5 Thoughts on Helping Others
If you are reading this article, it’s likely you earn your livelihood by helping others. And even if you are not formally doing this as a profession, it’s likely you are often called upon to give aid and advice to family, friends, co-workers and/or loved ones. It is our nature to want to help others, especially those who are suffering.
As I’ve written before, your entire mission as a majestic spiritual being, temporarily incarnated here on earth, is to tap into your innermost self and radiate your wisdom, love and energy to the universe. Your ability to help those in need is related, in large part, to how well connected you are to your innermost self.
The late Indian sage, Nisargadatta Maharaj, based his entire philosophy of helping others around his teaching that, “knowing who you truly are” is the single most important thing you can do to help anyone and consequently the world.
Here are a few of his thoughts on help, taken from his classic book, I Am That, along with both my headings and comments:
1) Help so that someone no longer needs your help.
“The only help worth giving is freeing from the need for further help. Repeated help is no help at all. Do not talk of helping another, unless you can put him beyond all need of help.”
This is akin to the proverb, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching someone a skill puts that person beyond the need for further help.
2) Help by setting a good example.
“You can help another by your precept and example and, above all, by your being. You cannot give what you do not have.”
The best teacher is someone who leads by example. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” However, if you do not already embody the help you wish to offer, it might be wise to hold off on the helping, since you would not actually be in a position to help, and focus your attention, instead, on the “becoming.” That is, “becoming” the person who is in position to help.
3) Do not attempt to help when you are emotionally attached to the outcome.
“If you really want to help a person, keep away. If you are emotionally committed to helping, you will fail to help.”
Your emotional commitment to “helping” sends out an energy that will attract people to you who will satisfy your craving – that is, they’ll need help! The problem is, this may merely set up a codependent relationship, one that inordinately pulls at you, confounds you and drains you, with typically little to show in the way of positive change on the part of the one being “helped.”
Your most effective advice comes when you have a detached interest in the outcome. Some will mistake this detachment for “not caring”; but when your intention is pure, it is the highest form of help you can offer. Please note: sending love, even from afar, can always be used to help others in need.
4) Help in those areas where you already have what they need.
“Ceasing to do evil precedes beginning to do good. Of course, if you have a chance to help somebody, by all means do it and promptly too; don’t keep him waiting ’til you are perfect.”
As a long-term mystic once counseled me, “We are all students on the path. Some who are farther along the path may be called upon to help you; others, who have not traveled as far, may look to you for help.” Consequently, offer aid to those who ask in those areas where you already have what they need.
5) The most important help you can offer comes from knowing who you are.
“There is nothing that can help the world more than your putting an end to ignorance. Then you need not do anything in particular to help the world. Your very being is a help, action or no action.”
“First be free of suffering yourself and then only hope of helping others. Your very existence will be the greatest help a man can give to his fellow man.”
“There are people in the world who do more good than all the statesmen and philanthropists put together. They radiate light and peace with no intention or knowledge.”
In the above quotations, the ignorance Nisargadatta refers to is the ignorance of who you truly are … and suffering is the result of this ignorance. When you know and embody the truth of who you really are, you are in a position to do the most good possible for yourself, others and the world.
It goes without saying, but a final adage is: “Don’t offer unsolicited help.” This tendency is usually tied to having an emotional attachment to the outcome. A word of caution: it can backfire miserably, even when someone does ask for it.
A final Nisargadatta quotation, which sums up his philosophy and which points to the state that we all seek to embody: “If you want to help the world, you must be beyond the need of help. Then, all your doing, as well as not doing, will help the world most effectively.”
We all seek to be self-realized, to know who we truly are. This is our most important “mission on earth” and represents the ultimate gift we can offer to the world.