Post-christian compassion, selfishness and nihilism

At school, we are covering the topic of volunteer work, and the question came up if not people that do volunteer work because it makes them feel good, are really just selfish and not good people after all? Or, if the care they express is a sort of overly sacrificing attitude, ending up that the compassionate people are judged as self-neglecting or even self-harming, obviously making the whole game unappealing to the general public eyes.

I feel come across this view quite regularly, especially among the younger generation, and it used to trouble me a lot and still do some times. It comes with a nihilistic and very individualistic flavor, which in turn means lack of joy and meaning in life. Basically, we are stuck in a paradox of either I am being selfish - helping others to help myself (which feels shit)- , or there I have hatred and neglect towards myself so my way of finding value is by taking care of others. Compassion does not exist, and all is selfishness.

I think in the west, this view might be due to skew view inherited from Christian culture. We have some kind of idea that compassion means sacrifice, and sacrifice means pain for the one doing the sacrifice. As I see it though, spiritual sacrifice brings benefit to both parties, though it might seem like one part is not getting much out of it. Here by “benefit” I mean not material gain, but insight and liberation and merit growing from compassionate motives and acts. It does not mean self-neglect or self-harm. For example I don’t believe that Jesus hated himself, though he did the most famous sacrifice in our history. Moreover, I would not categorize it as selfish since there is spiritual gain, such acts I think are really done for others.

As I see it, harmful intentions toward others affect our own system, harmful intentions towards ourselves does exactly the same thing. Because, both arise in due to ignorance, thinking of separate self and others, we have not understood emptiness. So to practice dharma while having a negative view of oneself might be challening (shame, guilt, self-harm etc…). Just thinking of oneself is of course also a mistake. My view these days, is that the compassion we have for others, and the compassion we have for ourselves is really one and the same thingy, the same ocean so to speak, including all and everyone, also myself.
So to conclude. I think that feeling good about helping others is not bad or selfish, especially from point of view of spirituality if it is done genuinely. I think it is a perfect win-win.

All this being said, I am also a noob on this topic, I am not a parent or have been in the army or have done many sacrifices I am aware, so I cannot say much as I like about this, feel free to pitch in if you have something :blush:

You would have to back up your “same ocean” hypothesis in an academic setting. Maybe you can find a post-modern philosopher to cite, I don’t know the field unfortunately but it must be accepted can’t imagine it’s not.

I can make it plain to see real quick though. Just the sheer fact that you the reader are reading my writing right now, an egg of my mind, implies that experience is shared without borders. I can use my pen to affect your thoughts or emotions with some precision, even though we are separated in time and space. Think about it, that’s my mind blending with yours. One example but one could make a million. That we are one - is - just - the - case - and the consequence of it is merely discursive, because it was always the case regardless what we thought.

In psychology they say we can only perceive qualities in others that we ourselves possess. When we hate others what we are in fact hating is those sides of ourselves. The “other” is a mirror who gets the blame, albeit a mirror that also perceives and acts according to their take on things. We are like the hydra, biting our own heads and limbs off. Another example.

Hope this gives you something. I think if you can lay forth “same ocean” principle convincingly you have this discussion in a bag.

See your point, and the point about psychology resonates. Also l think it says something about how karma works, meaning our mind design in a sense what people and places we are drawn to, because this is the only toolbox we have.

My point about nihilism though: l think the cultural mind is very drawn that way, especially the younger people. And l also see it with older people how they often don’t resonates with the same “vibe” so to speak. I wonder where we are heading with all our technology and globalisme, what sort of collective mind we are creating.
Also in dharma how mentality in east and west differ a lot, making the styles of practice different to time and places.

Yes agreed, fear dominates. People get lots of short sighted rewards by relying on and exploiting fear because it’s a common denominator amongst everyone and how things are run. Misery likes company, and if one has not been informed about our indestructible nature it makes sense to follow the path of fear because going against it is going against everything more or less, why would anyone do that? Lots of smart but uninformed people choose this path and set examples for everyone else.

Openness and unconditional love on the other hand is a much more difficult and painstaking path. It entails subtlety that often goes unnoticed with no immediate reward. It comes later and since people are convinced that they are at stake with everything to win and lose (when actually the opposite is true) ain’t nobody got time for that. We want power, thrills, excitement and above all else individual social status and security, so we prioritize without regard for the bigger picture.

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