Do not wish for gratitude.
When we help someone we should not expect anything in return. If we do, we turn the kindness into a sham. We should direct all of our efforts exclusively for the benefit of others, ideally with a bodhichitta motivation.
The difference between a kindness and a contract is whether we expect anything in return. Since our primary goal is to create good karma for the future, we actually don’t want anything in return because we know we will then have burned up the good karma we worked so hard to create. We do not have to formally ask for something in return for us to implicitly be requesting it. I personally think the best form of kindness is the anonymous kind, because then we know we are not doing so for the sake of getting something in return.
It is very rare for anybody to be kind to others without expecting something in return. And when this something doesn’t come, we then find others to be very ungrateful and we begin to regret our acts of kindness. We feel justified in at least wanting a thank you from others, and we are quick to condemn others when it doesn’t come. Where do all of these ungrateful people come from? Our own past ungratefulness.
It is especially hard to not wish for gratitude when we have really gone out of our way to help somebody, and they nonetheless criticize us and even sometimes get mad at us for not helping them out correctly. Gen-la Losang tells the story about how he was at Manjushri center and he was not on kitchen clean up duty. It was at night, and he went down to the kitchen to get an apple and he saw that the kitchen still hadn’t been cleaned up since dinner. So being the kind bodhisattva, he then proceeded to clean everything up. Just as he was finishing, the person who was supposed to clean up the kitchen came down, and frustratedly said to Losang, “you missed a spot!” That is when, Losang said, he knew he still had some work to do on giving selflessly.
This sort of experience happens to us all of the time. We may help some people a tremendous amount, such as our children or our partner, and despite all that they still get mad at us. When we are working hard and we need some help, they don’t lift a finger to help us. They may be generally upset or going through a difficult time, and they project onto us that it is our responsibility to make them feel better, and when we fail to do so, they get mad at us. Why are people so unreasonable with us? Because this is how we have been with others in the past. It is very easy for us to become frustrated at these people and resentful about how despite all that we do for them they still get mad at us. But if our objective is to accumulate good karma for the future, we realize it is better this way. We are learning how to give unconditionally. We are not using up our virtuous karma on them expressing gratitude for us now.
Even though we should not expect gratitude, we should nonetheless always make a point of being grateful for what others have done for us.
When we are growing up, it seems entirely normal to us for our parents to do everything for us, and when they don’t we feel let down and betrayed. But the reality is nobody owes us anything. The fact that anybody does anything for us should be welcomed as an act of extreme kindness. But as we grow older and become parents ourselves, we realize it is not our parents that owe us anything, it is we who owe our parents for all that they have done for us. Of course everybody’s circumstance is different, but we should make a point of doing everything we can to look after our parents when they become older. They were there for us when we needed it most, it is only normal that we are there for them when they need it most.
We should likewise make a special point of being grateful to all those who have taught us in some way. The reality is we don’t know how to do anything on our own. Everything we are able to do comes from the kindness of somebody else teaching us. Even the things we have learned on our own ultimately come from the kindness of others because somebody taught us the skills we relied upon to be able to learn the thing on our own, for example even something as rudimentary as knowing how to read what is written.
Usually due to our inappropriate attention on what the person is not doing, we are unable to develop gratitude for what they have done. Our resentment about the other person not living up to our expectations of what they should have done for us prevents us from developing gratitude for what they have done. What good does this do anybody? Our lack of gratitude for what they have done doesn’t exactly encourage the other person to do more for us, and even if it did, we would, in effect, be emotionally blackmailing the other person into giving us more. We don’t want that karma on our mind. Such an ungrateful attitude poisons our relationship with the other person, and frankly transforms us into an ungrateful jerk. In contrast, being grateful is always well received. When we are grateful for what others have done for us, they naturally want to do more for us.