How does one know when to help and when not to help others?

It seems without awareness of the results - bad, good, neutral for the one being helped and one who is helping, it is difficult to make choices.

For example, you may help someone in distress however you may also become the recipient of that distress.


1 Answer 1


I guess the most Buddhist answer is going to be, to the extent you are blinded by "kleshas" (mental/emotional hangups) you can't clearly see what is good for others -- nor even what is good for yourself. The fewer hangups you have, the better you can estimate the outcomes - all the way until Buddha's omniscience, which involves 0% obscurations and therefore 100% clarity. So working on your own mental and emotional hangups is the best way to ensure your actions will do more help than harm.

As was said in Sedaka Sutta:

And how does one help others by helping oneself?
-- By practicing Dharma, by developing it, by pursuing it.

Meanwhile, is there a rule of thumb we can apply to decide when to help and when not to help? Here is what I follow:

  • the kind of help that inspires other person to let go of obsessions, negativity, confusion, attachments, fixed ideas, overgeneralizations, preconceptions, one-sided views etc. - is useful even if it involves lots of effort and pain on my side;

  • but the kind of help that supports person's samsaric lifestyle - and helps them run on like a squirrel in the wheel - this kind of help has very little long-term effect IMHO, outside of reducing their immediate suffering. I still do it sometimes, out of compassion -- and in the hope that perhaps it will inspire recipient's faith in basic goodness -- but I don't allow it to use all of my energy / tip me out of balance - otherwise that would be what Chogyam Trungpa called "idiot compassion".

  • Thanks Andrei. I am interested in knowing about helping those in physical, mental and emotional distress. For example, someone may be physically abused and attempt to help the person may lead to undesirable outcomes for yourself e.g. placing yourself in danger.
    – Motivated
    Oct 23, 2015 at 6:48
  • Another example would be helping that results in someone being taken for granted or the lack of ownership and responsibility.
    – Motivated
    Oct 23, 2015 at 6:49
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    Your first example is like asking, "if someone is drowning, should I help?" -- If you are a good swimmer, you'll know how to handle the currents. If you are not a good swimmer, perhaps you should find someone else. So it's not a question of danger - it is a question of your skill.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 23, 2015 at 12:24
  • Your second example is like asking "I share a house with someone, and he does not do his share of keeping it clean, should I clean it all by myself?" -- I think you should confront them and have a talk. Perhaps they are indeed lazy, or perhaps you have different standards of "clean" - or perhaps they are busy fixing a giant leaking hole in the roof - while you worry about the debris on the carpet.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 23, 2015 at 12:36
  • Whenever there is a disconnect in the area of ownership and responsibilities - it is safe to assume the sides do not have the same view of the situation. The best way you can help is by facilitating discussion/negotiation with the goal of getting on the same page.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 23, 2015 at 13:26

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