If you want to help others, practice compassion. If you want to help yourself, practice compassion.

Mar 25, 2021


When we hear about being compassionate and helping others, it seems we’re being left out. Helping others: great. But what about me? 


When I first heard the teachings about compassion from the lamas, it seemed so high, almost unattainable. Then I heard His Holiness say, “If you want to help others, practice compassion. If you want to help yourself, practice compassion.” That’s pretty powerful! 


Our assumption seems to be that when we give to others, take care of others, we must make sure that to do something to take care of ourselves as well, because helping others seems to drain us.


A bird needs two wings, remember: wisdom and compassion. As His Holiness says, “compassion is not enough; we need wisdom.” What does this mean? The wisdom wing is all the work we do on ourselves, specifically for our own sake: abide by the laws of karma, understand and lessen our attachment and anger and fears and the rest. And how does this benefit us? The result of working on our own minds is that we become more content, more happy, more fulfilled, less self-centers – and therefore more loving and compassionate. This is what we do for ourselves!


Then when we practice the compassion wing, we continue to work on our minds but the emphasis now is on breaking down the barriers that ego has constructed between self and other: we cut even more of our own limited sense of self and actively develop even more love and compassion for others and enthusiasm to help them. 


Now, because we have lessened our own neuroses and become more fulfilled within ourselves, our love and compassion do not drag us down. It gives us such joy!


This is not how we see it in our culture. We think the more I help others, the more burned out I’ll become. That’s possible – but only because we haven’t lessened our own neuroses: we haven’t practised the wisdom wing.


In other words – and it’s a tricky one to understand – when our compassion and our patience and our kindness and our love and our forgiveness are polluted by our own attachment, our own aversion and fears – because we haven’t done the work on our own mind – of course we’ll feel drained, tired, depressed.


The logic, in other words, is that the more we lessen our own attachment and the rest on the wisdom wing, the more joyful and fulfilled we’ll become, so that when we do help others, it’ll be actually fulfilling, not draining.


And, of course, by the time we get to be an actual bodhisattva, when attachment and the other nonsense have practically gone, there’ll be no choice but to help others, give to others, take care of others. And then you cannot be anything but joyful!

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