pain is yours, too. When you are everything, you are also this pain. Then you go beyond this pain; you accept this pain. Then much of it disappears. When the other person is not completely closed, this also applies to him or her. Only then is there the space in which this pain can open itself and transform.

I feel a paradox in “the wanting to become open”. As soon as I want something, there is the ‘I’-structure.

When you realize how full of suffering the ‘I’-person is, you affirm this from a viewpoint that emanates from beyond the ‘I’-person. So that is on the insight level, where you also evidently are. Then the insights come by themselves, then action goes by itself, then the words that are spoken have a direct effect. Because there is no ‘I’ who hears and processes them at a distance the words hold a different meaning. They are there to the extent that a new insight comes. This more expansive self-being manifests by itself because you are always, already this. You don’t have to do anything for it. It goes by itself. The ‘I’-want disappears all by itself, because you’re always, already openness. In the beginning, this “I want to become open” is still present, but it already has within itself the dissolution of the ego. Therefore, this focus is better than all the rest.

I see that others are sitting with old pains. And I find it difficult: how do I get there?

You see and feel more to the extent that you are more open. How do “you get there”? So you don’t have to “get there”. So the first thing is to examine how it is with yourself relative to openness. Is it so open that you actually experience being the other? That is a recognition. Then there is no question: how do I get there. Then there is already directly the construction “I, here, the other, there”, an unbridgeable gap. This whole structure will have to disappear. Then, there is not only a sympathy, but also a one-being. This “shared sorrow is half sorrow” applies to the extent that there is more unity.

With wanting to help there is an ‘I’-interest. Sometimes that is very clear, sometimes it is more subtle, individually and on a group level. See what happens when that is the case on an international level! When a government leader says: “I want to save the world”, look out!

When the giving of help goes on for a long time, it’s good to break through that. It’s good for yourself, in order to release the ‘I’-tension which sits in it, and it’s good for the other. The other, who becomes addicted to assistance.

As long as there is an ‘I’-center, there is fear of death. With a bereavement, people sit wailing, so that the person in question falls more deeply into the pit. They are wailing especially about their own mortality. Is that helping? Only the absence of an ‘I’, being totally open, can help, namely that the whole sphere becomes lifted beyond the boundaries of death.

It’s also clear that sometimes something comes from the openness that comes across quite harshly to the other. It is a hard-being in contrast to the sentimentality of the person. That happened a lot with Nisargadatta. Did he need to be so hard on a woman who had difficulty sitting on the floor and had ailments? But you saw that this hardness stood in the context of a loving unity. It’s too bad when that is not noticed.

So you should keep your attention focused on the other person and not on your own stuff.

When you say: “the attention focused on the other”, there remains a gap between me, here, and the other, there. This duality disappears when there is the being-experience that you are the self of the other person. That is non-duality. Then, there is no starting point from an ‘I’. Everything is included in the greater whole. Dualistic thinking is so taken for granted in the West. You have a three-dimensional space within which are things that are isolated from one another. These things have perhaps a secondary relation. That is a mechanistic view, a very artificial conception. For technical things that can be useful, but for society, hardly.