The Gifts of an Element represent the essential goodness of the Element, its deepest nature. One of the greatest Gifts of the Earth Element, whose season of Late Summer we are now traversing, is altruism.

Selfless GivingAltruism is the highest form of giving. It is not simply giving to another in need but also includes a selfless concern for their well-being. It often involves some kind of sacrifice on the part of the giver, a sacrifice of energy, time or possessions, without any thought of receiving anything in return, either directly or indirectly. There is no expectation of recognition, gratitude or even a subtle desire to feel good about the giving.

Interestingly, when a person takes an altruistic action, it does feel good. Neurobiologists have found that when people placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated pleasure centres in a primitive part of the brain that also lights up in response to food or sex. Even when the altruistic action is done with no expectation of reward, there is a pleasurable sensation.

Philanthropy is the concern for others which arises out of love for humanity and which has come to be associated with charitable giving. Altruism goes further in that it includes unselfishness. At its highest, there is actual selflessness, a lack of self. In this state, the giver has no sense of himself as a separate individual but rather as a part of the infinite web of manifestation. There is no sense of giving from one to another because there is no separation. No gift, no giver.

This brings to mind Lao Tzu’s thoughts on the subject:

The Master stays behind;
That is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
That is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself
She is perfectly fulfilled.

The ego is inherently selfish and self-serving. When there is no ego self, there is no selfishness. There is no self-centred action because there is no self there to act. Therefore, the way to true altruism is through disengagement from this false self and engagement with the True Self, which is not a separate individual but a manifestation of the Infinite. Then, fulfilment is not in the doing but in simply being.

• What are your motives for giving?
• What is the most altruistic thing you have done?

Book cover


This is an extract from my forthcoming book The Way of the Five Seasons. Publication by Singing Dragon Press March 21st 2016. For more information and to pre-order click here