More from Ajahn Thanissaro’s article, Head and Heart Together
The second lesson of karma is that just as you’re the primary architect of your own happiness and suffering, other people are the primary architects of theirs. If you really want them to be happy, you don’t just treat them nicely. You also want them to learn how to create the causes for happiness. If you can, you want to show them how to do that. This is why the gift of dharma — lessons in how to give rise to true happiness — is the greatest gift.
Let me repeat the first sentence: …Just as you’re the primary architect of your own happiness and suffering, other people are the primary architects of theirs.
Remembering that the first lesson of karma is that everyone’s present situation is the result of their past and present intentions, we always have the possibility of decreasing our own suffering, regardless of what others around us are doing. We can do the sensible, practical things to reduce problems – setting boundaries, forgiving others, being patient, not taking on more than we can handle, asking for help – and then we can look inside ourselves to see if there is something we’re clinging to that we might be able to release. This is how suffering is diminished.
So how can we help other people?
The simple wish that others enjoy the happiness that we enjoy is a good place to begin. We can make it our intention to spread the joy around – “May all beings be well and experience joy.”
Ajahn Thanissaro points out that wishing people well is only a start. We can also (sometimes) help others generate the causes of happiness, that is, help them to make good karma for themselves by behaving in more beneficial, rather than harmful, ways. The simplest way in which we can help others is to make our own behavior exemplary. When we correct ourselves, apologize, or otherwise set something straight that we have made go awry, others can see that. If they have a little wisdom they will see that we do these things in an effort to train ourselves in wholesome behavior; if they ask us, we can tell them. When we are kind, compassionate, when we listen deeply – this is has the side effect of teaching others how to become happier.
This is one way the sublime states get spread around.