Why Go Kind? Demystifying Kindness
At the end of a retreat in Malaysia earlier this month, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche spoke about how working with our mind is a way of helping others, how to make kindness a regular practice, and how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from doing what we can to help.
Getting to know our mind is not only good for enlightenment. It is also helpful in dealing with our relative life.
When we recognize our mind we say, “Oh, my mind is like this.” Then as we deal with various challenges in our life––when confusions or emotions come up––we can recognize, “Oh yes, this is how my mind is. My mind has this tendency toward emotion, and confusion. So I have to be careful.” Or, “My mind has this tendency of not paying attention to detail.”
This kind of thing might come up regarding your car key or your house key. Maybe you have a special place for all your keys. Then it is easy to keep that place very clearly in mind, “I put my keys here every day when I come home.” If you have a special place, then every day when you arrive home, you put your car key and your house key in the same spot. When you’re ready to go out again, your keys are right there. It’s a very simple kind of mindfulness, a very simple thing you need to remember to do.
On the other hand, when you don’t do that, you cannot find the key you want. If you’re looking for your car key, you may have to go through your whole clothes closet to find it. Is it in this jacket? No. That jacket? No, it’s not in that one. After all that searching, you still cannot find it and you end up having to borrow another key. A few weeks later you find your keys in a pocket you didn’t check. So much trouble!
So we need to see that even paying a little attention, a few minutes’ attention, taking a few minutes to look at our mind, can help us so much in everyday life. Like taking a few seconds to simply take the key out of your pocket and put it on its usual spot on the table where you will be able to find it again.
Knowing our mind, taking care of our mind, is actually a way of taking care of sentient beings as well.
If we can tame our mind, we will cause less harm to other beings. It’s a way of helping others, especially the people closest to you. If we train our mind in compassion, we naturally become more helpful to sentient beings. So working with our mind is actually a way of working with other beings. It is the beginning of having the right kind of attitude as well as the right skill to help others. Of course, that by itself is not enough. Once we have developed a positive attitude and a genuine level of skill, we still have to put those abilities into action.
One way to begin is to do something for others. Just do a little bit. You don’t do too much at the beginning, because if you do a little you can maintain a pure attitude, and it is affordable. Anybody can do a little bit for somebody. None of us has an excuse to say, “I cannot do a little thing for someone.” So there is no excuse.
To do something big, however, is difficult for us. Not everybody can do big things for others. Only a few people can do that. We all can do little things. But we usually don’t do that either. We think we cannot do big things, so we don’t do anything! Then you hear people saying, “I’m nobody,” right? “Somebody really should do something to help, but I’m nobody, so I cannot do anything.” This is where the problem lies.
If we can do something to help others, we need to do it.
Here in Malaysia, if we can give 5 Ringgit, we give 5 Ringgit. If we have 5 NT (New Taiwan Dollars) then we give 5 NT. Five dollars. If you give five dollars to somebody, they can have a meal. But if you say, “I’m nobody, I cannot do anything,” then there’s one guy not getting a meal who needs a meal.
We can do so much. If we all give five dollars to someone on the street when we go out in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Seattle, wherever we are, just imagine! Our friend in Seattle is giving five dollars, our friend in Hong Kong is giving five dollars, and our friend in Beijing is giving five dollars. So many friends are giving five dollars to people who need a meal. Think of how many people will benefit! Just counting the people here in this room, if we all did that we could feed 130-140 people. So in the end, that’s actually a big act of kindness.
A little act of kindness can become a significant action to help others. And if we do this together, as a group, it can become even bigger. Then we share in our merit together.
So in this way, working with our mind should benefit others. It should help those who are in need. Sometimes we don’t even notice those who need our help, while instead we may be helping in some other area where it may not be needed nearly as much.
Wherever we are, we can offer our help.
In every city, there are extremely needy areas. In whatever country we are from, we know there are many children there who really need help. And no matter where we’re from, there are so many people in that place being abused, most commonly women. Where there is human trafficking, we can help. That is the real dharma, right?
If you really look at Buddha’s life, and the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, most of them are about him helping such beings. There are also stories of the Buddha helping the sangha, including monastics. But most of the time the stories are about him helping ordinary beings experiencing ordinary suffering –– beings who don’t typically receive much support, such as orphans.
You are probably aware of orphans who are living in slums. They aren’t living under a gold roof. We need to really extend our love, compassion, and some kind of benefit to them. We can do something small. If we do that along with taming our mind, or training our mind, it becomes the cause for awakening. If we don’t do such altruistic actions, then training our mind will be a cause for liberation, but may not be a cause for complete enlightenment, complete awakening.
We need to balance these two: taming and training your mind, and then bringing that training out into the world and translating it into action.
What if we made one person smile every day?
Maybe you can bring a smile to your partner’s face at least once a day.
If you can bring one smile to the world, you can help one person smile, then two people, then three. If each of these three people brings a smile to another three people, then just like that, in the end the whole world can have a smile. Then there is world peace. Peace is manifesting right there.
On the other hand, if you make one person angry, that person takes it out on another person. They get angry too, and so on until the whole world is angry. Isn’t that how it happens? You make your partner angry and he goes to work mad and yells at his staff. Then his whole staff gets upset. Then customers come and the staff is rude to them. The whole world is becoming unhappy. You can easily see the impact.
You may know this story about Hitler. As a young man, he wanted to be an artist––he was interested in visual art and painting. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and they rejected him. Then see what happened? So don’t reject people, OK? You don’t know what they may become. If not for that rejection, who knows? Maybe today everybody would be excited to buy Hitler’s art. But instead, now we are afraid even to say his name.
Loving-kindness practice is very simple when you put it into action. When you don’t do it, and want to keep talking about it, it gets complicated. Compassion and loving-kindness seem to be very complicated topics. But some things are to be practiced and not to be merely talked about.
Sometimes you’ll go to somebody’s house for dinner and before the food is served they describe it in great detail––how the food was prepared, the history of the dish, and so forth––while all you want at that moment is just to eat the food. But in the interest of being polite, you have to listen to the long explanation. Then when you finally eat the meal, it doesn’t taste anything like what your host talked about. It is already cold.
Compassion and loving-kindness become like that if you keep talking about them. Loving-kindness, compassion––you just have to dig in and taste it. Just do it.
I have an American friend who went to this Tibetan Buddhist center where they do a lot of prayers and pujas. When he visited, they asked him to join them for lunch, and he accepted. At lunch they started doing the meal chanting. There was such a lot of meal chanting. He said he sat there and sat there and sat there, and that when they finally ate, it was dinnertime! He was joking with me. But actually later some people from that lama’s center told him that they never have a hot meal.
When we’re working to develop compassion, it’s very important for us to do something kind every day.
We can make someone smile every day, for example. Show some kindness. When we start to help other beings with kindness and compassion little by little, it’s easier than we think. We tend to think it’s going to be very hard. We think, “I have no wisdom, no means, and no resources to help others.” But once you start doing it, you find out it’s not like that. We all tend to feel this sense of poverty mentality. No matter how much we have, we feel as though we are lacking something, whether wisdom, compassion, or resources. But it’s not like that at all. When you start doing it, it will come. Even if you don’t have it at the beginning, it will come.
My guru the 16th Karmapa said that if you practice, if you go ahead and take action, and if you do things according to dharma intention-wise, then favorable conditions and resources will come to you like rain. With a little experience, you see how these things happen. If you start with a pure intention to help, to benefit beings, then everything will come. So go kind. Go kind. Go kind and bring your intention into action.
In order to recognize or realize the nature of mind, in order to get awakened or enlightened, we need to accumulate both merit and wisdom. The accumulation of wisdom is engaging in practice to know our mind, knowing the nature of mind, all those things. Accumulation of merit means benefiting beings. That’s it! Benefiting beings in need. Buddha did not say, “Benefit Buddhists.” So you don’t have to go looking for Buddhists who need your help. Help anyone who is in need.
Start by trying not to harm sentient beings directly. In some countries for example, live food, such as live seafood, is considered a delicacy. So right there, eating a live being is very direct. I am not saying you have to give up eating seafood or meat or anything, but try not to harm any live beings directly.
Some people say, “Oh, you eat meat?” and I say, “Yeah, I eat meat.” “You are not Buddhist then?” And I say, “Yes, I am Buddhist.” So, it is like that. You don’t have to be perfect to be Buddhist. In fact, we cannot be perfect, otherwise we are not Buddhist.
Yes, if you are perfect you are not Buddhist. Why? Because if you’re perfect you are Buddha. Not Buddhist. When you are Buddhist, that means you aren’t perfect.
We cannot compare ourselves to Buddha. We should simply do our best not to directly cause harm.
Whatever actions we take in our life, we have to ask ourselves, “Does this directly cause harm to someone, or not?” This is especially true in regard to the emotional mind. Try to reduce that kind of harm.
So bring a smile to someone every day. That is a good practice. I’ve been thinking that the comedians, the professional comedians, have a pretty good job. They’re making everybody smile every day. It is a very good job, making people laugh. But some of them do tell very mean jokes. Racist jokes. So I guess those comedians are just Buddhists, not Buddha.
So please think about different ways that we can practice working with our mind. Try to notice your mind. At lunchtime. When you meditate. When you drink coffee. Try to notice your mind, and try to treat everyone you meet with kindness. Everyone.
I’ve noticed that most Buddhists are very kind in the shrine room and in front of the teacher. Outside, sometimes, I am not sure.
One time I called all my students in Boulder, Colorado. I went through the whole telephone list. I called everybody and pretended I was selling newspaper subscriptions to the Denver Post. Some of them yelled at me and hung up. And some said, “I am busy” and then hung up. Some said they were not interested. And some talked a lot. Some were very kind and tried to get rid of me kindly. Then each time I called them back again and said, “This is me.” It was a very good experience.
How we act with each other in front of a teacher in the shrine room, and how we act with each other in daily life, should be the same.
When I called back my students after they yelled at me, they said, “Oh my god, why are you doing this?!” I said, “You know why I am doing this.” I do some crazy things.
The compassion we are meditating on here today, the kindness we are talking about here and how polite we are with each other here––it should be the same outside this room. Start with that very small thing. We can make sure we relate to each other with kindness and politeness. When we are entering the shrine room we are not pushing each other, for example. Do the same thing with each other outside, with other people. Then you will be practicing meditation in action, kindness in action. So do what you can to support and help others. Do what you can to benefit beings.