‘To use skillful means – beneficial action – means to see and consider before we act. What has made this situation what it is? What are its origins? How can this tangle of causes and conditions be unraveled? If we look closely, we may see things we don’t want to see. We have to take into account that the most beneficial action might include aspects we don’t want to include. We might need to associate with people we’d rather avoid or do things that are difficult and dreary.
This entails letting go of what we want or what we think is useful and allow reality to tell us what to do rather than imposing our ideas on it. In his remarks on giving, Dōgen speaks of offering ourselves to ourselves and offering others to others. We help by helping others become and be who they are. We offer what they see as helpful and can be used to make their lives what they want them to be.
For instance, if we are grilling on a summer afternoon, we offer a child a hot dog rather than the yummy, nutritious grilled eggplant. We may not want to, but let’s remind ourselves of two things. First, this kid is a separate being, not play dough for me to shape as I want. Second, eggplant is really delicious and good for us, but it won’t help someone who surreptitiously slides it into the trash. Furthermore, they won’t benefit from our lecture on good nutrition if they aren’t ready to hear it and their taste buds have not grown to include eggplant. A hot dog gives a kid’s life to a kid. Eggplant gives an adult’s life to an adult.
Maybe we wish that kid would change, but trying to force change is not beneficial action. If we want someone to change, we can give them themselves and give us ourselves. When they feel accepted and comfortable, they will be open to other paths. Then they might notice the one we offer – the eggplant path.’ (from Ancient Way Journal)
No-one is going to convince me that eggplant is delicious. But then, I haven’t eaten a hot dog in decades.