The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Monday Mindful Morsel: The Dalai Lama on Altruism

by Lydia Anderson
August 18, 2014
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:53 -- landerson

This week's morsel comes from The Meaning of Life: Buddhist Perspectives on Cause and Effect. In this book, the Dalai Lama uses the traditional Buddhist allegorical image of the Wheel of Life and the teaching of the twelve links of dependent origination to illustrate how our existence brims with the potential for peace and happiness. In the selection below, he teaches how to develop altruism within ourselves.

In order to generate such a strong altruistic attitude in which one promises to seek buddhahood for the sake of others, it is necessary beforehand to generate an unusual resolve in which one takes on the burden of others’ welfare. In order to induce this unusual resolve, it is necessary to have compassion in which one cannot bear to see either the manifest suffering of others or their oppression by unwanted internal conditions that result in suffering. Thus, from the depths of the heart one wishes that they be freed from such a condition. For, unless one is stirred from the depths by compassion, the high resolve in which one takes on the burden of freeing beings from suffering cannot be induced.

It is clear from our own experience that it is easier to generate compassion for other persons who are attractive to oneself or to whom one feels a sense of pleasantness—with whom one feels a sense of rapport. Thus prior to generating great compassion one needs a technique to cause all sentient beings to appear appealing and attractive to oneself. This technique involves viewing all sentient beings the way we already view those beings to whom you usually are the closest, whether these be our mother and father, relatives, or others.

In order to view beings this way, it is necessary first to see them in an even-minded way, and helpful here to use the imagination. Imagine in front of yourself a friend, an enemy, and someone to whom you are completely indifferent—a “neutral” person. Examine your feelings to see whom you hold dear and whom you consider in a distant manner. Naturally, you feel close to your friend; you feel not only distant but sometimes also angry or irritated toward your enemy; you just feel nothing for the neutral person. You have to investigate why this is so. The first one is your best friend; however, from the Buddhist viewpoint, although today he or she is acting like a friend, this is not permanent, because over the course of beginningless rebirths, in some past lifetime he or she may have been one of your worst enemies. Similarly, although the other one is today acting like an enemy, you cannot at all be sure that in a past life he or she was not one of your dearest friends. In the future also, there is no reason why an enemy must always remain an enemy and a friend remain always a friend—there is no guarantee even within this life. Today’s friend, within a short period of time, may change.

This is confirmed by our experience of life and, even more so, in political life—today one’s ally, the next moment one’s worst enemy! In this way, the basic life-structure is not at all stable: sometimes we are successful, sometimes unsuccessful; things are always changing, changing, changing. Therefore, our experience of such solid and stable feelings toward friends and enemies is absolutely wrong. There is no reason to assume such rigidity; it is foolish, is it not? Considering this will gradually help you to become even-minded.

The next step is to think that, given that your enemy was in the past—or will sooner or later be—a good friend, it is much better to consider all three persons as your best friends. Also, you can investigate whether there is value in showing hatred: what kind of result will come from it? The answer is obvious. However, if you try to develop compassion toward these persons, there is no question that the result will be nice. From this viewpoint also, you can see that it is much better to develop a compassionate attitude equally toward all three types of beings.

Extend this feeling toward your neighbors—one by one, to those living on this side and then to those on that side of the street. Then, to the whole country, then to the entire continent, then to all of humanity in this world, and then farther to infinite sentient beings. This is how to practice the seven quintessential instructions of cause and effect.

To read more, click here.


How to cite this document:
© Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, The Meaning of Life (Wisdom Publications, 2000)

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