Have you ever wondered why it matters that you care for other people?
It seems commonsense that this is a good way to live life. But there are dominant philosophies today that suggest we need to maximize our own individual self-interest.
This comes from economic theories of capitalism that suggest when people look after their own self-interest, then society is better off.
The Dalai Lama explains why this doesn’t make sense in the beautiful passage below. As he says, it’s an obvious fact that your own sense of wellbeing can be provided through your relationships with others. So it’s best to start cultivating practices of kindness and compassion.
The Dalai Lama on Why We Need to Show Altruism for Others
The question could be raised, “Why do we need to cultivate the thought that other sentient beings are precious and valuable?”
In one sense, we can say that other sentient beings are really the principal source of all our experiences of joy, happiness, and prosperity, and not only in terms of our day-to-day dealings with people. We can see that all the desirable experiences that we cherish or aspire to attain are dependent upon cooperation and interaction with other sentient beings.
It is an obvious fact.
Similarly, from the point of view of a practitioner on the path, many of the high levels of realization that you gain and the progress you make on your spiritual journey are dependent upon cooperation and interaction with other sentient beings. Furthermore, at the resultant state of buddhahood, the truly compassionate activities of a buddha can come about spontaneously without any effort only in relation to sentient beings, because they are the recipients and beneficiaries of those enlightened activities.
So one can see that other sentient beings are, in a sense, the true source of our joy, prosperity, and happiness. Basic joys and comforts of life such as food, shelter, clothing, and companionship are all dependent upon other sentient beings, as is fame and renown.
Our feelings of comfort and sense of security are dependent upon other people’s perceptions of us and their affection for us. It is almost as if human affection is the very basis of our existence. Our life cannot start without affection, and our sustenance, proper growth, and so on all depend on it.
In order to achieve a calm mind, the more you have a sense of caring for others, the deeper your satisfaction will be. I think that the very moment you develop a sense of caring, others appear more positive.
This is because of your own attitude.
On the other hand, if you reject others, they will appear to you in a negative way.
Another thing that is quite clear to me is that the moment you think only of yourself, the focus of your whole mind narrows, and because of this narrow focus uncomfortable things can appear huge and bring you fear and discomfort and a sense of feeling overwhelmed by misery. The moment you think of others with a sense of caring, however, your mind widens. Within that wider angle, your own problems appear to be of no significance, and this makes a big difference.
If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficult situations and problems. With this strength, your problems will seem less significant and bothersome. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm. This is a clear example of how one’s way of thinking can really make a difference.
Source: Training the Mind, verse 1