When we are striving toward enlightenment, we cultivate the six far-reaching attitudes so as to bring to maturity all the good qualities we’ll need as a Buddha for helping all others. But to help all others bring to maturity their own good qualities as well, we first need to gather them under our positive influence. Buddha taught how to accomplish this effectively in four steps:
1. Being Generous
Where we can, we need to be generous with others. When someone comes to visit us, we offer them refreshments; if we go out for a meal, we might want to treat them and pay for them too. Being generous doesn't necessarily mean just giving something material to someone. Really important is being generous with our time. Being willing to learn about someone, to listen to their problems with genuine interest and concern, and to take their lives seriously is a great gift that we should never underestimate. It makes people feel accepted and relaxed, and as a result, they’ll be happy and feel comfortable with us. This is the first step to being open to our positive influence.
2. Speaking in a Pleasing Manner
To make people even more open to us, we need to speak in a kind and pleasant manner with them. This means in ways that they’ll understand, using the type of language they can relate to, and speaking in terms of their interests. Basically, we need to make others comfortable with us. We ask after their health and show interest in what’s happening in their lives. If someone is interested in football, we don’t just say, “That’s stupid, what a waste of time!” This is an important point, because if we say that, they’re not going to be receptive to us. They’ll just feel that we’re looking down on them. There’s no need to go into great detail about who won the game today, but we can talk about it a bit so they feel accepted. If we aspire to be of help to others, it’s important to take an interest in everybody and in what they’re interested in. If we don’t do this, how can we relate to others at all?
Once someone is open and feels accepted by us, our pleasant way of speaking can turn to more meaningful matters. At appropriate times, in appropriate circumstances, we can speak about aspects of the Buddhist teachings that are relevant and would be helpful for the person. We need to be sure to indicate some of the benefits they’ll derive from so doing.
Our tone of voice is very crucial when giving advice. We need to avoid sounding pushy, condescending or patronizing. This is what speaking pleasantly implies. We need to speak in a manner that the other person will find easy to accept, without feeling threatened or bombarded with unwanted advice. This requires great sensitivity and skill, to know the right moment and right way to offer advice. If we’re overly intense and always insist on deep and meaningful conversation, people will find us tedious to be with and will not be receptive to what we might say. That’s why we sometimes need to use humor to lighten the tone of the conversation, especially if the person starts to get defensive when we offer advice.
As a result of our speaking kindly in a pleasant, yet meaningful manner when explaining some teaching to someone, they become interested in achieving the aims of what we’ve advised. This is because they will be clear and confident in what the advice is and, by realizing its benefits, they will value it.
3. Moving Others to Reach Their Aims
We don't leave any advice we offer at the level of just Buddhist theory; we need to explain explicitly how to apply the teaching to the other person’s individual situation. In this way, we move others to put our advice into practice so that they can achieve the aims of the teaching. Only when they know how to apply a teaching – what exactly to do, step by step – do they become enthusiastic to try it out.
In moving others to apply the teachings in their life, we try to provide the circumstances that will make it easier for them. This means making things simple at first, especially for people with no experience with Buddhism. Only gradually do we lead them to the more complicated, advanced techniques. As a result, they gain the self-confidence to persist and go further with the methods. They won’t become discouraged by trying to apply some teaching that is way beyond their present level.
4. Being Consistent with These Aims
One of the most discouraging things is for someone we advise to see us as a hypocrite. To help prevent them from turning away from the teachings, we need to set a good example by acting in accordance with what we’ve advised. If we teach someone the Buddhist methods for overcoming anger, for instance, but then make an ugly scene when we’re with them at a restaurant and our meal takes a half hour to come, what will they think of the Buddhist teachings on anger-management? They’ll think the methods are ineffective and give up. And they certainly will stop taking any further advice we might give. That’s why the way we behave must be consistent with what we teach. Only on that basis will others trust what we say.
Now of course, we’re not yet Buddhas and so there’s no way we can be a perfect model for anyone. Still, we try our best. Not being a hypocrite doesn't mean just putting on a show of following the teachings when we’re with someone we’re trying to help, but then acting disgracefully when we’re alone or with our family. Acting consistently with the aims of the Dharma needs to be full-time and sincere.
The four steps for gathering and helping others gain maturity through the Buddhist teachings are relevant not only in our personal relationships, but also on a larger scale for making the Dharma available in the world.
- Being generous – make the teachings free of charge
- Speaking in a pleasing manner – make the teachings accessible in easy to understand language and through a wide range of media: books, websites, podcasts, videos, social media, and so on
- Moving others to reach their aims – indicating clearly how to study and internalize the material step by step and how to apply the teachings in daily life
- Being consistent with these aims – exemplify the Buddhist principles in the way in which you lead your life and, in the case of a Dharma organization, in the way in which the organization is run.
These four steps, supported by a sincere altruistic motivation, if not a full bodhichitta aim to reach enlightenment, are the best ways for making others receptive to our positive influence.