Enlightenment Means Being Altruistic
Altruism and Living a Good Life
One of the more interesting debates in the spiritual landscape is whether or not Enlightenment stops at “being”, or if living a truly enlightened life, includes “doing”. In other words, can the enlightened life be defined as simply being in the state of Oneness, with no trace of the ego, or should the definition of an enlightened life include doing good and being altruistic?
Is focusing on “being” enough? Is it ok to stumble upon the state of non-duality or the One Self and then retire to the mountains to rejoice in this discovery? Or is it incumbent upon those who have discovered this great Truth to then be of service to others?
In the article, the 5 Principles of Living a Good Life, I detailed the 5 principles I follow, which I feel are key to enlightenment and living an awakened and good life. These 5 principles are the following…
- Being Relaxed: Going with the flow.
- Witnessing: Being mindful of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
- Affection: Being kind and loving.
- Honesty: In all things, actions included.
- Courage: This is needed to face the horror of your inward state and go beyond.
The above 5 principles were not forged overnight, but they came forth after being on the spiritual path for many years. Although in the list above I included affection, I did not specifically say that doing good or altruism was a necessary part of the process. In other words affection can be taken as more passive in nature, while going out there and doing good is more active in nature.
To this list and article, I received a very interested response from my friend Steve Cohen. He is indicating that the “doing” should be made a part of leading an enlightened life and altruism should be added to the list of 5 principles that are essential for enlightened living.
Of course, I am all for altruism and doing good flows naturally when your heart is full of love and compassion. The enlightened, free of the burden of self centered desires are loving and giving, and in this state goodness flows from them, but is it ok for them to just reside in “being” and not engage consciously and actively in “doing”? That is the question being put forth.
Here are Steve’s very insightful thoughts on this subject:
I wanted to share a few thoughts on living an enlightened life, which have been bubbling inside since I read the yoga sutras a few years ago and started to focus on the spiritual journey. My thoughts didn’t crystallize into something I could articulate until I read your 5 Principles For Living an Enlightened and Good Life article and subsequent meditation.
I was also at the same time preparing a teaching for a monthly service that I lead and my focus this month is on seeking balance between “being” and ” doing” using analogies from the Joseph story in the bible. During recent meditations a realization flowed through that all of the originally articulated enlightenment principles are “being” focused.
I wanted to suggest an additional essential principle for leading an enlightened and good life that focuses on “doing”.
Altruism. For this purpose, I define altruism as taking actions with the primary intent of benefiting someone other than oneself. I believe that part of living an enlightened and good life is coming to the realization that we are all part of the whole and then acting for the benefit of the whole (including another Self in the whole) rather than simply for the benefit of your Self. If enlightenment is defined as awakening to the realization of non- dualism and to the fact that we are each one with others and with divine nature, then it seems to me that altruism is a logical and essential result of this enlightened realization.
I also favor the word integrity over honesty as a more nuanced word for enlightened living. To me, integrity encompasses honesty of thought and consistent follow through in actions; however, I think this is just word choice preference and we mean something similar in how we use these words.
I guess at some level of enlightenment it is all being focused being in the present with “what is”, but something in my gut tells me that an even higher level of consciousness would be to be doing from that place of enlightened being in the present and that would truly be the epitome of an enlightened and good life. The journey continues.
Obviously, one can’t encompass all of life in 5 words, but I thought you might be interested in considering these observations.
I continue to very much enjoying your course materials and appreciate the work you have undertaken to compile them.
Summary of Altruism and Enlightened Living:
So what do you think? Is is sufficient to be enlightened, and live your life in love, peace and harmony, in just “Being”, or is it essential to go out there and do good and be altruistic? If the world is all an illusion, a dream and just a game, is it really important to bother with it at all? Or, since suffering is real for those who are not enlightened, is it the responsibility of the enlightened to go out there and be of service to others, and help alleviate their pain?
Would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.