Make a difference

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I think I have always known about impermanence. That is why for as long as I can remember I have set a goal to leave this world a little bit better than I found it.

As an ophthalmologist I have practiced medicine for 34 years, treating thousands of patients with sight threatening diseases. I have also been active in a number of environmental causes. Unfortunately, like most people, I have succumbed to each of the eight worldly concerns. The Dharma has opened my eyes to my attachments and their inability to bring me true and lasting happiness. However, attitudes and behaviors established over a life time are hard to change in the blink of an eye (notice all these eye references).

A crowd of people walking.

We are totally dependent on every other sentient being who lives or has ever lived in the past. (Photo © Max Ferrero / stock.adobe.com)

One of the hardest concepts for me to grasp, and I imagine for most people, is the concept of emptiness. I was raised with a strong independent sense of self that is reinforced in our Western society. I am slowly starting to realize that my very existence on this planet depends on an infinite cascade of causes and conditions and who Ken is changes moment to moment and is totally dependent on the labels and conceptual thought of others and myself. When this news flash finally started to register, it had the intended result of cutting down to size a very inflated ego and sense of self. In fact, initially I was a little depressed. I am not independent and self-actualizing but totally dependent on every other sentient being who lives or has ever lived in the past. How then can I as one tiny cog in this great wheel of life make much of a difference in this world?

But then I remembered something. I used to be a big-time bicycle rider, often cycling 100-mile rides in a single day. I remembered what would happen if one link in my bike chain would freeze up or one spoke in my wheel became too loose or too tight. This would make for a very unpleasant ride. Perhaps we are all like that single chain link or single spoke in the wheel. If just one of us isn’t functioning properly, all the rest of us will suffer a very uncomfortable ride through life.

Maybe that is why there is so much duhkha in the world. So maybe I can make a difference after all by making sure that my personal spoke isn’t too tight or too loose and my link isn’t frozen. Also, where possible with love, compassion and a big dose of humility, I will try to help other sentient beings keep their bicycle parts in good working order.

This article is available in Spanish: Hacer la diferencia

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