The NDF Sangha’s Flow of Good Works into the World

The NDF Sangha’s Flow of Good Works into the World

In April in honor of Volunteer Month, Natural Dharma Fellowship celebrated our precious, dedicated, essential volunteers. A special thank you letter went out to our almost 100 active volunteers from Lama Liz on behalf of the entire NDF community, including these thoughts:

“One of the most beautiful dimensions of the Dharma vessel of NDF is the way that it seems to reach deep into the hearts of people like you, whose longing for awakening, for freedom and joy, for release from suffering, overrides the seductive pull of the materialistic, ego-centric worldview. As volunteers, you have heeded this call to step into the flow of ego-dissolution and out of the usual progression of self-construction that ordinarily structures the human life. You have offered yourselves selflessly, without asking for compensation beyond the joy and insight that arise naturally from offering what and who we are to support a situation we believe in.”

This sentiment was beautifully and clearly captured in the feedback from our sangha about their paths of service in their communities and beyond. We invited you to share how you act upon your wish to benefit others in your world (beyond volunteering with NDF) and how your connection to practice and NDF support you in this good work. While responses were not plentiful, they were certainly inspiring. Many volunteers are giving their time to benefit multiple missions and likewise many acts of service bridged the categories in our queries.

Here’s what we heard.

Sharing Practice

How wonderful that nearly 70% of those responding provide support for meditation practice in their communities!

“I have been offering meditations to high school students in alternative Ed settings for several years. The first students taught me how stressful their young lives were and I had them lay down and relax. They loved it, calling it “nap time”. A Youth Build program where I have offered these meditation “nap times,” have made it an integral part of their curriculum. I also offer meditations to the hard working staff at Portland Adult Ed.”

“I offer space to gather and gentle guidance for meditation biweekly at our town library through our Parks & Rec department. These are “drop-in” sessions, open to anyone in the community, and freely offered with any donations fully benefiting our local food pantry. It took me years to get up the courage to offer this and now I always look forward to this sharing.”

“For the past ten years, through the auspices of Insight on the Inside, I have been teaching mindfulness, meditation and simple Qi Gong movements to those who are incarcerated, returning from incarceration, in substance abuse treatment, fleeing abusive relationships, or transitioning from homelessness.”

Many sangha members lead, help organize or provide administrative support to meditation groups local to them as a part of, and in addition to, their practice with NDF. How beautiful to picture these circles of interconnection!

Tending the Future

Feedback showed a strong desire to help those who will shape the future. Here’s what that commitment looked like: 53% Youth Support; 47% Education; 27% Mentoring.

“I also mentor a boy, now 12. We get together once a week to do an activity and talk. And, a couple times a year, we perform community service.”

“As a master gardener I volunteer in a middle school classroom that learns in a greenhouse and outdoors about growing food and plants in general. I’m working with high school teachers to instruct them on organic gardening skills.”

“While being a School Board member is an elected and “paid” position, it is essentially volunteer service due to the significant time commitment. I served for six years including a time of upheaval in our school community and during the pandemic. My voice put the well-being of students first, working to bring compassion and kindness to the forefront along with support for the Arts and enriching extracurriculars.”

“I sit on the board of an organization that runs a residential home for boys. This is a place where boys within the NH Dept of Health and Human Services system can find a safe and nurturing home and learn to be their best selves, with emphasis on family, community, and education.

I’m also a volunteer panelist for programs that help mostly youths who have been caught up in the criminal justice system but have been referred to these restorative justice programs in lieu of going to court. We meet with the youths, steer them to take responsibility for their actions and help them reset to making better choices going forward. I urge the kids to know that the negative stories they tell themselves about their identity and the mistakes they made are not “who they are.”

Standing up to Climate Crisis and Standing by the Natural Environment

40% of those responding highlight their work based on love for our Mother Earth.

“I teach my community about working with the soil to nurture the land and themselves through food production. Lecturing on food density and the impacts of a healthy soil on the human gut biome. I am a beekeeping mentor to beginning beekeepers. I have volunteered as the chair of the Truro Ag commission assisting in Town government. The theme of my volunteer work is education and being a steward of the land.”

“I’m involved in our local Climate Action Network. I gathered signatures to get a town warrant to add a declaration of climate emergency to our by-laws. I’ve advocated and educated about converting to plant-based (vegan) diets as a way to vastly reduce carbon footprint (also with the not-so-hidden message that this will increase compassion to all beings ; ).”

“I’m invested in ecosystem recovery and rewilding; restoring health to our environment and our nature as a whole. In addition to planting natives and removing invasives, I’m invested in climate activism; reducing my community’s reliance on fossil fuels and fighting petrochemical pollution.”

Nurturing Community Development and Welfare

Forty percent of responding sangha members fill the needs to protect, care for, and feed the precious beings in their neighborhoods.

I’m a board member of Cape and Islands Transgender Resource Fund and am actively involved in raising money and distributing funds to Trans folks who are in desperate straits. We supply funds (never in cash) to pay for everything from groceries and meds to root canals and oil tank fill-ups; brief stays in motels to prevent people sleeping outside or in cars, Lyft and Uber rides to our support group, clothes, all sorts of things. We also put on an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil in November at which I usually speak, do the invocation and read the names. We also support a monthly Trans Support group at a local UU church as well as a table at multiple Pride events to support the entire LGBTQIA+ community.”

“I am currently part of a grass-roots team organizing an inaugural community picnic and gathering focused on wellness and supporting mental health awareness. This idea simply sparked among friends and is blossoming into a big, summer event with local musicians, kirtan, yoga instruction, donated food, organic gardening tips, meditation guidance, health promotion, belly dancers and more! No selling – just communing with and learning from each other.”

“I give presentation lectures on Permaculture design to public audiences and advocate for converting lawns into food gardens. Much of my own food harvest is donated.”

Serving Seniors

Supporting those of an advanced age is work of the heart for about 20% of volunteers in our survey.

“My work before retirement was as an attorney to low-income elders, many nearing the end of life. I became a volunteer Medicare counselor in 2014 & am still active in counseling & educating Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries. I have trained as an end of life doula, but not yet found a volunteer opportunity.”

“Sometimes opportunities for service arise organically not through an organized effort. After giving a senior woman a ride home when seeing she was having difficulty walking, I continued to visit her, pick up groceries, make post office trips, and help her navigate landlord issues. I learned along the way that she had quite different social and political views than mine. Bringing this challenge into practice was a great teaching in helping anyone in need, not just those we “prefer” to help.”

And More!

Our sangha shared other acts of service that fill and fulfill their lives, such as: joining a choir to share music and “open my heart chakra”; volunteering each year for Town cleanup day and regularly picking up garbage during walks; planting trees, writing letters, donating, and peaceful protest.

Practice Supporting Service

We asked: How does your practice and connection with NDF inspire and support you in this service?

Here’s what we heard:

  • necessary to learn the skills required not to take on trauma vicariously; helpful to learn to work with others & be respectful of their traumas, not fall to my triggers.
  • Learning about the Bodhisattva path, along with teachings on impermanence and emptiness.
  • Working with the earth is the perfect dharma classroom
  • inspires me to be an unconditional friend to my mentee and enables me to be fully present, loving and compassionate with him.
  • Everything I learn from the Lamas, from practice and from reading finds application when conversing with patients who are ill and suffering.  Everything applies.
  • On a deeper level, coming into intimate contact with populations that have experienced generational trauma, has forced me to question and confront my cultural biases.  Without a doubt, the practices of Tibetan Buddhism have guided me through the relative and transitory nature of these habitual patterns.
  • NDF’s EcoDharma programming helps me better heal my own personal trauma and relate more skillfully with the patterns of oppression and violence against nature and all people.
  • I could not continue these meditation groups without the support of NDF. The retreats, programs, meditation groups, kulas, dharma conversations, feed me, my practice and my soul.
  • My learning at NDF in the Mahayana/Tibetan/Vajrayana strongly supports the message of relative Bodhicitta and compassion. This feeds the Virya [diligence] I need to keep doing what I can.
  • regularly support me with patience, strength and courage to notice and be responsive to the needs of so-called others.
  • It is validating to be connected with an organization that supports social engagement
  • The teachings about “every obstacle is an opportunity to deepen in practice” has been incredibly helpful to my volunteering (and life!) especially when I’m faced with conflict, overwhelm, difficult tasks, or difficult ones (including the internal difficulties).
  • opportunity to remember that there are so many loving, kind, and dedicated people who commit their lives to serving the dharma–the darkness as reported in the news is not the whole of reality–Buddha Nature is real, pervasive, and flourishing so beautifully amidst this community (and beyond)!

Service as Practice

The benefits from volunteering flow in more than one direction. Everyone responding mentioned how offering service sustains and deepens their own practice and how volunteering is their teacher.

We hope you find benefit from these heartfelt words:

“I was moved by Lama Liz’s call to action at the end of the Margha compassion retreat two years ago. I looked around for a volunteer job where I would be around compassionate people, so I could learn. I was lucky to land a job at Concord Hospital where my supervisor is the Chaplain. She is the most wonderful and compassionate teacher for me. I was placed with her because I had written Buddhist and Jewish on the application. This volunteer job has become my central activity in life. It is the most interesting and rewarding work I have ever done. My partner calls it the “lamissary” because I learn so much there – about people, about myself, about life, about emptiness and form. I have learned how to listen better, be more open to the great variety of human beings and their feelings, and how to be present without trying to change or fix things. Everything I do and say or don’t say at the hospital is an expression of my Buddhist practice. I dedicate the merit, because the whole thing feels like practice.”

“When I am depressed, my habit is to disconnect and self-isolate. However, when I have responsibilities to a community (whether this is formal work, or volunteering) I maintain relationships and continue the work even when I struggle to take care of myself.”

“Sometimes service to your community is simply moments of kindness and empathy at a drive up window, on the phone with customer service, or crossing paths in a parking lot. This is practice; and the compassionate ripples of each small act benefit the whole.”


Our wish is that these words inspire, open channels for those with common interests to come together, and to amplify and support our spread of loving-kindness as interdependent beings!

Our hope is that this sharing inspires your current service to community and sparks new ideas about how to benefit beings and our planet. If you would like to connect with a sangha member whose good work is shared here, please contact .

Here are links that our generous respondents shared to provide more information about their volunteer activity.

May all beings benefit!

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