As human beings we all have the potential to be happy and compassionate
people, and we also have the potential to be miserable and harmful to
others. The potential for all these things is present within each of us.
we want to be happy, then the important thing is to try to promote the
positive and useful aspects in each of us and to try to reduce the
negative. Doing negative things, such as stealing and lying, may
occasionally seem to bring some short-term satisfaction, but in the long
term they will always bring us misery. Positive acts always bring us
inner strength. With inner strength we have less fear and more
self-confidence, and it becomes much easier to extend our sense of
caring to others without any barriers, whether religious, cultural, or
otherwise. It is thus very important to recognize our potential for both
good and bad, and then to observe and analyze it carefully.
This is what I call the promotion of human value. My main concern is
always how to promote an understanding of deeper human value. This
deeper human value is compassion, a sense of caring, and commitment. No
matter what your religion, and whether you are a believer or a
nonbeliever, without them you cannot be happy.
and a good heart form the underlying foundation for our success in this
life, our progress on the spiritual path, and our fulfillment of our
ultimate aspiration: the attainment of full enlightenment. Hence,
compassion and a good heart are not only important at the beginning but
also in the middle and at the end. Their necessity and value are not
limited to any specific time, place, society or culture.
we need compassion and human affection not only to survive; they are
the ultimate sources of success in life. Selfish ways of thinking not
only harm others, they prevent the very happiness we ourselves desire.
The time has come to think more wisely, hasn't it? This is my belief.
Before we can generate compassion and love, it is important to have a
clear understanding of what we understand compassion and love to be. In
simple terms, compassion and love can be defined as positive thoughts
and feelings that give rise to such essential things in life as hope,
courage, determination and inner strength. In the Buddhist tradition,
compassion and love are seen as two aspects of same thing: compassion is
the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting
them to have happiness.
next matter to be understood is whether it is possible to enhance
compassion and love. In other words, is there a means by which these
qualities of mind can be increased, and anger, hatred, and jealousy
reduced? My answer to this is an emphatic, "Yes!" Even if you do not
agree with me right now, let yourself be open to the possibility of such
development. Let us carry out some experiments together; perhaps we may
then find some answers.
For a start, it is possible to divide
every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental
and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest
influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of
basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in
life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however,
registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our
most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace rather than physical
The Mind Can Be Changed
From my own limited experience, I am convinced that through constant
training we can indeed develop our minds. Our positive attitudes,
thoughts, and outlook can be enhanced, and their negative counterparts
can be reduced. Even a single moment of consciousness depends on so many
factors, and when we change these various factors, the mind also
changes. This is a simple truth about the nature of mind.
thing that we call "mind" is quite peculiar. Sometimes it is very
stubborn and very resistant to change. With continuous effort, however,
and with conviction based on reason, our minds are sometimes quite
honest and flexible. When we truly recognize that there is some need to
change, then our minds can change. Wishing and praying alone will not
transform your mind; you also need reason—reason ultimately grounded in
your own experience. And you won't be able to transform your mind
overnight; old habits, especially mental ones, resist quick solutions.
But with effort over time and conviction grounded in reason, you can
definitely achieve profound changes in your mental attitudes.
As a basis for change, we need to recognize that as long as we live in
this world we will encounter problems, things that obstruct the
fulfillment of our goals. If, when these happen, we lose hope and become
discouraged, we diminish our ability to face these difficulties. If, on
the other hand, we remember that not just we but everyone has to
undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our
determination and our capacity to overcome troubles. By remembering the
suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering
becomes manageable. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can
be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind, another
opportunity for deepening our compassion! With each new experience, we
can strive gradually to become more compassionate; that is, we can
develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help
remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength
How to Develop Compassion
Self-centeredness inhibits our love for others, and we are all
afflicted by it to one degree or another. For true happiness to come
about, we need a calm mind, and such peace of mind is brought about only
by a compassionate attitude. How can we develop this attitude?
Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to believe that compassion is
important and to think about how nice it is! We need to make a concerted
effort to develop it; we must use all the events of our daily life to
transform our thoughts and behavior.
First of all, we must be
clear about what we mean by compassion. Many forms of compassionate
feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. For instance, the love
parents feel for their child is often strongly associated with their own
emotional needs, so it is not fully compassionate. Usually when we are
concerned about a close friend, we call this compassion, but it too is
in marriage, the love between husband and wife—particularly at the
beginning, when each partner still may not know the other's deeper
character very well—depends more on attachment than genuine love.
Marriages that last only a short time do so because they lack
compassion; they are produced by emotional attachment based on
projection and expectation, and as soon as the projections change, the
attachment disappears. Our desire can be so strong that the person to
whom we are attached appears to be flawless, when in fact he or she has
many faults. In addition, attachment makes us exaggerate small, positive
qualities. When this happens, it indicates that our love is motivated
more by personal need than by genuine care for another.
without attachment is possible. Therefore, we need to clarify the
distinctions between compassion and attachment. True compassion is not
just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason.
Because of this firm foundation, a truly compassionate attitude toward
others does not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine
compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but
rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person
is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace
and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we
develop genuine concern for their problem. This is genuine compassion.
For a Buddhist practitioner, the goal is to develop this genuine
compassion, this genuine wish for the well-being of another, in fact for
every living being throughout the universe. Of course, developing this
kind of compassion is not at all easy! Let us consider this point more
Whether people are beautiful or plain, friendly or
cruel, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like
oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore,
their right to overcome suffering and to be happy is equal to one's own.
Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire
for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel
empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this
sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for
others; you wish to help them actively overcome their problems. This
wish is not selective; it applies equally to all beings. As long as they
experience pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis
to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they
One point I should make here is that some
people, especially those who see themselves as very realistic and
practical, are sometimes too realistic and obsessed with practicality.
They may think, "The idea of wishing for the happiness of all beings, of
wanting what is best for every single one, is unrealistic and too
idealistic. Such an unrealistic idea cannot contribute in any way to
transforming the mind or to attaining some kind of mental discipline
because it is completely unachievable."
A more effective
approach, they may think, would be to begin with a close circle of
people with whom one has direct interaction. Later one can expand and
increase the parameters of that circle. They feel there is simply no
point in thinking about all beings, since there is an infinite number of
them. They may conceivably be able to feel some kind of connection with
some fellow human beings on this planet, but they feel that the
infinite number of beings throughout the universe have nothing to do
with their own experience as individuals. They may ask, "What point is
there in trying to cultivate the mind that tries to include within its
sphere every living being?"
In other contexts, that may be a
valid objection. What is important here, however, is to grasp the impact
of cultivating such altruistic sentiments. The point is to try to
develop the scope of our empathy in such a way that we can extend it to
any form of life with the capacity to feel pain and experience
happiness. It is a matter of recognizing living organisms as sentient,
and therefore subject to pain and capable of happiness.
universal sentiment of compassion is very powerful, and there is no
need to be able to identify, in specific terms, with every single living
being in order for it to be effective. In this regard it is similar to
recognizing the universal nature of impermanence: when we cultivate the
recognition that all things and events are impermanent, we do not need
to consider individually every single thing that exists in the universe
in order to be convinced of it. That is not how the mind works. It is
important to appreciate this point.
Given patience and time,
it is within our power to develop this kind of universal compassion. Of
course our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling
of a solid "I," works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed,
true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self-grasping
is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start to cultivate
compassion and begin to make progress right away.
compassion and a good heart are developed through constant and conscious
effort, it is important for us first to identify the favorable
conditions that give rise to our own qualities of kindness, and then to
identify the adverse circumstances that obstruct our cultivation of
these positive states of mind. It is therefore important for us to lead a
life of constant mindfulness and mental alertness. Our mastery of
mindfulness should be such that whenever a new situation arises, we are
able to recognize immediately whether the circumstances are favorable or
adverse to the development of compassion and a good heart. By pursuing
the practice of compassion in such a manner, we will gradually be able
to alleviate the effects of the obstructive forces and enhance the
conditions that favor the development of compassion and a good heart.
I believe that at every level of society—familial, national and
international—the key to a happier and more successful world is the
growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need
to believe in a particular ideology. All that is necessary is for each
of us to develop our good human qualities. I believe that the
cultivation of individual happiness can contribute in a profound and
effective way to the overall improvement of the entire human community.
all share an identical need for love, and on the basis of this
commonality, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever
circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how
different the dress or behavior, there is no significant division
between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external
differences because our basic natures are the same.
benefits of transcending such superficial differences become clear when
we look at our global situation. Ultimately, humanity is one and this
small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours,
each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism and
compassion. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered
motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have
a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence,
and there is no need to be fearful of others.
The need for an
atmosphere of openness and cooperation at the global level is becoming
more urgent. In this modern age, when it comes to dealing with economic
situations there are no longer familial or even national boundaries.
From country to country and continent to continent, the world is
inextricably interconnected. Each country depends heavily on the others.
In order for a country to develop its own economy, it is forced to take
seriously into account the economic conditions of other countries as
well. In fact, economic improvement in other countries ultimately
results in economic improvement in one's own country.
of these facts about our modern world, we need a total revolution in our
thinking and our habits. It is becoming clearer every day that a viable
economic system must be based on a true sense of universal
responsibility. In other words, what we need is a genuine commitment to
the principles of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. This much is
clear, isn't it? This is not just a holy, moral or religious ideal.
Rather, it is the reality of our modem human existence.
reflect deeply enough, it becomes obvious that we need more compassion
and altruism everywhere. This critical point can be appreciated by
observing the current state of affairs in the world, whether in the
fields of modern economics and health care, or in political and military
situations. In addition to the multitude of social and political
crises, the world is also facing an ever-increasing cycle of natural
calamities. Year after year, we have witnessed a radical shifting of
global climatic patterns that has led to grave consequences: excessive
rain in some countries that has brought serious flooding, a shortage of
precipitation in other countries that has resulted in devastating
droughts. Fortunately, concern for ecology and the environment is
rapidly growing everywhere. We are now beginning to appreciate that the
question of environmental protection is ultimately a question of our
very survival on this planet. As human beings, we must also respect our
fellow members of the human family: our neighbors, our friends, and so
forth. Compassion, loving-kindness, altruism, and a sense of brotherhood
and sisterhood are the keys not only to human development, but to
The success or failure of humanity in the
future depends primarily upon the will and determination of the present
generation. If we ourselves do not utilize our faculties of will and
intelligence, there is no one else who can guarantee our future and that
of the next generation. This is an indisputable fact. We cannot place
the entire blame on politicians or those people who are seen as directly
responsible for various situations; we too must bear some
responsibility personally. It is only when the individual accepts
personal responsibility that he or she begins to take some initiative.
Just shouting and complaining is not good enough. A genuine change must
first come from within the individual, then he or she can attempt to
make significant contributions to humanity. Altruism is not merely a
religious ideal; itis an indispensable requirement for humanity at
Adapted from The Compassionate Life, by the Dalai Lama. © 2001 Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Available from Wisdom Publications.