Compassion Has The Best Future

Big sister comforts and embraces her little brother to alleviate fears and anxieties

Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

If you do not have compassion in your heart, the self-centered mind will be there. Discriminating thoughts of anger, attachment and so forth will arise. Either directly or indirectly, because of your ego and disturbing thoughts, numberless sentient beings will receive harm from you. You should reflect like this:

Even if all human beings, even if all sentient beings, get angry with me and even kill me, I am just one person. Even if I am reborn in the hell realm where there is the heaviest suffering, because I am only one person, there is nothing much to be frightened or sad about. Or even if I achieve the everlasting ultimate happiness that is free forever from saṃsāra, it is just one person having that experience; hence again, there is not that much cause for excitement. However, if I, as one person, do not change my egotistic self-centered mind in order to generate the precious quality of compassion, there is the danger that countless other beings will receive harm from me, from life to life.

Following this reasoning, while reflecting, you can see that it is extremely urgent to generate compassion and develop the good heart.[1] Compared to having a heart attack or cancer or some sickness requiring emergency treatment, it is a billion times more urgent. Instead of seeking just one person’s happiness (perhaps not even for future lives but just this one), we can see how urgent it is to practice the good heart toward other sentient beings right now.[2] We cannot wait. We cannot delay. Even one minute. Even one second. We have to immediately transform our mind into compassion concerned with the happiness of all the numberless sentient beings, not just now, but all the way up to full enlightenment.


Let’s take a simple example of why the good heart is a source of comfort from which comes the main peace and happiness of day-to-day life. Having compassion saves lots of money! The ego that exists and which accompanies the ignorance that is the root of saṃsāra causes attachment to arise. This ego wants so many things for himself or herself.[3] I don’t know if the ego is male or female. But it wants so much. So many things. Also, due to the attachment clinging to this life, when the many things that the ego requires are not forthcoming, we generate anger. Certainly this is the case when there are disturbances such as other people interfering with what our ego and attachment want and expect. When our expectations of others helping us and acting and doing things for us are not met, we become agitated. Jealousy can also arise. Furthermore, Western medical researchers have found that impatient people are more prone to heart attacks.

Impatience comes from anger. The more egotistical we are, the greater are our expectations and the likelihood of our getting angry. In this way, disturbing thoughts do more than disrupt our mental continuum—they actually harm our body and may even kill us. A strong self-centered mind causes strong attachment. Strong attachment requires many things and thus we accumulate more stress. More stress brings worry and concerns which, in turn, can make us more prone to illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Additionally, we create much negative karma. In short, an unhealthy mind results in an unhealthy body, which makes life very expensive. Perhaps the only positive side of all this is that the doctors make more money!

A further expense of anger is the billions and billions of dollars spent on weapons to destroy enemies. In this way we can see that anger can not only kill others but also one’s own people.


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Expressing anger has the effect of making others angry. Then their anger, in turn, makes us angry. The situation is circular. Our anger makes others unhappy, so they get angry and then their anger comes back on us.

Fortunately, approaching the situation with compassion and loving kindness also has a circular effect. When we care for others with an affectionate good heart, they become happy and compassionate in turn. Even if, without the expectation of anything in return, we are kind and generous to others, they nonetheless become kind and generous to us. How others treat us depends on how we treat them. Just by considering today’s experiences, we can see how looking at people with loving kindness and compassion produces positive effects and how looking at them with anger and self-centeredness produces negative ones. When we are angry, others don’t get a positive feeling from us. The self-centered mind seeks only its own happiness. But when we look at others with loving kindness and compassionate thoughts even the way we use your eyes is affected, as are the way we speak and act. We convey a pleasant manner and engender peaceful, positive feelings—we can say we give off a positive vibe. Others become happy, comfortable and trusting. How they speak and relate to us both physically and mentally depends on how they feel toward us, which, in turn, depends upon our attitude toward them, together with how we actually treat them. This is the case in that moment, in that hour, in that minute. It is a dependent arising.

The way in which others treat us is also the outcome of a long-term evolution involving past karma. If we have abused others in the past and that karma has not yet been purified, then it may ripen today, which explains why that person is abusing us at this particular time, in this hour, in this minute. We haven’t met this person before (in this lifetime), but by virtue of simply meeting they are immediately angry, not at all happy with us. Or as soon as they see us they shoot us. Even if there is no story of how we harmed this particular person in this lifetime, the person suddenly attacks us. The explanation is that we did some similar harm to that sentient being in past lifetimes.[4] Therefore, in terms of how others treat us, there are both immediate and long-term causes. With regard to the immediate, it is dependent upon how we treat others in the present. In the long-term, we are dealing with original causes arising from how we treated them in the past.

By practicing compassion in our daily life we respect and behave positively toward others. Anger and feelings of dislike are overcome. We also don’t create again the same negative karma of harming them. Thus we do not create the karma to be abused, criticized, cheated, slandered or even killed by others; we also do not create the karma for disharmony. In this way we break the cycle of creating such karma again and again. Compassion therefore becomes a great protection in our life, for both self and others. With compassion, we do not create the causes for others to create negative karma by harming us, negative karma that may lead that person to the three lower realms, the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Because we only benefit and do good things for others, in the future we receive help from others and they are kind to us—because of our present compassion. Compassion always has the best future.



[1] See Āryaśūra and the Dalai Lama, Āryaśūra’s Aspiration and a Meditation on Compassion (Dharamsala: LTWA, 1981), 124–25 for a similar reflection also based on the exchanging self and others method of generating bodhicitta.

[2] “Persons” (gang zag, pudgala/puruṣa), as Tsongkhapa indicates, “are the persons of the six types—gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings—as well as persons who are common beings and Superiors, and so forth.” See Hopkins, Final Exposition, 63. Such broad inclusivity, pushing as it does beyond the boundaries of the human, exceeds the scope of classical European moral philosophy.

[3] Here, Lama Zopa Rinpoche is employing “ego” in its familiar form as part of everyday parlance: “Drop the ego Phillip and help your brother!” Referring to garden-variety selfishness or self-cherishing, it is not to be confused with the fundamental misconception or wrong view of a self (bdag lta) though, as Rinpoche is explaining, it is not unrelated. However, the terminological situation is complicated by the fact that some contemporary scholars such as José Ignacio Cabezón translate bdag lta as egotistic views, which he explicitly relates to ego grasping (bdag tu ’dzin pa) and thus self-grasping. See A Dose of Emptiness (Albany: SUNY, 1992), 529, glossary. We must appreciate that he is using ego (as in ego grasping) in a particularly refined sense, one no longer pertaining to popular usage as employed by Philip’s admonishing mother. On the other hand, bdag tu ’dzin pa is translated by Hopkins (and others) as “conception of self (ātmagrāha),” the formality of which is intended to convey us well away from this ordinary notion of ego as selfishness. See Meditation, 738. If we understand ego-grasping to be equivalent to self-grasping in this technical sense, we are successfully led back to the innate apprehension of an inherently-existent self that is only to be remedied by the wisdom realizing emptiness. It is not to be solved by merely learning to share with one’s brother! Only wisdom, not generosity, will counter it.

[4] For each of the ten nonvirtuous acts (mi dge ba bcu, daśākuśala)—killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slander, abuse, idle gossip, craving, ill-will and wrong view—there are three main karmic outcomes: the immediate and main fruitional (ripening) result, the result similar to its cause (of which there are two divisions) and the environmental result. See Dhargyey, Tibetan Tradition, 68–99, for a succinct account of karma. Here, Lama Zopa Rinpoche is specifically discussing part two of the second, the result similar to its cause. In the case of killing, for example, the main result is rebirth in one of the three lower realms; the results similar to the cause are having the tendency to kill and having the propensity to be killed, to suffer life-threatening circumstances and to die young; the third, the environmental result, is to be born in an environment where medicine is not effective, food is not plentiful or sustaining and so forth. For an extensive account of karma and its complexities see Sopa, Steps, Volume 2. For specific detail on the result similar to the cause in relation to killing, see ibid., 97.


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