“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Dalai Lama).
Buddhist traditions have emphasized the importance of cultivating connection and love towards others through techniques such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM). Through this practice of providing empathy and compassion toward others, feelings of anger, resentment, and anxiety can be released (Salzberg, 1995; Fredrickson et al. 2008),
LKM decreased chronic low back pain, psychological distress, anger (Carson et al. 2005). LKM also increased social connectedness (Hutcherson et al., 2008). Thus, giving compassion and empathy to others is beneficial for the givers.
In Buddhism, it is important to support the poor and needy. Giving to support religious people is considered a very meritorious deed. Buddha not only encouraged giving to Buddhists, but to any spiritual person who is sincere. The Buddha taught his disciples to be tolerant of other religions.
“When one lights a candle from the flame of another candle, the flame of the first candle does not lose its light. Instead, the two lights glow more brightly together. It is the same with the great religions of the world.” (The Teachings of Buddha).
Once a king went to see an old hermit and asked, “What is the most important Buddhist teaching?” The hermit answered, “Do no evil, do only good. Purify your heart.” The king had expected to hear a very long explanation. He protested, “But even a five-year old child can understand that” “Yes,” replied the wise sage, “But even an 80-year-old man cannot do it.” (The Teachings of Buddha).
Why should we “do good”? The understanding of Buddhist teaching is that committing acts of kindness toward others promotes upregulation of oxtocin (OXT) expression, which spontaneously maintains our health.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy“ (New Testament). Human health is prompted by access to a supportive family and social network (Uvnas-Moberg, 1997b; Carter, 1998). Volunteering activity demonstrates protective effects of on mental and physical health (Pilliavine et al. 2007). Enhanced OXT activity is a logical candidate to be one of the primary physiological mediators of the health benefits of emotional and physical support. The mechanism of beneficial effects of social contact may involve hypothalamic OXT expression (Babygirija et al. 2010; Babygirija et al. 2012).
“You have heard that you should love your neighbor. But I say to you. Love your enemies and pray for them which persecute you” (New Testament).
Why should we love our enemies and pray for them? The interpretation of Jesus’ words is that giving empathy to others upregulates OXT expression, which promotes and maintain our well-being. Thus, empathy and goodwill toward anybody, your enemy as well as your neighbor, allows one to maintain mental and physical health through the upregulated OXT expression.