The Basics of Goodness

What do Buddhists believe? When I’m asked that question there’s a flood of answers I could give ranging from 5 seconds (“We don’t believe, we practice.”) to 4 hours (“There was a man named Siddhartha…”).  The answer I give most of the time is this:

We believe that every being has basic goodness.

Basic goodness is the understanding that we all (yes, all) have a core of goodness as the central feature of our being.  This enrichment of good is the spark of life that takes hold before our first breath and will remain luminous after our body returns to dust. It is something we can connect with, reach into, and rely upon. Meditation is the park where we encounter it, walk with it, play on its swings, and learn at its feet.

The world may pull some of us away from this goodness. Emotional damage can drown out its voice. Our own confusion about who we are or what will make us happy builds walls around it and disconnects us. Yet, it remains – shiny and steady – until we return to it again. And again. And again.  Understanding that we as beings are basically good is the key to a happy life and a better world to live it in.  Want world peace? Basic goodness, baby.  The only problem is – sometimes it’s hard to believe.

Oh my goodness!

It’s easy to grasp the concept that each human being has a core that is basically good when you’re meditating on a cushion with a fully belly, a good job, shelter, and health insurance.  It’s tough to believe it when your memory becomes a slide-show of every cruel thought and action you’ve ever done – the harmful words, the vindictive plans, the lies, the apathy, the jealousy, the letting go, the pushing away. Although you realize many of those acts were reactions or driven by a personal need you did not fully understand, it’s still a stretch sometimes to know that good is the basis of all you are.  Let’s face it, we’re a mess.

Confirming our good nature as a species is even harder when you watch parents publically shame their children on Facebook to get enough “likes” to satisfy their ego. It’s a challenge when greed and corruption invade the government pervasively and the people who need an honest government the most are the ones used and lied to on a daily basis. It’s impossible when a young man kills 20 children and 7 other people at an elementary school, or a father murders his offspring so his ex-wife can’t get custody, or when terrorists fly planes full of innocent people into buildings filled with more innocent people – killing whole worlds in a moment.  Where was basic goodness during the Holocaust? Where was basic goodness when people with AIDS were told it was “God’s punishment” and denied care or compassion? Where was it when a Syrian child washed up on shore?





You’re going to need some courage to make this first important step to a happy, mindful life. It takes bravery to embrace your outrage, heal your self-inflicted bullet holes, and still stand in the world with an open heart and compassionate soul. Many of us are raised with messages of inadequacy, shame, or destruction coming from parents, teachers, or peers. Clipping those wires won’t happen overnight. Some people require therapeutic intervention just to point out which wires are the bad ones and help trace the power source. With time and intention, you can re-route your consciousness to see your beauty, your inherent value, and your goodness. The first step is to be willing to believe in your inherent worth. Then you can stand for those who cannot and should not stand alone.

There is a part of you that no abuse, no violation, no decision, no oppression, or no ambition can take away. It is indelible and indestructible. When you can’t see it, you’ll have to trust it’s there.  Trust is critical to reconnecting with your compassionate core. When you look for evidence of goodness in the world, and you trust you’ll find it, the picture comes into focus with a myriad of lenses.

Follow the waters of life

Follow the babbling brook that branches off the blood creeks of history and you’ll notice water finding its way over, around, or through the rocks. You’ll see:

The people who rise up and call out when it is in their best interest to sit down and look away.

The parents who shield children not their own.

The survivors. The lovers. The quiet reformers.

The men and women who did not survive but lived a stalwart story of their faith, their passion, and their dignity to the last moment.

The ones who would not give in.

The lights that did not go out.

The books that would not burn.

The dams that would not break.

When you look with clear eyes you will see unparalleled good outnumbering horrific evil exponentially. First, you have to believe there’s something worth seeing. Stopping and seeing is another way of saying “be mindful.”

Our potential to be delighted, to be generous, to be compassionate, and to be enlightened all point to the core of good that is our base state. As individuals we have an amazing capacity to change, learn, give and forgive. We get confused by hurts, needs, or cultural messages and we lose touch with the notion of all that is good within us.  But with a little courage and trust, we can reconnect with our primal, compassionate, good state of being.  We can make choices that come from kindness. We can stop questioning ourselves, and affirming our light in a still dark world. We can have confidence. We can have peace.

—–  The Bottom Line —–

  1. If you have trouble seeing the goodness in others, stop looking at them. Focus on your heart, your soul, your being. We won’t see in others until we believe it of ourselves.
  2. You don’t have to believe in basic goodness to have it or experience it. It isn’t going anywhere. It will wait for you.
  3. You’re good. Trust me on that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *