The Medicine of Altruism

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Wednesday November 14th, 2018

Image: Dalai Lama

Can Compassion Cure All?

In Tibet, we say that many illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion. These qualities are the ultimate source of human happiness, and the need for them lies at the very core of our being. Unfortunately, love and compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for too long. Usually confined to family and home, their practice in public life is considered impractical, even naive. This is tragic. In my view, the practice of compassion is not just a symptom of unrealistic idealism but the most effective way to pursue the best interest of others as well as our own. The more we–as a nation, a group or as individuals–depend upon others, the more it is in our own best interests to ensure their well-being.

Practicing altruism is the real source of compromise and cooperation; merely recognizing our need for harmony is not enough. A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir–a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This is like a seed; when cultivated, gives rise to many other good qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity. The compassionate mind is like an elixir; it is capable of transforming bad situations into beneficial ones. Therefore, we should not limit our expressions of love and compassion to our family and friends. Nor is the compassion only the responsibility of clergy, health care professionals and social workers. It is the necessary business in every part of the human community.

The medicine of compassionMany illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion.

Whether a conflict lies in the field of politics, business or religion, an altruistic approach is frequently the sole means of resolving it. Sometimes the very concepts we use to meditate a dispute are themselves the cause of the problem. At such times, when a resolution seems impossible, both sides should recall the basic human nature that unites them. This will help break the impasse and, in the long run, make it easier for everyone to attain their goal. Although neither side may be fully satisfied, if both make concessions, at the very least, the danger of further conflict will be averted. We all know that this form of compromise is the most effective way of solving problems–why, then, do we not use it more often?

When I consider the lack of cooperation in human society, I can only conclude that it stems from ignorance of our interdependent nature. I am often moved by the example of small insects, such as bees. The laws of nature dictate that bees work together in order to survive. As a result, they possess an instinctive sense of social responsibility. They have no constitution, laws, police, religion or moral training, but because of their nature, they labour faithfully together. Occasionally they may fight, but in general, the whole colony survives on the basis of cooperation. Human beings, on the other hand, have constitutions, vast legal systems and police forces; we have religion, remarkable intelligence and a heart with great capacity to love. But despite our many extraordinary qualities, in actual practice we lag behind those small insects; in some ways, I feel we are poorer than the bees.

Empathy for othersOnly a spontaneous feeling of empathy can really motivate us to help others.

For instance, millions of people live together in large cities all over the world, but despite this proximity, many are lonely. Some do not have even one human being with whom to share their deepest feelings, and live in a state of perpetual agitation. This is very sad. We are not solitary animals that associate only in order to mate. If we were, why would we build large cities and towns? But even though we are social animals compelled to live together, unfortunately, we lack a sense of responsibility towards our fellow humans. Does the fault lie in our social architecture — the basic structures of family and community that support our society? Is it our own external facilities — our machines, science and technology? I do not think so.

I believe that despite the rapid advances made by civilization in this century, the most immediate cause of our present dilemma is our undue emphasis on material development alone. We have become so engrossed in its pursuit that, without even knowing it, we have neglected to foster the most basic human needs of love, kindness, cooperation and caring. If we do not know someone or find another reason for not feeling connected with a particular individual or group, we simply ignore them. But the development of human society is based entirely on people helping each other. Once we have lost the essential humanity that is our foundation, what is the point of pursuing only material improvement?

To me, it is clear: a genuine sense of responsibility can result only if we develop compassion. Only a spontaneous feeling of empathy for others can really motivate us to act on their behalf.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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15 Responses to The Medicine of Altruism

  1. Thank you for putting words to a growing sense I’ve been experiencing. I have looked at beings in nature and indigenous tribes, like in the movie, “Blue Butterfly”, and felt they are far ahead of us. I will soon be viewing a film entitled “Growth Busters” about the focus on material and economic growth to the exclusion of all else. Now I have the Dalai Lama as a great resource. I am so grateful.

  2. His Holiness the Dalai Lama sends words to us that we can put into action. He, himself,
    has suffered much but even through that suffering still has a beautiful vision for us. He is one of the most evolved human beings on planet earth today. A precious gift to be alive at the same time that he is.

    • The Human values like truth, peace, love, and non violence
      are within every human heart. They just need to be
      cultivated by each of us who have awakened to this
      amazing treasure within. We are fortunate to have his
      holiness,Dalai Lana to model and encourage the practice
      of compassion and altruism.

  3. some people are too resistant/frightened/unbelieving to trust that ‘another’ could possibly care enough … coming gently from a loving heart and ‘seeing’ our neighbours is a gift for us all

    thank you for posting the article ^i^

  4. I have been trying to do this at my subsidized 55 and older apartment building and have met with resistance again and again. I am loved, but it has not been successful in spreading throughout the management and the residents. I find that when management does not really respect the elderly, that attitude spreads throughout the building like a virus. For a few days of putting a handmade Valentine on every door, there was a feeling of comradeship, I have to feel at least a few days people looked at one another in a different way. I keep on trying.

  5. My mantra for the last few years has been and WE ARE HER FOR EACH OTHER !!!
    We have gifts to share with one and another. I believe once we get that, we will have
    peace on earth…NAMASTE !!!

  6. I agree so instead of just the green and applauding how about if we each and collectively put something in place that will make a difference…. How about putting away the iPhone in public places and using eyes on hand to connect to other people

  7. Je suis reconnaissant pour les enseignements que nous recevons aujourd’hui. La vie est une grande chaîne avec plusieurs maîllons que nous devons construire chaque jour afin de devenir une grande famille universelle. Les mentalités ne sont pas les mêmes que voilà 50 ans. Il est parfois difficile de le faire comprendre; mais ceux et celles qui le savent aujourd’hui doivent continuer le travail pour les générations futures. Merci Dalaï Lama. Namasté!!!

  8. Thank you for this article. Caring and compassion have a language all their own that translates into unconditional love.

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