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Excerpted from Voices from the Heart by Eddie and Debbie Shapiro (editors). Copyright © 1998 by Eddie and Debbie Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"The development of human society is based entirely on people helping each other."

H.H. The Dalai Lama, "Compassion and Universal Responsibility" from Voices from the Heart, Part 3

I believe that despite the rapid advances made by civilization in this century, the most immediate cause of our present dilemma is our undue emphasis on material development alone. We have become so engrossed in its pursuit that, without even knowing it, we have neglected to foster the most basic human needs of love, kindness, cooperation, and caring. But the development of human society is based entirely on people helping each other. Once we have lost the essential humanity that is our foundation, what is the point of pursuing only material improvement?

To me it is clear: a genuine sense of responsibility can result only we develop compassion. It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need to develop a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others. I believe that no one is born free from the need for love. And this demonstrates that, although some modern schools of thought seek to do so, human beings cannot be defined as solely physical. No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character he in the subjective nature of the mind.

However, it is also true that we all have an innate self-centeredness that inhibits our love for others. So, since we desire the true happiness that is brought about only by a calm mind and since such peace of mind is brought about only by a compassionate attitude, how can we develop this? Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to think about how nice compassion is! We need to make a concerted effort to develop it; we must use all the events of our daily lives to transform our thoughts and behavior.

First of all, we must be clear about what we mean by compassion. Many forms of compassionate feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively toward us. Of course, developing this kind of compassion is not at all easy.

Whether people are beautiful and friendly, or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like ourselves. Like us, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to our own. Now, when we recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, we automatically feel empathy for and closeness to them. Through accustoming our minds to this sense of universal altruism, we develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as we do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter our concern for them if they behave negatively.

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