I’m wondering what is the perspective in the EBTs of social service and engagement (like e.g., social work, supporting the poor etc.)?
Is there a difference between the monastics and lay people? E.g., monastic do rather spiritual social service, while lay people might support society on a physical level. But it seems to me that the EBTs always point to the spiritual dimension and practice of the path for both – monastics and lay people.
I did find some Suttas which might point in this direction. E.g., „An astute person with great wisdom is one who has no intention to hurt themselves, or to hurt others, or to hurt both. When they think, they only think of the benefit for themselves, for others, for both, and for the whole world. That’s how a person is astute, with great wisdom.” Approach; Ummagga Sutta AN 4.186; Bhikkhu Sujato
„And how do you look after others by looking after yourself? By development, cultivation, and practice of meditation. And how do you look after yourself by looking after others? By acceptance, harmlessness, love, and sympathy.
Thinking ‘I’ll look after myself,’ you should cultivate mindfulness meditation. Thinking ‘I’ll look after others,’ you should cultivate mindfulness meditation. Looking after yourself, you look after others; and looking after others, you look after yourself.” At Sedaka; Sedaka Sutta SN 47.19; Bhikkhu Sujato
It seems to me that social service can directly be a part of dana and sila but is indirectly a part of bhavana – of going inward and developing insight. So in my understanding the Buddha didn’t denounce social service in society as such, but did stress the importance of one’s own development, which as a consequence will benefit others, while it is not necessarily the goal of the path as such. Dana, sila and bhavana (practicing the eightfold path) therefore are social service in itself from which society will benefit naturally as a consequence. And with proper insight one is able to know what is really for the benefit for oneself and others – so one can be of tremendous service for a lot of beings (spiritually).
I’m wondering what your perspective on this topic might be and what can be found about this in the EBTs.
All the best!