At times service just happens in the way of things. Doesn’t it? Someone stumbles on a curb and we reach out to support them. A friend calls with a family problem and you listen. Maybe we formalize our service by volunteering through an organization, or some join the armed services. Many of us are parents and all of us are children and so we all serve and are served by our families at some level.

Service is a natural expression of our being human. And while service is natural, even instinctual it isn’t always easy.

No real service occurs unless both people are being served. Service at its best is mutually beneficial.

At a “Mountain Seat Ceremony” at the SF Zen Center years ago, a student asked the incoming Abbot (Sojun Mel Weitsman) a question.

“What can the Dharma teach me about serving others?”

And the abbot answered, “What others? Serve yourself!”

The student persisted, “How will I learn how to serve myself?”

And of course, the abbot responded, “Take care of others.”



Frank Ostaseski is the founder of the Metta Institute and cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project and author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully.

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Discovering What Death
Can Teach Us About Living Fully

Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.

Life and death are a package deal. They cannot be pulled apart and we cannot truly live unless we are aware of death. The Five Invitations is an exhilarating meditation on the meaning of life and how maintaining an ever-present consciousness of death can bring us closer to our truest selves.


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