So many people and animals are suffering every day. There are many ways to help them, but it depends on recognizing their situation and understanding the best way to help. Being compassionate and skillful is not enough – we also need to be generous with our time, and have self-discipline, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Here are eleven ways to help others. They not only bring benefit to those in need, but they also help us break out of our shell of loneliness and make our lives meaningful:
1. Care for Those Who Are Suffering
We need to take care of those who are sick, disabled or in pain. If we see someone struggling with a heavy load or difficult task, we step in and share their burden.
2. Guide Those Who Are Muddled about How to Help Themselves
For those who are confused about what to do in difficult situations, we offer advice if they ask for it, or at least a listening ear. If our dog or cat is stuck in a room, we open the door to let it out. We even apply this guideline when a fly is flitting around on the window. That fly doesn't want to be in our room; it wants out and so we open the window to let it escape.
3. Repay the Kindness of Those Who’ve Helped Us
It’s important to appreciate all the work of others that makes the world run, and try to help those – like our parents – who’ve done so much for us. This should be done with sincere gratitude, not just out of a feeling of guilt or obligation.
4. Comfort and Protect Those Filled with Fear
We should try our best to comfort people and animals who are scared. If someone needs to go somewhere dangerous where they might get hurt, we offer to accompany and protect them. For refugees who have escaped violent pasts, we give them safety and help to get settled. Those who have been traumatized by war or some form of abuse especially need our understanding and help to heal their emotional wounds.
5. Console Those Overcome with Grief
When people are grieving over a divorce or the death of a loved one, we try to console them in a compassionate manner. We should never patronize them, thinking, “Oh you poor thing,” but put ourselves in their shoes and share their pain.
6. Give Material Aid to Those Who Are Poor
It’s good to give donations to charity, but also important to give to beggars we see on the streets. We need to overcome any reticence we might have, especially if homeless beggars appear to be dirty and unattractive, and we don’t even want to look at them, yet alone smile and treat them with respect. Imagine if that person living on the street was our mother or our son: how can we just cold-heartedly pass them by as if they were some piece of smelly trash?
7. Introduce the Dharma to Those Who Are Attached to Us
We also need to work to help those who like to be around us all the time. We don’t want them to become dependent, but if they have a very strong connection with us, we can try to help them by teaching them the basic Buddhist methods for achieving happiness and helping others, but only if they show interest. It’s not about converting people, but about providing general help and advice. In this way, we can make the relationship meaningful.
8. Help Others in Accordance with Their Wishes
We should try and help others in a way that is suitable to them. If someone asks us to teach them something, even if it’s not our favorite thing to do, if it’s appropriate for them and we can do so, we should try our best. It’s like if we go out to a restaurant with friends, it’s inconsiderate and selfish to always insist to go and have the kind of food we like. We can also go along with what others like sometimes. Like in a relationship, we need to compromise between what we want and what the other person wants. It doesn’t always have to be about us and what we like.
9. Encourage Those Who Lead Upright Lives
We can help by praising those who lead upright lives – people following a positive path and doing a good job – while being careful not to make them arrogant. This is especially relevant when dealing with those having low self-esteem. In the case of those with good qualities who are already arrogant, we may praise them to others, but not to their face. We still encourage them to use their abilities to benefit others, but also help them lessen their pride by pointing out to them any mistakes they may make.
10. Teach Constructive Behavior to Those Who Lead Destructive Lives
If we encounter people leading very destructive, negative lives, we should never just dismiss, reject or condemn them. Instead of judging people, we should try to show ways to overcome negative behavior if they’re open to change.
11. Use Any Extraordinary Abilities, When All Else Fails
Some of us have abilities beyond the ordinary. We might be a martial arts expert, but don’t show off to others. Still, if we saw someone being attacked, we should use our abilities to subdue the attacker, if there’s no other way to stop them.
There are so many ways to benefit others. The skill is to know not only how to help and whom to help with what, but also when to offer such help and when to stand back so that others can learn to help themselves. Those who are clearly suffering, whether physically or mentally, need our immediate care. But help must be applied in just the right measure – not too much and not too little. We need to help the misfortunate get back on their feet, but perhaps the best long-term help is to provide the conditions and tools for others to be able to walk on and take care of themselves.