Be quick to do good,
Restrain your mind from evil.
When one is slow to make merit,
One’s mind delights in evil.
Dhammapada, v. 116, translated by Gil Fronsdal
This verse is a much earlier form of “the idle mind is the devil’s playground”.
There is always something occupying our mind, whether we are aware of it or not. Being unaware of our mental state invites the path of least resistance, that is (often), lazy, selfish, greedy thoughts. People whose minds tend toward kindness, generosity, etc. are usually people who have trained themselves (or been trained by their parents/teachers/friends) in that direction.
But it’s not so important what happens with others; the question is what happens to our minds when they are unfocused or undirected? Where do they trend?
This is why keeping the five precepts in mind is so helpful. It establishes a framework for viewing the world and ourselves as actors in the world. Working with the five precepts helps us to quickly recognize the opportunity to “do good”, and inclines us to seize the opportunity.
Jack Kornfield has said, more than once, if you seen an opportunity to do something generous, don’t hesitate – just do it! I would temper that with the hope that we’ll examine the situation clearly enough to make an educated guess that our good intention is likely to bring about the desired result; sometimes an impulse is just an impulse.
The inclination to do good can come from an outside stimulus (perhaps someone asks you to donate to a good cause) or from a thought arising in your own mind (“maybe Aunt Petunia would appreciate a call”). Wherever it comes from, we will be the beneficiaries if we seek out opportunities to do good regularly and wholeheartedly. Filling our minds with good intentions starves and weakens our not so good intentions.