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Just expanding on this answer is the Buddhist path one of 'selfless offering of oneself and efforts' or of 'inner kindness' i.e. kindness to oneself. Or is it both or neither. I've come across both themes and both seem right but to me they contradict.

Of course Buddhist is about many other things including outer kindness (to all beings) but right now I'm interested in these two aspects.

Many thanks as always

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The two contradict only to a "confused" (=normal) mind - in which "self" and "others" are two separate things. To the enlightened mind, what's good for one is good for the other, because they dependently-co-emerge.

Even in a regular worldly sense, if you think about it, it's impossible to 100% neglect one and only care about the other. If you attempted to completely stop taking care of yourself and only help others, you'd die - and how do you help then? If you attempted to only take care of yourself at the expense of the others you'd soon run into problems with society and the law, and with the nature at the bigger scale.

Sedaka Sutta SN 47.19:

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.

And how does one look after others by looking after oneself? By practicing, by developing, by doing a lot. And how does one look after oneself by looking after others? By patience, by non-harming, by loving kindness, by caring. (Thus) looking after oneself, one looks after others; and looking after others, one looks after oneself.

  • I'd like to complement this wonderful answer by hanging on the idea of the illusive nature of the bounderies between "selves" and beings. When helping yourself, in general*, you diminish the amount and intensity of suffering in the world; when you help others (without neglecting your progress on the Path), you also diminish the amount of net suffering in the world. When you help other with underlying wholesome intentions, you benefit others and contribute to your own growth in wisdom. *I say in general because you can't predict how will others react to your actions, even if done in good will. – Brian Díaz Flores Feb 14 at 3:49
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Case 14 of the Mumonkan Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: "If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat."

No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.

That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.

Nansen said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat."

Mumon's comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.

Had Joshu been there,
He would have enforced the edict oppositely.
Joshu snatches the sword
And Nansen begs for his life.

A friend of mine is a Catholic priest. Every Easter, I send him this koan. I don't think there's a better example of two religions expressing identical, deep and transcendental truth than when the story of Christ's crucifixion is juxtaposed with the theme of this koan.

This is a koan about sacrifice. It's about making an offering of oneself. The cat knows what's coming. He's in on the hit and he happily throws himself on the sword. Christ also knew that his time of reckoning had come. Though racked with doubt, he courageously goes to the cross to die.

We don't always offer ourselves bodily. While we must always be willing to die on the cushion, our mundane life offers us millions of way to perish everyday. If kindness is hard, that is your sacrifice. If sitting is hard, that is your sacrifice. If calling your mother is hard, that is your sacrifice. Everything hard is an offering. Everything that requires effort is the threat of the sword.

Practice means that we can't stay remain dumbstruck with silence. Practice means that we can't let thoughts of self preservation stand between us and the way. Practice means that we act the fool, put our sandals on our head, and let ourselves be cut in two. You are the cat. Trust what comes next.

Spark Notes version: Sitting ain't gonna kill you, dude. You're standing in your own way. Pitter patter let's get at 'er!

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'selfless offering of oneself and efforts' or 'inner kindness'

Let's put it this way:

When one want to offer selflessly, one needs to have the right resources and capabilities as pre-requisites.

One can cultivate resources and capabilities through various means, to the context of your question, "inner kindness", is definitely one of the MANY pre-requisites.

Then, within your scope of developed capabilities, such as Wisdom, Time, and any other resources, you offer to others appropriately.

So the two aspects do not inherently contradict to each other, and can be approached with tact and careful considerations.

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