Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Pictured, a cheerful hospice volunteer......

From time to time people write in or 'phone to offer themselves to the Trust as volunteers. Sometimes they do this in the mistaken belief (an easy mistake to make) that the Hospice Trust is a place where dying people are being looked after by Buddhists, and they think they may be able to help out in some way. A few such people seem to want to be "in on the act" of dying, so to speak, presumably at second hand. This is not an uncharitable impulse, and it is not any part of our thinking to second guess people's motives for offering their services. But it can't happen here, as we don't have a hospice in the 'bricks-and-mortar' sense, so we have to divert volunteers to something may be able to do in their own localities. We have a number of excellent up-to-date Directories that can help us to pin-point services in your locality that might welcome your enquiries or offers of help.

There are very rare occasions when the Trust gets a call from someone, usually a close relative or friend of a dying Buddhist, asking for some kind of spiritual support for the one who is dying. At such times we try to find a volunteer from amongst the Ananda Networkers dotted around the United Kingdom. They don't have to agree to make a visit and, quite understandably, some can't take this kind of thing on, for a wide variety of entirely legitimate reasons, even if they wanted to, or felt competent to take on an open-ended commitment with a stranger. These occasions are, as mentioned, extremely rare. They usually involve Buddhists who have lapsed from regular practice, or never really had a practice, or have been cut off by age or infirmity from Buddhist friends or communities, and such like. Quite a few are Western "converts" to Buddhism, whose families are at a loss as to how to help them. Others are the second- or third-generation relatives of older "ethnic" Buddhists, who feel the pull of old religious ties and affiliations, but don't know how to make contact with the Temple or Vihara, and need advice and support.

All 'bricks-and-mortar' hospices rely heavily on volunteers across a range of activities, some 'in-house' stuff like cleaning, gardening, helping with kitchen chores, administrative duties or working on the reception desk. People with relevant skills may be asked to deploy them with patients or families, but only rarely will this involve any death-bed support. I have heard volunteers complain that their skills weren't properly used, and this generally means that they aren't happy to do what others want them to do, and have an agenda of their own. This is not a very welcome characteristic in a volunteer, as needs hardly be pointed out (but sometimes has to be). Of course, people with fund-raising skills are much sought-after: it takes a very special person to get money off others without causing bad feelings or raising expectations of something in return, so I admire them, and their cheek!

Later on I'll write a little about other ways that supporters can make themselves useful on the Trust's behalf (and their own). You don't have to know a lot about the Trust itself (indeed there's not much to know - it's all on the website). Each individual supporter IS the Trust, in fact. No-one is representative of the Trust in one way, and EVERYONE is representative of the Trust in another. All you need to do is to be true to yourself, to your own interpretation of Buddhadharma, and do your best. That's all any of us can do, and thank goodness for the fact that you do it, the best way you can. If your best efforts leave you feeling an abject failure, join the club!

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