In a previous post, I discussed the importance of coupling wisdom with compassion as a means of ensuring that our wisdom does not degenerate into mere “ego-knowledge”. This merging of wisdom and compassion was likened to two wings of a bird; we need both to soar high above the ego-mind which keeps us bound in states of suffering, both manifest and subtle. This current post focuses on coupling compassion with wisdom as a means of ensuring that we do not confuse acts of compassion with the ego’s desire for sense pleasure; namely, the pleasure derived from hearing someone say “thank you” or any other self-gratifying expectation we may hold in regards to acts of kindness.
Ego-desire can easily masquerade as compassion. This occurs any time we set out to help another person and, when the desired reaction to our kindness does not manifest, we become disappointed, hurt or upset. We may seek to help another person and we may even put forth lots of time, effort and energy to achieve a specific change, only to have the other person reap the benefit without the slightest indication of thankfulness or gratitude. Commonly, we become upset as a result of this thanklessness, perceived or actual. Sometimes, we even vow that we will never again offer our help and kindness to that person. “The nerve of that guy!…So ungrateful!”, we say with frustration. Granted, it is unfortunate that some people do not or cannot express gratitude when offered help, in whatever form it may be. But should we not simply act out of kindness for kindness’ sake, instead of placing the burden of satisfying our ego’s desire for accolades onto others? If we do this, we’ve missed the point of loving-kindness and compassion altogether.
Such disdain towards others’ lack of thankfulness clearly indicates that we were not acting through a pure intention; to simply be kind and compassionate, allowing the act, itself, to uplift our heart. We should strive to remember that compassion isn’t practiced as a means of changing others’ minds or actions; it is practiced relieve the suffering of others and to transform our own mind and actions towards greater peace and wisdom. We can ultimately control no other mind but our own. This reminder can often seem counter-intuitive, however. Of course, we’d much rather travel through life being known for our good deeds and being thought of highly by others. But to what end? Will that make us any more “good” than we truly are? Or will it only cause us to act out of recognition, even subconsciously? These are questions worth asking if we are to arrive at a deeper understanding of what compassion actually is. These questions can help us define our intentions to a higher degree and help us avoid the pitfalls of ego-desire masquerading as compassion.
Any time we give with expectation attached, we are not practicing compassion; we are, instead, engaging in a transaction. The other person receives our help and we, in turn, receive compliments, a good reputation in the community, etc. This is not to say that if those things arise out of the situation that we should not enjoy them. Those are great things to be enjoyed and celebrated. Those things arising from such situations can inspire us to continue on our path of peace and may well inspire others on their path. But these “kick-backs” should not be our motivation for helping others. I stress this point so much because when the “transaction” fails and we do not receive our expected pay-off, we may have a tendency to allow that situation to decrease our circle of love. Such things cause us to become selective in who is “worthy” of our help and once we’ve become selective, we are no longer on the path of peace. We have, at that moment, stepped onto a path of deception; a path which can often seem quite spiritual and lofty but, in reality, only serves the ego.
We sometimes engage in acts of kindness without realizing that we hold these expectations. It’s very easy to do. It’s only until the other person fails to complete the transaction that we are able to see what our true intention was for offering our help. Cultivating wisdom will help ensure that we are able to practice compassion without the pitfalls of expectation. Expectation inevitably leads to suffering while true compassion leads to a lighter heart and a more open and clear mind.
Any time we endeavor to offer our help to another, in whatever form that may be, whether materially, emotionally or spiritually, we should ask our selves, “What is my true intention for helping this person?”; and we should be completely honest with our selves as to the answer. Masking the truth to this vital question or attempting to convince our selves that we’re acting from a pure intention when, in fact, we’re not will completely negate the entire process of self-discovery and investigation of one’s own mind. Wisdom cannot arise from dishonesty. So, we must be completely honest with our selves. If we find that we are, in fact, holding onto expectations, this does not mean that we should not offer our help. It only means that we should strive to create a more pure intention for doing so. This is wisdom because it helps ensure that we always give straight from the heart and that our circle of love only increases and will not be diminished when others do not show thanks in return. This wisdom practice will help ensure that we do not become selective towards life. This practice also helps the other person in ways we may not have considered before. For instance, the other person receives help with no pressure or feelings of obligation. We, our selves, offer help with no expectation, thereby ensuring that we will not suffer in our minds if thanks or gratitude isn’t expressed. We will also not fall into the trap of expecting the other person to help us at some later date. Our help should not be offered as insurance of help offered us later.
These are difficult points to practice, for sure. Make no mistake, this type of mindfulness functions to directly destroy the ego and the ego is very powerful. Any progress towards purification of the mind flies directly in the face of the ego and ego will react to that progress with great force to ensure that it is in no way diminished or uprooted. The ego has been at play and in control of our mind for far longer than we having been practicing mental purification. As such, it is very powerful and cunning. What is this ego? It is the very thing which causes us to forget why we should offer help to others. It is the one who always needs to be right, even when logic clearly indicates that we are not. It’s the one who restricts our highest love to only certain people and who causes us to miss out on the bounty life offers in all living beings. It’s the one who gets caught up in trivial dilemmas with others and allows us to waste vast amounts of time on petty arguments and squabbles when, all the while, the clock is ticking and death approaches.
Each time we successfully question our intention for doing anything and, having discovered a less-than-pure intention, we correct our intention, we will have successfully chipped away a tiny piece of ego from the mind. Slowly, practicing patiently like this over time, we can eventually uproot ego from the mind altogether. During this process of utilizing wisdom to question our intentions, we are granted the wonderful opportunity to truly understand the inner workings of our mind and, thereby, we more clearly understand all minds, which naturally increases our compassionate nature. Be wise. Be compassionate. Be patient. Dis-cover the mind.
With Metta, Craig