“The Danger of Being Good”

I recently received an email thread from a friend of a friend contemplating an article published by the Indian newspaper Tehelka: The Danger of Being Good. This young man’s fears of the cost of doing good inspired some further contemplation over many of these questions as I deepen my commitment to serving young prisoners in America.

Dr. Ariyaratne's life work demonstrates how, for all those in danger by doing good, many are also protected in fulfilling their life's purpose.

I really resonate with this idea of gods and angels protecting one’s journey and reflected a bit on this in a recent blog I wrote reflecting on a recent potentially dangerous situation I faced while teaching inmates: Freedom from Fear. I recently, in fact, met a powerful spiritual teacher whose name literally means “angels,” who wrote a message wishing me protection for fulfilling the work I’m doing in the book she gifted me with.

But the impetus to serve is something written somewhere deep inside my DNA, I believe, and as such I feel that so many have supported me in defining the way in which I will carry out my calling. I want to be able to serve for a long time and so am planning to hire transformed inmates to engage in direct service, to take myself out of the line of fire soon and decentralize my service work, to continue the ripples longer.

On protection for carrying out one’s deepest calling or purpose, I think often of the archetypal character of Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita (Gandhiji’s favorite book and guide for his life mission). Arjuna does not want to fight because he is afraid of what will happen to him and especially his family members and friends if he does, as he could end up killing them. And yet, it is Arjuna’s dharma (duty or purpose) to do so. In fulfilling his destiny, Arjuna is protected on his path and receives help from totally unexpected sources. I think this is the way it is for many on the spiritual path. I think faith is a huge prerequisite for any path of service and that strong spiritual grounding in a power bigger than oneself is necessary for wishing to serve others.

In Vedanta philosophy, sankalpa shakti, or the strength that comes from the clarity of one’s deepest intentions, is essential to manifest external service. Otherwise, we end up succumbing to sankalpa vikalpa, which causes us to fall into the trap of self-doubt and lack of clarity about the reason for one’s very existence.

I believe that clarifying one’s deepest intention and purifying the mind and heart to manifest it are so important because I feel that the spiritual purpose of this life is really to develop the kind of strength and compassion that would enable one to bless the one who would harm him or her, as Gandhiji did before his assassination. It is really no wonder he lives on in the hearts and minds of so many – dying in such a way elevates one’s soul to the next level of evolution, whereas carrying hatred and negativity in our last breath causes our soul to go to a lower transmigration.

Micro-finance expert and President of BRAC USA (the largest NGO in the world that works in many war-torn countries) Susan Davis said to Nicholas Kristoff in a blog he wrote with advice on working in insecure or Taliban areas of Afghanistan:

“Care. Don’t be afraid. People one serves are one’s best protection.”

I’ve experienced that in juvenile hall. As so many of the youth really appreciate what I am offering them, they want to protect me.

Fear of death is the ultimate fear – and the root cause of all its manifestations. Once we really face that fear, we can learn how to truly live. I feel very fortunate to have made my peace with death and wrote about that in another blog: Life is Like a Ferris Wheel.

Contemplating the end of our life, I think the question of what sort of human being we have become is a potent one. Do we want to look back and see ourselves as people who stood up for what we believed, for what was right, for the Truth? Or do we want to look back and see ourself as a person who constantly lived out of the fear of what was possible? We don’t know when we are to go; all we can control is how we choose to show up in each moment. No matter how long one is blessed to live, life is short and I believe we must make the most of whatever good qualities and abilities we have been given to serve others.

We live in such insecure times – I think the best thing we can possibly do at this time is to cultivate courage, inner strength and security through spiritual practice and remember that others are part of us, no matter how it may look on the outside. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously spoke:

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

I feel it is the call of our time to find ways to express the courage to care. Our very future depends on it.

5 thoughts on ““The Danger of Being Good”

  1. Catherine Todd says:

    Wow. This says it all. Would that I could be so bold. You wrote (quoted):

    “You cannot do this work unless you have protection from angels and gods.”

    I know this is true, even though those I “helped” ended up trying to kill me. When one asked me “Wasn’t I afraid to go where I did and do what I do,” I remember saying “I’m not afraid of anything. I am protected.”

    He made it his “life’s work” to attempt to harm me and destroy me. I felt compassion for him, sorry for him, knowing he would ALWAYS make “the wrong choice” and the “wrong decision,” based on enmity, greed, addiction or fear. That used to infuriate him! But it was true.

    It took a whole pack of them to finally drive me away, even though I was “protected” by some of the others. It finally wasn’t worth it anymore when the one I really “loved” tried to do me in. I took care of he and his entire family, I loved his child like hse was my own. But their addiction and laziness and lies finally did me in. There was nothing more I could do and it was killing me “helping.”

    I had finally had enough. I left and drove him away. My codependence has flowered into full bloom by then. I am the poster child for CO-DEPENDENCE and it’s not a pretty sight.

    I spent TEN YEARS in the desert of darkness, to come out with my skin intact. Yes, I am “fearless” but I can still be hurt, and hurt deeply. These devils don’t rest until they finally find your Achille’s Heel, and they have all the time in the world to do so. After all, what else do they have to do in prison but think up more ways to scam people and do them in? It’s that kind of thinking that got them in jail in the first place If they aren’t born that way, their parents, peers, friends and culture teaches them to be that way.

    Now I am exactly what you describe here:

    “In Vedanta philosophy, sankalpa shakti, or the strength that comes from the clarity of one’s deepest intentions, is essential to manifest external service. Otherwise, we end up succumbing to sankalpa vikalpa, which causes us to fall into the trap of self-doubt and lack of clarity about the reason for one’s very existence.”

    Yes, I am fearless. But what good does that do when self-doubt is always at the fore? When you see all the goodness you have done become twisted and corrupted and thrown like acid back in your face?

    What good is “service” in this case?

    Tell me, what do you do then? “Forgive them” and continue on your way?

  2. catherinetodd says:

    I just read the article about yoga in India’s prisons and wow. Had no idea. So you are doing a great thing by helping bring this yoga program to America’s prisons. The criminals I worked with had no yoga or spirituality in their life (and neither did I). Peace and calmness does take practice and yoga is a good way to do it. Please, keep us posted! Much to admire here.


Leave a Reply