The Outer Work starts with a commitment to engagement. It is about courage, commpassion and connection. It is the work of sharing kindness and generosity, of being present and responsive.
Engagement requires discipline. We need to learn how to show up, how to lean in, how to share. The Buddha taught the pāramitās, or perfections, as the discipline of bodhisattvas who work for the benefit of others. Pāramitā means "to go beyond to the other shore", literally going beyond ourselves and our own benefit in service of helping others.
The pāramitās give us a basic framework for working for the benefit of others. They give us something to commit to and something to work on. The pāramitās give us the basic skills to learn how to be present, open and receptive to others. They reinforce generosity and kindness as important gifts worth sharing. They teach us how to show up, speak up, and stand up for what matters.
The Outer Work exposes our fear and vulnerability. It is so easy to sit in the back, wait for others to go first, hide in the busy work. When we are faced with problems in the world and the suffering of others, it is easy to turn away, not pay attention, not make eye contact.
Committing to the Outer Work takes courage, the courage to trust ourselves and who we are, the courage to trust the gifts that we can share, the courage to know that our contribution matters. It also requires the courage of disrupting our own peace of mind and comfort to the problems and pain that others face.
In an age of indifference, perhaps the most courageous thing we can do is to care.
The Outer Work is possible because we recognize basic goodness in ourselves and in others. Our shared humanity connects us and demands to be acknowledged. To avert our eyes, turn back, and not pay attention is to dismiss the basic goodness and natural beauty of our shared humanity in favor of our own peace and solitude. To overcome this unwillingness, hesitation and uncertainty requires courage, the courage to witness, the courage to respond, the courage to act.
Engaging in the Outer Work requires a lifelong dedication to the practice. Grounding ourselves in the Inner Work of recognizing our potential and our basic goodness, we are faced with the choice to be of service to others. We need to choose to go beyond ourselves, beyond our own peace and comfort. We need to choose to share the gifts that we now recognize in ourselves, the gifts of presence, compassion and kindness.
To commit to engagement is to choose to be a light in the darkness, a bridge between two worlds, a raft to carry others to the other shore. It is your choice, and it is an important one.
If you are not sure, if you are not ready, not prepared, or don't think you can do this, that is okay too. Focus on the Inner Work. Work on recognizing your basic goodness and grounding yourself in open presence. Also work on sitting with the fear and uncertainty, being present with it without being overwhelmed by it. What are you holding onto? Learn to let that go, rest in basic goodness and open presence.
The Outer Work starts small, the smaller the better. Start with your family, your friends, your workplace. Start in your community, on your walks, at the grocery store. The Outer Work is not about saving the world, it is about occupying the world that you are in with kindness and generosity. Be present in the world that you are in, and gradually that world gets bigger as you explore the edges.