Reciprocating on Your
Own Terms

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Step 4 — Returning Kindness

What do you think would be the chief obstacle to recognizing that each individual person has been kind to you?

In my case, I was afraid of having to return the kindness, because then I'd be under the control of those people. I didn't want to do what my parents wanted me to do. The lifestyle my parents were pushing on me was completely unappealing, so I refused to recognize their kindness.

Assuming a debt with respect to every sentient being differs greatly from having a debt to a few. The response to the kindness of all sentient beings cannot be to do everything they want. You cannot even do everything your mother in this lifetime wants you to do. If, like me, you go to India or Tibet, the whole trip is a time of worry for her:

"Why don't you take some dysentery pills with you?"

That makes sense.

"Why don't you take some pills to purify the water?"

That makes sense.

"Why don't you take a big thermos? You could carry water in."

"I'll take a small thermos."

Those who help us—our parents, for instance—often attain power over us for that very reason: "Do as I say because I have helped you." So it can become almost a mental habit to refuse to recognize those who have helped us, so they don't gain power over us.

We have to find a way of intending to return their kindness without coming under their misguided influence. The greatest of all ways to return their kindness is to help them become free them from all suffering and to assist them in becoming liberated from cyclic existence and attaining the bliss of Buddhahood.

In meditation, starting with friends, then neutral persons, and then enemies, contemplate: "I will return the debt of kindness that I have with this person through helping her or him achieve happiness."