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Caring is not just another goal: it is a way of being embodied. --Tarthang Tulku

How to Create a More Caring World

--by Tsering Gellek, Nov 01, 2018

The following excerpt by Tsering Gellek is from Tarthang Tulku's new book 'Caring' (Dharma Publishing, 2018). 

To care is to really understand that we are in a very concerning situation.

As the individual in modern society moves through various spheres of life, from home, to school, to work, to perhaps hospitals and eventually death, she often has less and less support from the people around her. When I imagine earlier times, I think there was a deeper sense of care from family, friends and neighbors, from our religious or sacred communities, from the towns and villages we lived in. This atmosphere of care, of embeddedness, of being inter woven into a larger fabric of society, gives us a certain degree of comfort. We could have peace of mind, knowing that higher values, sacred or religious in turn, had a stable ground to rise up from.

Yet at the same time, I am reminded that in certain spiritual paths, the lotus is said to arise in the muddy waters of samsara. So in these present conditions, with modern and traditional societies fractured and deeply wounded, I wonder what these muddy waters may produce? The awakening to our condition is now on many people's minds. I find myself asking: Do we have, paradoxically, even better conditions for awakening in these particularly muddy waters?


Despite all the 'advances' we have witnessed in the West, we know there is so much suffering and alienation in society. Individuals often express a deep sense of loneliness and even dissatisfaction with their lives. It is true that modern medicine has prolonged life spans and prevented illness. Technology has made so many things easier. But happiness or contentment for most seem to be further from reach than ever before.

At the same time, religious structures both in the West and East, are often either becoming more superficial, or are getting radicalized. Fundamentalism is on the rise in all religions, as people with negative motivations take advantage of the new gaping voids in society and governing systems to spread a message that may veer into hatred and discrimination.

Perhaps, if we were to develop a genuine quality of care, things could be different. So it is important to see how we might consciously develop the quality of care, and consider its deeper implications for society.

Caring seems to have many different dimensions. On one level, to care is to love and understand the needs of others, in what we could call a 'horizontal' way. Fundamentally to care requires us to first be aware:  to be aware of our surroundings, to be in-tune with the needs of others. The awareness of the cry of suffering, the alertness of the immediacy of disruption, disjuncture, imbalance, or pain is one fundamental aspect of the quality of care.

In these cases of horizontal care, I care for my fellow being, neighbor, other sentient beings, even perhaps the gardens, or spaces I inhabit. I care for the situation at hand and seek to understand what might give greater comfort and ease, greater beauty and clarity to those around me.

The second, perhaps less known form of care is a vertical kind of care. This form of care may be care for a higher purpose, or even a transcendent, perhaps non-visible one. In this vertical form of care, I imagine that we care for things along an arc of the past and future that may be beyond our present moment. We care about our ancestors and the environment from which we are born. We care about the lakes and the mountains and the sky, for we know that they are our progenitors. We also care about qualities and ideals of our future embodiment. We care about realizing our potential, and the potential of each and every sentient being. With this form of care, prayer and especially virtuous aspirations, we may find care to be a very powerful vehicle of self-transformation.

We know that within each being a light is there to manifest, and we seek every way to help cultivate their awakening. With our hands folded at the heart level, we pray consciously for their awakening. The horizontal care we extend to our brothers and sisters in the present moment naturally awakens the call for the vertical form of care.

To care means to make one's own life an example of good conduct. It does not mean that we must give big speeches or write fancy words; our actions should simply demonstrate our ideas. Perhaps even more importantly, our care should be evident even when no one is there to see us or congratulate us. Our lives should be our records.

To embody the quality of care is to have a heightened sense of awareness and empathy that moves further and further out from our own immediate surroundings. Our sense of care evolves as we become less and less attached to the sense of the object that we are helping or caring for. The sense of care as a flow, as a natural response to the cries of the world, big or small, is the food to nourish our heart. We can see the good signs of a caring attitude when it begins to feel effortless.

It is natural for caregivers to feel at times over-burdened and burnt- out, as if there is an endless need that cannot be satisfied with one's own resources. In my experience, it is important in these moments to take a pause and learn to regenerate the open-heart feeling that is requisite for healthy caring. In order for caring to have the light quality of effortless love, the caregiver must also feel at ease, spacious and in the flow. She should take pauses as needed and learn to replenish her energy and do work in intervals. As she learns to be aware of her expanding ability to care, then those intervals will naturally become shorter and shorter in duration.

In order to offer care to others, it's important to have an understanding of one's own state of mind. When you understand your own mind, you become more accurate, less clumsy, in the kind and quality of care you offer to others. We may not understand why there are times when the people we seek to help actually become upset, or fail to appreciate our attempts to care for them. In these cases, it has been my experience to let the situation rest a little, to offer a pause and try to better understand what kind of care is needed. Sometimes, the simple offer of space and time, especially for family members and close friends, can help to realign the connection to a place of care.

To care is to understand deeply about what is needed for the other. From this quality of caring, comes forth a deeper embodiment of a life grounded in wholeness and well-being for all. Extending a quality of caring across all boundaries of time and space allows for sentient beings to embody the ideals of all the great Bodhisattvas, saints, and yogis. To live simply, yet heroically, neither discouraged by the magnitude of the world's suffering, nor disheartened by the seeming aloneness of the work, is to rest joyfully in an open heart, ready to serve the needs of others spontaneously, naturally, effortlessly, and perfectly. The activity of caring is a crowning jewel of what it means to be human.

Excerpted from 'Caring' by Tarthang Tulku (Dharma Publishing, 2018) and republished with permission. Tsering Gellek is director of the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute    


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