Protecting Oneself and Others
'Protecting oneself, one protects others. Protecting
others, one protects oneself.' Nowadays, when social service is so greatly stressed,
people may be tempted to support their ideas by quoting only the second sentence.
But is this the right approach to this question?
Once the Buddha told his
monks the following story: ' There was a pair of jugglers who performed their
acrobatic feats on a bamboo pole. One day the master said to his apprentice: "Now
get on my shoulders and climb up the bamboo pole". When the apprentice had
done so, the master said: "Now protect me well and I shall protect you! By
protecting and watching each other in that way, we shall be able to show our skill,
make a god profit and safely get down from the bamboo pole." But the apprentice
said: "Not so, master! You, O master, should protect yourself, and I too
shall protect myself. Thus self-protected and self-guarded we shall safely do
'This is the right way', said the Blessed One and spoke further
'It is just as the apprentice said: "I shall protect myself"
- in that way the foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana) should be practised.
"I shall protect others" - in that way the foundations of mindfulness
should be practised. Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others,
one protects oneself.
'And how does one, in protecting oneself, protect others?
By the repeated and frequent practice of meditation.
'And how does one, in
protecting others, protect oneself? By patience and forbearance, by a non violent
and harmless life, by loving-kindness and compassion.' ( Samyutta Nikaya, 47:19)
This sutta belongs to the considerable number of important and eminently practical
teachings of the Buddha which are still hidden like buried treasure, unknown and
unused. Yet this text has an important message for us and the fact that it is
stamped with the royal seal of Satipatthana gives it an additional claim to our
The sutta deals with the relations between ourselves and our fellow
beings, between individual and society. It sums up in a succinct way the Buddhist
attitude to the problems of individual and social ethics, of egoism and altruism.
The gist of it is contained in those two concise sentences:
one protects others. Protecting others, one protects oneself.
These two sentences
supplement each other and should not be taken or quoted separately.
when social service is so greatly stressed, people may be tempted to support their
ideas by quoting only the second sentence. But any such one-sided quotation would
misrepresent the Buddha's standpoint. It has to be remembered that in our story
the Buddha expressly approved the words of the apprentice, that one has first
to watch carefully one's own steps if one wishes to protect others from harm.
He who himself is sunk in the mud cannot help others out of it. In that sense,
self-protection forms the indispensable basis for the protection and help given
to others. But self-protection is not selfish protection. It is self-control,
ethical and spiritual self-development.
There are some great truths which
are so comprehensive and profound that they seem to have an ever-expanding range
of significance that grows with one's own range of understanding and practising
them. Such truths are applicable on various levels of understanding, and are valid
in various contexts of our life. After having reached the first or the second
level, one will be surprised that again and again new vistas open themselves to
our understanding, illumined by that same truth. This also holds for the great
twin truths of our text which we shall consider now in some detail.
oneself, one protects others' - the truth of this statement begins at a very simple
and practical level. This first material level of the truth is so self-evident
that we need say no more than a few words about it. It is obvious that the protection
of our own health will go far in protecting the health of others.
and circumspection in all our doings and movements will protect others from the
harm that may come to them through our carelessness and negligence. By careful
driving, abstention from alcohol, self-restraint in situations that might lead
to violence - in all these and many other ways we shall protect others by protecting