Altruism is thinking and acting for the benefit of others before or more than oneself. Theologians and philosophers have long argued whether it is actually possible to be genuinely altruistic. The Buddha avoided the ‘self or other’ quandary because he understood that we are able to be of benefit to others to the degree that we have made some changes within ourselves. His six-year struggle for truth allowed him to spend the following forty years teaching that truth to others. Likewise, he also understood that benefiting others often changes oneself for the better. He once commented that ânanda’s many years of ‘expressing love through body, through speech and through mind’ - often giving him little time to meditate – had allowed him to come close to enlightenment (Digha Nikaya 2. 143). Thus, for the Buddha, it should not be a choice between selfishness - self before others - or altruism - others before oneself - but self and others together. In one of his most meaningful discourses the Buddha says, ‘There are these four types of people found in the world. What four? He who is concerned with neither his own good nor the good of others, he who is concerned with the good of others but not his own, he who concerned with the good of others but not his own and he who is concerned with his own good and the good of others…and of these four he who is concerned with his own good and the good of others is the chief, the best, the topmost, the highest, the supreme’ (Anguttara Nikaya 2. 94).
Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.