Altruism is selfless concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of ‘others’ toward whom concern should be directed can vary among religions. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness.
Altruism can be distinguished from feelings of loyalty and duty. Altruism focuses on a motivation to help others or a want to do good without reward, while duty focuses on a moral obligation towards a specific individual (for example, a god, a king), a specific organization (for example, a government), or an abstract concept (for example, patriotism etc.). Some individuals may feel both altruism and duty, while others may not. Pure altruism is giving without regard to reward or the benefits that recognition of the giving may bring.
Altruism figures prominently in Buddhism. Love and compassion are components of all forms of Buddhism, and both are focused on all beings equally: the wish that all beings be happy (love) and the wish that all beings be free from suffering (compassion). “Many illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion. These qualities are the ultimate source of human happiness, and the need for them lies at the very core of our being” (Dalai Lama).
Since “all beings” includes the individual, love and compassion in Buddhism are outside the opposition between self and other. It is even said that the very distinction between self and other is part of the root cause of our suffering. In practical terms, however, because of the spontaneous self-centeredness of most of us, Buddhism encourages us to focus love and compassion on others, and thus can be characterized as “altruistic.” Many would agree with the Dalai Lama that Buddhism as a religion is kindness toward others.
Still, the very notion of altruism is modified in such a world-view, since the belief is that such a practice promotes our own happiness: “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes” (Dalai Lama).
What is altruism?
ALTRUISM IN NATURE
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Is Pure Altruism Possible?
Who could doubt the existence of altruism?
True, news stories of malice and greed abound. But all around us we see evidence of human beings sacrificing themselves and doing good for others. Remember Wesley Autrey? On Jan. 2, 2007, Mr. Autrey jumped down onto the tracks of a New York City subway platform as a train was approaching to save a man who had suffered a seizure and fallen. A few months later the Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu blocked the door to his classroom so his students could escape the bullets of Seung-Hui Cho, who was on a rampage that would leave 32 students and faculty members dead. In so doing, Mr. Librescu gave his life.