Do I have to put others before myself?

Buddhist teachings say that I should put others before myself. But they also say I should have compassion for myself. How do I do both?

Lion’s Roar
8 March 2017
Illustration by Nolan Pelletier.

Most religions teach that we have a choice between being selfish (bad) and being selfless (good). Surprisingly, Buddhism doesn’t do that. The Buddhist principle is the “two benefits”—what’s truly good for me is also good for you, and vice versa. You can see this in your own life. When you have love and kindness toward yourself, it is easy to be compassionate and kind toward others. And when you are loving to others, your own life is joyful and happy. This is the case for all positive emotions, thoughts, and acts. They always have two benefits—for others and for yourself.

The reverse is also true. The selfishness we normally identify as negative is always the result of greed, anger, or ignorance. Anything driven by these three poisons harms ourselves as much as others. In the end, there’s no contradiction between your best interests and those of others. Pursue the enlightened self-interest of love, compassion, and gentleness, and both you and everyone around you will benefit. It’s the great win-win.

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar is the website of Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly the Shambhala Sun) and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, with exclusive Buddhist news, teachings, art, and commentary. Sign up for the Lion’s Roar weekly newsletter and follow Lion’s Roar on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.