How to be kind according to Buddhism

Buddha kindWith consideration for others we determine to avoid negativity because we don’t want to hurt others. (This carries on from this article.) Non-harmfulness is the guiding principle in Buddhism. No one who deliberately harms others is a follower of Buddha ~ the chief refuge commitment he gave to be a Buddhist is:

Not to harm others.

So we develop love and compassion in our hearts, and then put our money where our mouth is, as it were, by developing the determination to avoid actions that would disturb or harm others. Our self-cherishing desires are like a black hole that can never be filled, so, as it says in Transform Your Life:

Before we act on a wish we should consider whether it will disturb or harm others, and if we think that it will we should not do it.

That’s a good rule of thumb.

Also we need to try and practice consideration whenever we are with other people, as Geshe Kelsang says – which means any other people! Not just a few people whom we want to impress. Buddhist moral discipline is practical, not abstract – there is no point developing compassion for all those people in China and then acting crazy around our co-workers. How we behave with the people under our nose, whether these are the people we’d choose to be with or not, is where the rubber hits the road, where we get to really manifest what is going on in our hearts in our verbal and physical actions. One of my favorite sayings is in Meaningful to Behold:

We should not act as if we are sleepwalking or allow our habits to dominate our behavior.

Making a determination is moral discipline, and it means we are awake due to mindfulness, not allowing ourselves to be dominated by our habitual delusions. Who else are we going to practice this with, if not the people we are presented with each day, whether friend, enemy, or total stranger?

Way to make friends

If we are considerate, Geshe Kelsang says, people will like and respect us. Makes sense – people like us generally based on the way we make them feel, as opposed to whether we are scintillatingly fascinating, witty, and gorgeous to look at (I’m talking about like as in affection, not attachment, here.) If the people around us think that we are basically trustworthy, that we are not out to get them, and that in fact we are interested in their welfare, they will probably like us. (Doesn’t mean we can’t be fascinating too …)

Genuinely goodgreatest test

Integrity is important – the same study showed that we try to get away with appearing better than we are, whereas would it not be more cool to appear good because we ARE good?! (Funny how the Sanskrit word for moral discipline, “shi la”, literally means “coolness”.)

Sense of shame and consideration help us overcome this disconnect, this hypocrisy, this pretension and deceit, and become genuinely good people. As it says in Transform Your Life:

Whether we are a good person or a bad person depends upon whether or not we have sense of shame and consideration for others.

No guilt though

Confession time. When I took Marty out one day, in the big “historic” January New York blizzard that never was, he pooped right in the middle of a wide and deep puddle. I had on shoes, not boots, and I tried to get to it, but the puddle was about 9 inches deep, so I gave up. I did notice that I had self-cherishing attachment to my dry feet over someone else’s stepping in poop, and it wasn’t pretty. But, having acknowledged that, I did not let myself feel too bad about it. Why?!clean up after dog

Because sense of shame is not guilt — perhaps it is the opposite as guilt holds onto the baggage and identifies with the negativity, “Oh, I’m such a horrible person! What’s the point!” We feel worthless and unmotivated. Whereas with sense of shame or consideration, when we do something less than stellar we don’t beat ourselves up but recognize we did it under the influence of our enemy, the delusions, and so we can purify and move on.

We are not fixed or inherently anything — in fact the me who didn’t pick up after my dog has already gone out of existence, thanks to impermanence, leaving me free to identify with my pure nature and re-impute or re-identify myself as a decent dog-owner once again, to greet the new moment and Marty’s new bowel movement. (Wish I could say I picked up another dog’s poop to make up for it, and to make me seem better than I am … but I didn’t 😉  Ah well, at least I picked up all Marty’s poop after that, making sure I always had on my Wellies.)

You are your own witness

And others cannot police us; we have to just do this thing ourselves. I will leave you as I started in the last article, with another piece of memorable advice from Buddha: You are your own witness

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

14 thoughts on “How to be kind according to Buddhism”

  1. very enlightening and motivational…. sometimes we need a reminder of the basics

  2. Thanks Luna for adding the piece of memorable advice from Buddha. I am having a really difficult day. I was berated at work for things I did and did not do. It left me feeling pretty bad about myself. I love how you included the saying, “You are your own witness.” I have not felt this sad in a long time. Something about this moment today made me feel so worthless. I am a working mom and just feel so run down and exhausted. Do you have any other advice to give about staying strong and looking past hurtful comments? Thanks so much for your time Luna. I truly appreciate it.

    Sad Mom

    1. Thank you from the center of my heart Luna. The article you directed me to really helped. XXX

  3. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in How to Understand the Mind under Consideration for others …whether we are a good or a bad person depends upon whether or not we have sense of shame and consideration. As a Kadampa friend posted the other day: your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behaviour does. Indeed oneself should be the first interested to check if our intention is free from selfishness since we can deceive others through our public persona (Hitler was adored by the masses) nevertheless it will be us receiving the effect of those very actions. How inspiring to contemplate this subjects, how fortunate to have pure instructions. May I be able to put them into practice.

  4. I love the image of the homeless man feeding the dog because of the idea it conveys. It’s really very powerful and transformative. I also like that you are again underscoring the importance of genuine goodness, versus the appearance of goodness. There’s a concept in personality psychology known as agreeableness, which more or less translates to niceness, which in turn might be described by most of us as the outward appearance of goodness. I think that’s generally how we interpret things. But some recent research demonstrates how agreeableness (considered a positive or desirable personality trait) also correlates with a willingness to follow instruction to do obviously cruel and morally wrong things, if doing so secures the approval of whoever is directing or observing the behavior. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It illustrates a distinction between niceness and actual goodness, and reminds us of how we tend to conflate the two.

    1. Thanks for an interesting comment. A lot of that comes down to motivation, am i doing this to make others like me or to help them?

  5. Hey Luna Kadampa, thanks for your article. I have a question about that first Buddha quote, “no one who deliberately harms others is a follower of mine.” Where is it from?

    1. Not deliberately harming others is one of 2 main refuge vows to do with the Dharma Jewel. I cannot recall the exact Sutra I read this quote in many years ago, so i have slightly rephrased the article to take it out of direct quotes. Thank you!

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