Trying to Do What’s Good

I had an exhausting week, and was looking forward to the weekend. The last thing I needed were surprises that would keep me in camp any longer. So when the fact that someone had to be chosen to stay back in camp to help out in the live firing exercise (on Saturday) suddenly surfaced, I felt a sense morbid apprehension.

We were made to draw lots, the four of us, to decide who would be the one to go. A quick and simple affair, it was over within a minute; I wasn’t chosen.

I was ecstatic within, but showed nothing without, continuing with the stoic expression I had put on before the draw. There’s nothing like celebrating too early and having the thing blow up in your face, and nothing jinxes positive outcomes like celebration.

Besides, the relief I was feeling was laced with guilt; I knew I wasn’t the only one who detested the idea of staying a day longer, and my happiness was at the expense of the suffering of another.

My friend’s having to go for the live firing exercise though not caused directly be me, could have been prevented through my volunteering to go. He had pressing matters to attend to (or at least he claimed he did), while I simply wanted a rest; so, I thought, was I being selfish?

This brought to my mind some an ethical riddle that I’ve long given up trying to solve: how much is one supposed to lower one’s standard of living to improve the standard of living of others? How much does one have to sacrifice in the name of Charity?

If I buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks instead of, say, using that money to give to the poor, does that make me bad?

Po [as a provocation, let’s suppose that] it does…

So I give up my Starbucks, and donate the money I’d have used to buy the coffee. But wait, how about TV I have at home? or my new Asics shoes? I don’t need them. So do I sell those and donate the money from the proceeds? Just how much giving must one give for it to be “enough”?

Changing Destiny


I’m currently reading a Buddhist text called Changing Destiny — A Commentary on Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons by Venerable Master Chin Kung. You can find many versions of this text online, with and without the commentary.

The basic premise is that all our fates are destined, but that our destiny can be changed through the cultivation of “good deeds”. I leave you here with a couple of passages of the text that I found interesting, the text in bold the things I found particularly intriguing:

We need to change from our minds and hearts, to refrain from wrongdoing and to cultivate goodness. The master also said “work to accumulate many hidden merits and virtues.” These are good deeds that others do not know about. If we did something that was good and then made it widely known, so that others praised us, we would lose our merits and virtues as these have now turned into praise. To do what is good but to cancel its benefits at the same time will prevent us from accumulating merits and virtues. It is much better to practice goodness without letting anybody know and even better if some people reproached us, for this will help to reduce our negative karma. It would be best if our negative karma and retributions were reduced and even eradicated, while our merits and virtues remained hidden.


If a person thinks it is uncomfortable to have two or three people living together in a room, it then becomes easy for them to think, “I do not want to live with that person.” Then he or she will be unable to achieve the state of Constant Mindfulness of Buddha Amitabha. Why? They have discriminatory and impure minds; the mind that still has dislikes and evades unpleasantness. How can that person achieve anything? Where then and how do we cultivate? We cultivate purity and the non-discriminatory mind in the place we dislike the most.

Read more about the word Po, invented by Edward de Bono[+]

One thought on “Trying to Do What’s Good

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  1. you might want to check out this book: Buddhism without beliefs, written by Stephen Batchelor.

    I find it easier to absorb as it doesn’t require religious faith.

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