The Four Methods of Inducement
As important as they are, pure intentions and a compassionate mind are not enough. One's intentions must be actualized and action must be taken on the basis of the compassionate mind. The principal actions performed by a bodhisattva practitioner are the four skillful methods of inducing people to learn the Dharma, as only the Dharma can genuinely and thoroughly benefit sentient beings. These four methods of inducement are giving, speaking lovingly, acting beneficially and intermingling.
One can give financial help, physical assistance, or even one's own life; giving of this sort is categorized as the giving of wealth. Guiding others toward enlightening concepts such as those contained within the Dharma-even if one merely utters a simple phrase that helps someone aspire to goodness and abandon harmful thoughts and deeds-is considered the giving of Dharma. If we see people experiencing pain, loss, anxiety, fear, or great psychological distress and alleviate their suffering by helping them regain security of mind, this is called the giving of fearlessness. These three forms of giving include all of the many practices that benefit sentient beings. If a bodhisattva stops cultivating the practice of giving, "compassion" becomes a meaningless word.
Speaking lovingly refers to compassionate and meaningful communication with others, which may at times include strong words or exhortations. But while we may have to express ourselves forcefully sometimes, our words must flow from the compassionate mind, for only words of compassion can be accepted wholeheartedly. Speaking lovingly does not mean interacting with people in an artificial or condescending manner so that we feel ourselves to be more important or above others. This will do more harm than good. Also, inappropriate forms of communication that might make others feel uncomfortable should be avoided. We should relate to other people with an open mind. What we say, or any advice we give, should be based on an understanding of our own experiences, for it is through a knowledge of ourselves that we can better understand the needs of others. Without understanding ourselves and others, even though we are speaking truthfully or giving good advice, we may cause our listeners to mistake our intentions and create unnecessary trouble for themselves, for others, and for us.
In contemporary terms, acting beneficially might be called "engaging in social work." It means that one cares about the welfare of others and works on their behalf, striving to nurture and protect one's society, one's nation, humanity as a whole, and all forms of life on the planet. According to the needs of different people in different places and circumstances, we can participate in socially valuable and meaningful work, such as promoting wholesome education, environmental responsibility, ethical conduct, peace, harmony, and so on. There are many forms of socially valuable work in every society that need to be done.
Intermingling refers to working alongside others, doing the same work, receiving the same benefits, and not placing oneself in a higher, privileged position. In other words, it simply means being the same as everyone else. In this way, we can truly touch people. By working closely with other people we can eventually share with them the Dharma that we have learned and experienced ourselves.
These four practices are the means adopted by a bodhisattva practitioner whose merit consists in their implementation and cultivation. They are also called "skillful means" and their purpose is to bring or gather sentient beings to the Dharma, not to make a practitioner powerful or to turn him or her into a leader. It is for the purpose of genuinely benefiting others that a bodhisattva practitioner strives to help all beings realize their potential. Aware of the interdependent relationship between all beings, a bodhisattva can feel joy when working not only for others, but with them as one among equals.