Animals have genes for altruism, and those genes have been selected in the evolution of many creatures because of the advantage they confer for the continuing survival of the species.

Lewis Thomas

Altruism

In biological organisms altruism can be defined as an individual performing an action which is at a cost to themselves, but benefits, either directly or indirectly, another without the expectation of reciprocity or compensation for that action.

David Rakoff writes, and I quote, "Altruism is innate, but it's not instinctual. Everybody's wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped." Thus, altruism is like a muscle that needs to be developed if our species are to thrive and this platform is the first of its kind to ensure that this can be done. Steinberg suggests a definition for altruism in the clinical setting, that is "intentional and voluntary actions that aim to enhance the welfare of another person in the absence of any quid pro quo external rewards".1 This definition is not limited to clinical settings but apply equally well to altruism in Buddhism, and Yoga. In Yoga it is known as Tapas.

Tapas

Tapas are a set of disciplines that a person engages in to purify the mind. All of these disciplines are altruistic in nature. The first order of any spiritual quest, including Yoga, is to remedy all of the unsavory qualities inherent within the self. Just as gold cannot be made known without ample drossing, the self cannot be known without cleansing of the soul. These altruistic step in Yoga, is known as Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is the scientific approach to creating helpful soul attributes that foster altruism, non-violence, fearlessness, fortitude, gratitude and devotion.

Altruistic Motivations

Compassion

Compassion is an aspiration that involves being sensitive to the suffering in ourselves and others, with a deep motivation and commitment to alleviate and prevent it.2 While self-compassion orients to our own suffering, compassion extends this orientation to the suffering of others.

Self-compassion involves being aware of one’s painful experiences in a balanced way that neither ignores nor ruminates on disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.3 It is necessary to be mindfully aware of personal suffering to be able to extend compassion towards self and others. Compassion, like physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice.

What happens when one engages in a compassionate act

Compassion directly influences a persons behaviour if the practice is engaged in for a lengthy period of time. The cardiovascular system and the brain influence each other during the processing of information. The mere act of paying attention to one's compassionate behaviour when interacting with others, enhances the integrated neurons in the brain. When this is done over a period of time it creates a compassionate state. States become a trait, and a compassionate trait determine one's behaviour.4

Empathy

Empathy can be defined as the ability to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience. This does not mean that if a person understands someone else's plight they will be inclined to help them. No. Empathizing with someone with the inclination to help them requires a heart that is kind and compassionate. Empathy in the wrong hands can be used to harm people through manipulation and ill-will. To intentionally harm anyone, or anything, should never even be entertained in thought, word, or deed.

Joyful Effort

Joyful effort is different from effort in the sense that is does not feel like a toil nor is it straining, or unpleasant. "Vriya" in Sanskrit, it is joy that can arise in our minds when we engage in activities that help others overcome suffering. It is a state that comes about when we begin engaging in compassionate deeds and soulful thoughts on a regular basis. In essence, it is one of our true selves that has been hidden from us due to the stress of everyday life.

Loving-Kindness

For love, I shall resort to Dr Pecks definition as given in his insightful book, "Road Less Traveled." “I define love thus: The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing another's spiritual growth. When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion - through the fact that for someone else, we took an extra step, or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.”

Dependency may appear to be love because it is a force that causes people to fiercely attach themselves to one another. But in actuality it is not love; it is a form of anti-love. It has its genesis in a parental failure to love and it perpetuates the failure. It seeks to receive rather than to give. It nourishes infantilism rather than growth. It works to trap and constrict rather than to liberate. Ultimately it destroys rather than builds relationships, and it destroys rather than builds people.

Selfless Service

Known as “Seva” in Sanskrit “Selfless Service” is work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. In ancient India seva was believed to help one’s spiritual growth and at the same time contribute to the improvement of a community. Each one of us is part of an intricate network. I knew this, but just in theory. As a result I felt lost because I could not find out where I fit in the web of humanity. Until I found that one thing, which while doing as a service I would lose all track of time. And that is this work. The work of social innovation. Creating solutions to help humanity. I can do this without expecting anything in return. All I know within my heart is that this work is good, and will benefit generations to come.

Selfless service is our duty to humanity. And it naturally emerges once we break away from our fears and our desire to please others. Selfless service does not care if the person you are serving is kind to you. Your purpose in serving is not to seek closeness with another person but to seek harmony with nature itself. Let others say and do what they wish. That lot is not yours to be concerned with. Your purpose is to seek harmony with nature while keeping in mind that nature as a whole is ordered according to reason, but not all in nature is reasonable.

Sympathy

Sympathy is the attribute of a refined soul. The sympathetic person has a heightened sense of awareness towards the painful emotions of another person and they feel a strong willingness or inclination to do whatever can possibly be done to alleviate that persons plight. It is important to keep in mind that what we choose to do is not in conflict with the universal spiritual priciples or the laws of the land.