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Buddhists/Buddhism - helping others vs helping oneself


Thank you very much for helping me understand Buddhism. I was just reading a book on Dhammapada, and I came across this stanza:

"Let one not neglect one's own welfare, for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one's own welfare, let one be intent upon the good"

So, if I am not mistaken, Buddhism says that by helping oneself, you help others (by not being a liability to anyone). At the same time, Buddhism also mentions that one must also be every willing to help others.

My question is, how does one decide in a particular situation, whether to help oneself or to help another?

For instance, let's take a hypothetical scenario where a kind relative wants to get a loan from a bank and asks me to give my name as a borrower together with her name. Let's say she would give the security. Unfortunately, you feel, she will be unable to pay back the loan because that relative is not very wealthy and the reasons for getting the loan are for indulgences which are not entirely necessary (for example, buying a car when she already has one). In a situation such as this, do you help her get this loan by agreeing to include your name as a borrower and run the risk of becoming a defaulter? Or should you decline to help yourself?

Also, if you feel very uneasy about signing the loan papers together with this kind relative, but your much respected parent tells you to do it, what does one do in a situation such as this? Respect your parents, help your relative and sign the loan papers? Or decline to help yourself?

Thank you once again and may the triple gem bless you.

Giving My Best.

Dear L,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.

As for your question:

"My question is, how does one decide in a particular situation, whether to help oneself or to help another?"

In this question, people often make the assumption that there is a solution that solves all cases and makes all parties happy. However, this is not always the case. There are many cases in which all parties cannot come out happy and satisfied. This is the nature of our world. All things being fallible and broken, not everyone can be satisfied.

We help or teach ourselves, because that is actually all we can do. We can't force anyone to do anything. We can't force change on people. All we can do is change and improve ourselves. This is why we focus on helping oneself. In the meantime, as we improve and change ourselves, it is quite possible that this will help the people around us. We can call this collateral benefit.

As for your hypothetical example, this is one of those examples that fall into the category of not everyone can be happy. If you help, and they default, you get in trouble and they get what they want. If you don't help, you are free from financial troubles, but get blamed. In this case, you must do damage and risk analysis. In which situation would the fallout be worse? What are the possible dangers and risks faced in each issue? Don't just look at the present situation, look to past examples to serve as behavior indicators, look to the future to try to foresee possible dangers. Then make the decision that causes the least amount of suffering for you and for others. This is the best you can do.

However, in future situations, I would find ways to NOT put myself into this type of situation. There are things that we did that placed us in this situation. We can take steps to change our speech and behavior to avoid this type of situation in the future thus avoiding this situation entirely.

I hope I have answered your questions.


Phra Anandapanyo


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Anandapanyo Bhikkhu


I can answer questions about Buddhist practice, Buddhist understanding and how to apply Buddhism to daily life. I can help analyze Buddhist sayings and teachings. In addition, I can help with questions Buddhism stories, fables and Vinaya(rules). I have meditated for over 10 years and can help you start with meditation. In addition, I can help provide insight into what to do when you feel that you have hit a wall with your meditation. My main area of expertise is how to think in accordance with Sammaditthi (the right view - and number 1 in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. If I cannot answer your question, I have many able teachers with over 20 years experience to help me, so chances are I will be able to find an answer for you.


I have been practicing Buddhism since I was born, but as a serious practice since 2003. I started studying under various famous Thai Theravada masters. Finally, I met and studied under Phra Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo who has recently passed away on Nov 11, 2008 and is widely accepted as a great Arahant (fully enlightened) teacher of our time. In addition, I have personally read and studied much of the Buddhist scriptures and popular literature available. I have recently undertaken the ordination vows and have become a Buddhist monk in the theravada forest monk tradition. I reside at a temple with many dedicated practitioners and great teachers. I have been practicing training my mind to be aligned with right view (sammaditthi) for over 10 years. I have also been meditating for over 10 years. In my time spent with Acariya Thoon, I learned many things and was able to incorporate them into my life. In addition to practicing Buddhism within temples and my home, I used to own two restaurants and managed commercial real estate. I had to deal with many different and problems. I learned how to use Buddhism to fix my problems, both externally (my environment) and internally (within me).

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