Putting on Your Oxygen Mask, Before Assisting Other = Buddhism?

Some people see Buddhism as a selfish practice. Buddhism, however, isn’t selfish at all, it’s the total opposite. Oxygen masks in airplanes, help to display this in Buddhism. The saying on planes, Put(ting) your oxygen mask on before assisting others, is a selfless teaching. The reason for putting your mask on first, is the Buddhist parallel; “You’ll be no good to anyone if you don’t remain conscious.”

Once you have your mask on things get really exciting on the path. You are then able to help others, by put their masks on for them. You can guide other to the path; you can become their oxygen line. You can begin to bring them peace. No longer are you seen as selfish, your true nature is seen as a selfless, giving person.

In Buddhism your practice will actually get stronger and grow more rapidly once your mask is on. Once you understand how things work inside you, you’ll naturally begin to see how they work in others the same way. You will discover how things work in other people, and see them as teachings about and for yourself.

To help others, you must help yourself first. If you try to help others initially, you will both remain unconscious and will not be able to guide them to the path. Sometimes what appears to the unskilled eye as a selfish gesture is really the most selfless gesture there is.

It takes great courage to help yourself before helping another. It goes against the nature of self. Be skill, however, put on your mask, help yourself, become conscious, and then you will really be helping others.

10 Responses to “Putting on Your Oxygen Mask, Before Assisting Other = Buddhism?”


  1. 1 Larry Keiler

    The bodhisattva vow is a vast undertaking, in which one promises to lead all sentient beings to the bliss of enlightenment. Sometimes the phrase is added “by myself alone”, which means, I alone am responsible for the state of my world, of my mind and heart.

    It automatically follows from that, that one concludes that the best way to achieve this is to attain the state of buddhahood, because power, wisdom , ability, compassion…all these reach their zenith with buddhahood. It’s the most effective way to be of service. You want to be able to provide the highest possible benefit to the greatest number of beings.

  2. 2 honestape

    This is a really good analogy. I have a long, long way to go on the road to fully committing to Buddhism, but this idea really clicks with me. I work in the disaster response field, and one thing we hammer into people’s minds is that they can not help others if they are not protected. For example, you can’t rush into a blazing building without the right equipment, or you’ll likely need to be rescued yourself. Likewise, when considering things more drastic like biological and chemical weapons, if you don’t stop to put on your mask or chemical suit and try to save someone, you’ll be contaminated and then will go from being a rescuer to a detriment.

    Hard to practice, though. We all want to rush to save someone before we save ourselves. Well, not all of us, but you know what I mean.

  3. 3 Karl Staib

    You’ve put a complicated problem of dealing with our own issues first in a simple expression. I like the analogy of the airplane oxygen mask because I agree the most important person in my life is me. Without me there isn’t anything. It all all stop existing from my perspective. I can’t help my wife if I’m off track. I would be pulling her off the tracks with me until we both crash.

    Thanks! I think work will be a little easier to handle tomorrow.

  4. 4 Allison

    This is one lesson I never learned growing up, and have since embraced as I neared burnout after 2 years living in Armenia for the Peace Corps. I am still not that good at taking care of myself first, but now that I am mindful of it, it helps a lot.

  5. 5 Wade

    Thanks Allison,

    It’s a VERY hard lesson to learn. I actually got yelled at for not looking after myself in ZMM. I was sick and trying to act strong, yet it was clear I was very week. That iteration of the lesson is still sinking in. I’m very thankful for her love of yelling. It was the only way I could hear it.

    May all beings be happy.

    Wade

  6. 6 mark vantilburg

    This also has the New Testament flavor of ‘plucking out the plank’ from our own eyes before attempting to remove the ‘mote’ from our brothers eye, so that we might see more clearly to accomplish the task.

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