"I do as many random acts of kindness partly because it makes me feel good and also because it makes others feel good," a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook. "I don't expect anything in return except maybe some good karma? Where was my good karma when I got ticketed for a moving violation?"
The comment is a good example of common misunderstandings about both compassion and about karma. Random acts of kindness performed partly to make us feel good about ourselves are not truly acts of kindness. When Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma how much merit he had accrued by building temples across China, Bodhidharma replied, "No merit."
When we practice generosity, it’s easy to turn our actions into something special—thereby elevating ourselves, however subtly, above those we mean to help. But according to John Daido Roshi, the late abbot of Zen Mountain monastery, doing good is not the same as true compassion. In true compassion, Daido teaches, giver and receiver merge; in responding to the cries of the world, the Bodhisattva of Compassion always takes a form that is indistinguishable from the person being helped.
Expecting something in return for your kindness and generosity taints those very actions with egocentric thoughts. Give and expect nothing in return; practice kindness, but do not become the kind practioner.