VGL says in Eight Steps to Happiness that the path to enlightenment is very easy, all we need to do is change the object of our cherishing from self to others and everything else will come naturally. The essence of the Mahayana path is to have our every action be for the benefit of others. Once we have made this shift, then we naturally look for ways of increasing the quality of the benefit we bestow upon others through our actions. The most valuable thing we can do for others is help them overcome the real cause of their problems, their delusions. To do that, we need to gain the wisdom knowing how to overcome delusions. We acquire that through our own practice of Dharma. Once we have this logic, then it is just an issue of taking things to their logical conclusion. If only Dharma realizations provide any lasting freedom or happiness, then we should not stop gaining realizations until we have gained them all – in other words, attained enlightenment.
But the linchpin to all of this process is making this change in the object of our cherishing. It is not enough to just mentally know we should or understand this logic, we need to bring about a genuine transformation in the reason or purpose behind our every action. Every day, no matter what our circumstances, we are engaging in actions. The easiest and most important method for transforming our life into a retreat is to mentally do everything we are normally doing anyways, but do it mentally for the benefit of others. If we can do this, then our transforming the rest of our life into a retreat will come naturally. If we fail to do this, then it will be impossible to really transform our life into a retreat. Like with the path itself, this is the key step.
In the beginning, we should not worry about trying to do our every action with a bodhichitta motivation, but even just simply train in doing our actions for the benefit of others. We happily serve others. So in our work, we help our boss and clients/students, at home we help our kids, with our partner we support them in their goals and help with a disproportionate share of the household work, with our friends we try help them be happy, on the road we let others go first, when we are with strangers we give them a warm and friendly smile, when we bathe we do so so others don’t have to smell our bad human odors, etc., etc., etc. We are doing all of these things every day anyways, we just need to change our reason for doing them from doing them for our own benefit to doing them for the benefit of others.
There is no mental habit more important than this to develop. From this mental habit, the rest will come naturally and essentially effortlessly.
3 thoughts on “Doing everything for others”
One of the main concepts in your post is this: with a Bodhichitta motivation, do what we usually do.
We know there are a bunch of other steps involved in generating Bodhichitta. There’s no need to off-trail onto them but I think the most important step to develop is the most basic concept of all: Non-harm, Compassion. This is what makes Bodhichitta powerful.
Since we are all deluded, it’s easy to harm one another needlessly. If we have non-harm in our mind all the time, then at least we can start to open up to compassion, caring for other people and give Bodhichitta a chance to survive and grow. We might not like anyone, but at least we can begin to stop harming others, then from this point the only way is up!
If i reply to this post, will it harm others? What is going on in my mind right now? Are delusions present? These are initial questions. Will my actions harm others? Here is the next question. Then, how can i benefit everyone within my capacity. I could listen, i could encourage, i could show that my defense is down – i don’t want to fight but i could still disagree and challenge someone’s viewpoint, i could make light of things, i could inspire, i could help generate other ways of looking at things. BUT, i can never change anyone else’s mind. This is obvious and something i know all too well (after many mistakes)
As we move on in practice, we want to help others more. We become expert at spotting delusion, especially within our best friends whom we care so much about, so we need to have patience and contemplate, ‘i wish only peace for these people, this is what i really want, i never wish to harm them’
We should do everything for others. We need their forgiveness. We’ve harmed them so many times, each being we really owe a great deal to.
Pure nectar! Beautiful comment. Thank you!
Also wanted to add…We cannot be 100 per cent certain that our actions will help others. It’s not an easy thing, although it is easy to justify that because we are Buddhist we know what other people want to hear or need, this is mistaken. It takes experimentation.
Sometimes, kindness really aggravates people, some people want to be left alone, some don’t want to be loved. Other times people are suffering, they want to manage for themselves. Sometimes we like to feel we know what is best for others since we believe we have some wisdom. But really, others need to empower themselves. Buddha was an absolute master at this. I love his approach. A few practical ideas:
Some obvious things that seem to work:
Doing jobs for someone else because they really cant stand it and they’ve asked us to do it.
Giving to those who ask, such as beggars, charities etc
Actually listening to people and taking interest in them
Being patient with those who harm us
Admit and apologise if we get things wrong
Being honest and do what we say we are going to do – this fulfills their wishes and inspires trust in others, they can be confident we will do it.
Encouraging others to see and use their potential, draw it out, ripen it
Some things that don’t work so well:
Prove anyone wrong – there is right and wrong ways of doing things but there is also a right time to discuss with others, such as when we know they are open to speaking with us. If we know they are not peaceful, our good intentions could get eaten up in the delusion breeding ground.
Go against someone’s wishes – the biggest cause of anger in human beings is not having their wishes fulfilled