Why Go Kind? Demystifying Kindness


At the end of a retreat in Malaysia, 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.

Extending Kindness: An Exercise

Practicing altruism is essential part of our journey. Whoever and wherever we are, we can extend our kindness to others.

1. Think of a person or a group of people who need your help. Remember their name if you can, or the name of the place where they are right now.

2. Decide on one thing you can do to give your help and kindness to them. It doesn’t matter so much whether it is a large or small act of altruism. Write down what you intend to do.

3. Think about why you want to do this act of kindness. How will it help make someone happier? Write down why you want to do this.

4. When and how will you do this act of kindness? Decide on a day and time. Record it in your calendar, or set yourself a reminder.

5. When you have done this act of kindness, find time to sit quietly for a moment and check in with yourself. How did you feel while doing it? How do you feel now? What else did you notice?

Would you like to do this again?