When we wish to enact large scale change, we ought first to consider opportunities for action in our immediate vicinity. We do not have to look far to find situations badly in need of change. Suffering is all around us: for example, people kill each other, they steal from one another, they commit adultery, tell lies, insult each other and act heedlessly due to intoxication. All of these unfortunate behaviours have a devastating effect on our communities. At times we might feel powerless to prevent this kind of suffering, but we are not.
As our teacher Venerable Ajahn Tong reminds us, “These behaviors are not due to the natural environment. They are caused by human beings themselves.” Therefore, the most important thing all of us can do to reduce suffering is to make sure we are not adding to it. First, do no harm. That is why the most effective movement for social change is to change within oneself. Insight meditation gives us the tools to look inside for a way to overcome the sense of emptiness that is the root cause of so much greed and anger in the world. Once we are satisfied that we are not harming others, we are in a much better position to begin helping them, most importantly by setting a good example.
It so happens that this path of working on the inside as a priority rather than focussing on other peoples’ mistakes is also the way that we can emerge from mental suffering. We suffer because we know that inside something is not right. The insight meditation practice designed by the Buddha gives us the tools to look inside on more than a superficial level so that we can uncover and root out the underlying problem. Once we understand the true nature of reality, the suffering feeling begins to fall away and it is replaced by a peaceful sense of acceptance of the way things are. Establishing this kind satisfaction helps us to ensure that we are a positive influence on the world.