Compassion and kindness toward others are the heart of Buddhism.
Before being introduced to Buddhist philosophy, I was compassionate mostly to myself. It’s not that I was mean to others, but the happiness of others didn’t quite concern me. The entire focus was on making myself happy, without being conscious of anyone else.
Buddhism has helped me see people. It might sound ridiculous, but my ego was so dominant in the past that I never truly saw people. And this is what caused most of my suffering.
Because of the wall I built between me and other sentient beings, I made myself miserable. However, I didn’t know that I felt disconnected because of my lack of kindness. I only realized this when I demolished the wall and practiced treating others as I would treat myself.
In Buddhism, the concept of being of benefit to all living beings is of major importance. We all have the potential to harm others or help them. Good and evil are present in each of us, and they grow as long as we feed them.
We don’t need to look in Buddhist scriptures to ascertain the notion of kindness though. If we reflect on our own actions, we’d realize that when we engage in negative actions—telling a lie, committing a crime, engaging in deceit—our conscience can’t be at rest. But if we are good to others—even in the smallest ways—we feel better about ourselves and an undeniable sense of joy overwhelms us.
One of the greatest texts that I have read about being of benefit to others is A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva, a Buddhist master from the 8th century, who nailed the explanation of kindness. His words hold a unique place in Mahayana Buddhism, and they still serve as an inspiration to many Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
Below are his distinguished verses about goodness:
“Thus sentient beings should be my main concern.
Whatever I behold upon my body
I should rob and use
For the benefit of others.”
“Because of desiring to benefit yourself, O mind,
All weariness you have gone through
Over countless past eons
Has only succeeded in achieving misery.”
“I should not be dominating ad aggressive,
Acting in a self-righteous, arrogant way;
Instead, like a newly married bride,
I should be bashful, timid, and restrained.”
“I must separate myself from happiness
And take upon myself the sufferings of others.
“Why am I doing this now?”
In this way, I should examine myself for faults.”
“Although others may do something wrong,
I should transform it into a fault of my own;
But should I do something even slightly wrong,
I shall openly admit it to many people.”
“Hence I should dispel the misery of others
Because it is suffering, just like my own,
And I should benefit others
Because they are sentient beings, just like myself.”
“If I employ others for my own purposes,
I myself shall experience servitude;
But if I use myself for the sake of others,
I shall experience only lordliness.”
“Having seen the mistakes in cherishing myself
And the ocean of good in cherishing others,
I shall completely reject all selfishness
And accustom myself to accepting others.”
“Therefore, just as I protect myself
From unpleasant things however small,
In the same way I should act towards others
With a compassionate and caring mind.”
“First of all, I should make an effort
To meditate upon the equality between self and others.
I should protect all beings as I do myself
Because we are all equal in wanting pleasure and not wanting pain.”
“In brief, for the sake of living creatures,
May all the harms
I have selfishly caused to others
Descend upon me myself.”
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Nicole Cameron
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