People often ask me what my secret was for being able to help so many people in such a short amount of time after the disastrous Nepal earthquake in 2015. It is true that before the government and the aid agencies stepped in, we were able to provide tarps and food in the villages that were severely hit. Because we are a small organization, we didn’t have to spend days discussing and planning the logistics. We just loaded the pickups with tarps and food we managed to gather and then drove off towards the east. But it wasn’t a sprint, and we were still providing tarps, food, blankets, and bringing medicine for quite a few months after the quake but in a more organized manner.
We had to work fast, and there was so much misery everywhere, and my family and all the monks and nuns from the monastery were also living in very bad conditions. So after a couple of weeks everyone started to burn out. It was so heartbreaking because no matter what we did, there was always so much more that needed to be done. It was impossible to keep up with the pace of meeting the need.
My wife and I got up every morning and did creating space and meditation. Of course we felt pressure to do something instead of sitting there. But unless we took care of ourselves we weren’t going to be much use. When you have space it is so much easier to be polite and kind even when it is a very stressful frustrating situation. You need to take some time to chill. We also made sure that everyone on the team could get a good meal when they weren’t out in the field.
But being kind and polite wasn’t enough; we had to be respectful of everyone. When doing charitable work, it is so easy to fall into the trap of subtly thinking you are superior. It is almost a natural reaction when you are handing out food or supplies to fall into this. But really I am not a hero; I am there just to serve. And serving means actually that I take the lower place than the one who receives the food or medicine. That is what it means to serve. But, it is still a little hard not to feel a little higher when I hand out the beans and rice.
Feeling superior isn’t really the problem; the real problem is when you feel superior you stop showing others proper respect. And when people have lost everything, they begin to have self-respect issues. When you lose your house, crops, and maybe a family member, it is hard not to feel devastated and it is pretty common that survivors have guilt as if it is somehow their own fault. So when you give respect to someone suffering like that, that gift is actually at least as meaningful as the food and medicine you are handing out.
When the truck with rice, lentils, tarps and medicine would arrive in the village, instead of standing on top of the truck and handing the goods to the survivors, we would jump out of the truck, and hand out supplies from the ground. I didn’t even want to be physically looking down on people while helping them. It may seem like a small thing to worry about in the midst of so much suffering, but small things can mean so much.
All told we helped about 100,000 people, but that’s just a number. To me what counted most are the innumerable moments when the giving was soaked with heartfelt compassion while not caring whether the person receiving it gave us thanks or not. For in that moment our hearts were connected and a pure magic of genuine interconnected happiness manifested!