Why altruism helps us

Category : General advice 23rd September 2019

Inside Yoga 279 (23/9/2019)

We grow up being told that we must look after number one and at the same time that we need to think of others. How can we look after the well-being of others by being altruistic whilst at same time look after our self?

Tibetan Buddhist the Dalai Lama wrote that if we are to be selfish he suggested that we can be wisely selfish; he said be altruistic, that is, a selfless concern for the well-being of others at all times, in action and thought, because we would still derive benefit from being altruistic, as the saying goes, things do tend to come around.

We could now argue about the effectiveness of this and what constitutes altruistic, but after years studying Buddhism, initially in the Tibetan tradition where altruism is stressed as being paramount, I did learn to see why this is such an important teaching. It acts as a moral compass guiding my thoughts and actions and hopefully keeps me on the altruistic side instead of the selfish.

Being altruistic can include the small acts of life not life changing actions. Take for example, simple acts which we do not necessarily think about at the time, nor after, such as the courtesy of allowing someone else to go in front of us, be it as a pedestrian at a door, or a driver letting another into the road (common in traffic jams). This simple act might result in us feeling better, as our heart opens a tiny fraction through an action that seemed so inconsequential.

Those with elder members in the family or community might spend time helping them, again not for any selfish gain but to help. There are other, greater acts of altruism, doing something directly for charity or giving money to a cause can be an altruistic act. Whether big or small, the importance is the thought and act of putting others first and not letting the beast of selfishness to take over.

The list can go and on, but the point I wish to make is for us to recognise those small acts and thoughts which might not be regarded as anything but see them instead as important steps in our day, where helping others helps us.

Your Comment: Let me know what you think. See reply panel below or email me, gary@yogabristol.co.uk

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