How to Help Others


Hello there. I wanted to ask about how to deal with a situation where you get affected seeing someone else suffering. That is, it seems somewhat 'easier' to deal with when it’s the suffering from my own issues, as I may feel Master’s blessings or he may guide me, but seeing someone else suffer is difficult because ultimately he/she is the one going through pain and they may not know how to get out of it. What is the right way to approach such a scenario? Thank you.

—Kailash, India


Dear Kailash,

To have to stand by idly and watch another person (usually a friend, family member or co-worker) suffer is not easy, especially when there’s nothing obvious we can do. But, in truth, what CAN we do?

1. You CAN pray for that person. Prayer has been proven to be most effective if the person in need knows that you are praying for him (or her) and is grateful for your prayers. That isn’t always possible, however, and so prayer is still helpful no matter what.

2. But what exactly to pray for? If you pray for someone’s suffering or pain to be removed, you haven’t necessarily removed the metaphysical cause(s) of that suffering. What if your prayer cured someone who then, now being healthy, immerses himself in a life of ease, pleasure and self-indulgence!!!! In prayer, we should send divine energy and grace to that person’s soul knowing that the divine life knows exactly what is needed. Pray to and for the SOUL of another person, NOT his ego. It could be a person’s time to die but prayers can help that person do so with dignity, wisdom, forgiveness of others, and acceptance. Prayer isn’t necessarily intended to “save” the person from dying.

3. This principle I have described above is the difference between a “healing and a cure.” It extends also to forms of material help you might give. If someone is in debt and you pay off his debts for him, he might just go out and get into debt all over again! Your paying his debt is called “enabling” : enabling that person to err again (and again). By contrast, healing means to banish the cause of suffering not just its symptoms. One would not pay off another’s debts unless you knew that the debtor was willing and able to make changes in his spending habits. If you just step in, pay off the debt, and then take over that person’s finances you have robbed him of the opportunity to reform and to exercise his own will.

4. Understanding this distinction gives you pause for patience and not to overreact to another person’s sufferings. Suffering is precisely that which can trigger the soul to awaken to its separation from God and its desire for freedom from all suffering (not just its current version). Rescuing another person from his suffering is not necessarily the right thing to do. Do you see this?

5. Therefore, seeing that another’s suffering is sometimes exactly what he or she needs in order to learn and grow, you can help in ways that are supportive and wise. This point of view is NOT intended to make you indifferent to the sufferings of others. It is intended to give you perspective on HOW to help another person. So, let’s turn now to positive things to do:

6. If you see your friend taking positive steps (or even just willing to do so) to remedy the illness or the problem, that is the first clue that you can offer help: financial help; driving him to the doctor; referring him to a friend; visiting him; running errands etc.

7. If your friend is depressed and his will is paralyzed, see if you can entice him to take some “baby steps” to help himself: better diet; some exercise; a more positive attitude; spending time with healthy or positive people. Things of this nature.

7.5 Yes, sometimes a person just needs someone to do things for him. Those situations however should be obvious and must not be forms of “enabling.” A person who cannot walk on his own will need someone to push his wheelchair. That’s NOT enabling provided the person isn’t demanding service or insisting on service that is arbitrary and unnecessary.

8. Sympathy doesn’t mean jumping into the pool of another person’s grief or anger. You can listen sympathetically but don’t encourage negative emotions. You can say, “Yes, I understand how you feel.” You might then turn the conversation in more positive ways, even just on other subjects, and then later return to drop a seed of a more positive point of view. A person grieving over the death of a loved one may just need a companion to go shopping; go to a concert; have a meal together. It makes no sense to talk philosophy or to say “Everyone has to die sometime!” Being “present” with a friend in need means simply to be there without judgment or without an effort to “fix” the person or the situation. Just listen calmly and sometimes re-direct the conversation or activities to either distracting or, better yet, more positive directions.

Not knowing the nature of the suffering you allude to, I cannot go further than this or be more specific but I hope you find these remarks helpful.

Blessings to you in your efforts to help others!

Nayaswami Hriman