For as long as I can remember I have searched for the meaning of life. Like most small children, I would ask my parents why I was here. I don’t remember ever being satisfied with their answers. Early on I decided that it was important to be of some benefit in the world. I would often say that I wished to leave the world a better place than I found it. That seemed like a good general philosophy. But the devil is in the details. How was I going to do that? To start out, I decided to go into medicine. That seemed like a noble profession, plus it was a good outlet for my nerdy intellectual tendencies. I recently retired after a very fulfilling 36-year career as an ophthalmologist.
Throughout my adult life I have also searched for the perfect charity or social cause to support. Where could my financial donations, time and energy do the most good? The suffering in the world seemed endless and the organizations that try to combat that suffering are almost as endless. Yet my resources are finite. There are charities that deal with human rights and civil rights, poverty and hunger, animal welfare, education, health, environment, human services, community development, etc, etc. There are faith-based organizations and secular organizations. There are local, regional, national and international organizations. The list goes on and on. How could I possibly decide? Is it even possible to say that one cause is more necessary or worthy than another?
I have always liked the proverb; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Once I met the Dharma this saying took on extra meaning and finally helped me to decide where to place my efforts. As mentioned above, there is so much suffering in the world and the needs of humanity are endless. But the Dharma teaches us that the root cause for all this suffering stems from our own minds—our anger, attachment, jealousy, arrogance and so on, which are based on self-centeredness and self-grasping. Without these root defilements, there would be no hatred, prejudice, wars, genocide, poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, etc. And no need for the hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations. So, at least for me, the answer was to be found in supporting and taking refuge in the Dharma. I could spend my time supporting a particular cause (give a man a fish) or devote myself to the big picture trying to address the pervading cause for all suffering in the world (teach a man to fish).
So, I believe I have found the answer at least for me. A meaningful, fulfilling life is to be found in my Dharma practice—working on my own mind and where possible (humbly and without proselytizing) help others through my actions of body, speech and mind. By supporting the Dharma financially and with my time and effort, I am promoting love, compassion, kindness, generosity and ethical conduct towards all sentient beings. I am addressing all the human rights and environmental issues that I care so deeply about under one all-encompassing umbrella.