How can we know what is best for all beings in the long run? We want to act for the benefit of all beings, but we are not enlightened.

Lama Ole’s answer:

It can be a bit difficult to figure out what brings happiness and what leads away from happiness. So I would just use the old bit of folk wisdom: treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. I would start with what is self-evident, with what people like. Be nice to them and avoid harming them.

There are three different levels of benefiting others. On the first level, we can give them food and vitamins but maybe not a bottle of schnapps if they still have to drive home. We do what is in front of our nose; we give them the material things that will help them in the short run. The best thing you can do as a good Buddhist is to look far into the future and see the large-scale problems like overpopulation. Then you can look for the causes of those problems and remove them.

In Rwanda or Bosnia, for example, there are definitely too many people on too little land. Since they treat each other badly, they have no decent level of education, no decent standard of living. And you look far ahead and say, “Condoms instead of cannons to Africa!” Then you talk with friends, and maybe one of them knows a man in Parliament or Congress who might say, “We need to make sure the people from the warm countries don’t overrun us, making us all become poor. Then no one will be able to do anything in the long run anymore. Instead, if they have fewer children, they will be able to live better.” In this way, you gradually raise awareness of the problem. But I would not intervene in things you can’t directly influence.
On the second level, one can meet people’s needs for more enduring things. One can make people independent—for example, through training and education—and teach them to manage their own lives. But that still only helps until the grave. Rich men might be driven to the cemetery in a longer hearse or leave behind a larger debt, but they will still arrive at their graves in the end.

On the third level, the best gift that one can give others is to bring them into contact with the Buddha’s teachings, to make them aware of their own buddha nature. Everything that makes people independent is good, and whatever makes them dependent, whatever confines them and makes them weak is not good. Every time you give people confidence in themselves and their possibilities, you have done something good. This is what Buddha does. He doesn’t just say, “Ten percent more for the workers!” but he brings us to a level where there is less greed, avarice and jealousy.

We should strive to show people the timeless space-clarity of their own minds: that which is between the thoughts, that which knows what is thought, experienced and felt. If we can give people more space between their ears, or their ribs, or wherever they think their mind is, then we have really helped them. This way we act very practically, step by step. We learn through practice. If one always does one’s best for the good of others again and again, one seldom makes mistakes.