Self-interest: where do we draw the line?

At one level self-interest is necessary to live, to survive and thrive in the world. We need self-interest to feed ourselves, to make money for renting or buying a house, for heating, gas/electricity, paying the bills, etc. To pursue a hobby, an art, a science, probably requires some degree of self-interest. And in relationship we need a degree of self-interest to create healthy boundaries, to not become victims of fraud, manipulation by others, abuse, etc.

And yet self-interest is also destructive in relationship, creating divisions between people.

And beyond our personal relationships, self-interest may be the chief obstacle to a perception of our relationship with the whole of humanity.

So self-interest may be the root cause of every human-created destructive event in the world: wars, division, intolerance, a lack of empathy, etc. And yet we still need self-interest to function in society.

So where do we draw the line between where self-interest is necessary, and where it is unnecessary and destructive?

Two extracts from Krishnamurti on the subject of self-interest:

What is self-interest?

How deep, how superficial, where it is necessary, where it totally, completely, has no place at all? …

Self-interest has brought about a great deal of confusion in the world, a great deal of disorder, confusion, conflict.

Whether that self-interest be identified with a country, with a community, with a family, or with God, with the beliefs, the faiths and so on, it is all self-interest, seeking enlightenment…

And also there is self-interest when you build a house, have insurance, mortgages. And the self-interest is encouraged commercially.

And also by all religions: they talk about liberation but self-interest first.

And we have to live in this world, we have to function, have to earn money, have children, be married or not married. And living in this world of the twentieth century how deep, or how superficial, is our self-interest?

Self-interest divides people - right? We and they, you and I, my interest opposed to your interest, my family interests oppose your family interests, your country, my country in which I have invested a great deal of emotion and physical interest for which I am willing to fight and kill, which is war.

And we invest our interest in ideas, faith, beliefs, dogmas, in rituals and so on - this whole cycle. At the root of it there is a great deal of self-interest.

Now can one live in this world daily, clearly, with self-interest where it is necessary - please, I am using this word carefully - where it is physically necessary, and psychologically, inwardly, it is totally abandoned? Is that possible? …

Is it possible for each one of us living here in a very, very complex society, competitive, divided by agreement and disagreement… where do we draw the line between self-interest and no self-interest whatsoever psychologically? Can we do that? …

[So] inwardly, psychologically, can one live without any kind of muttering of self-interest, of the self, the ‘me’, which is the essence of self-interest?

(Talk 3, Brockwood Park, 1985)

How can there be right, true relationship between two people when each one considers his own importance?

Self-interest is the beginning of corruption, destruction, whether it be in the politician or the religious man; self-interest dominates the world and therefore there is conflict.

Where there is duality, separation, as the Jew and the Arab, as the Christian who believes in some saviour and the Hindu who doesn’t believe in all this, there is this division: national division, religious division, individual divisions. Where there is division there must be conflict. That’s a law.

So we live our daily life in a little circumscribed self, a limited self. Self is always limited and that is the cause of conflict…

Each one is concerned with himself. He lives in a separate world all to himself. And therefore there is division between you and another

So is it possible to understand not intellectually but deeply, that you are the rest of mankind? Whatever you do, good or bad, affects the rest of mankind, because you are mankind.

(Talk 1, Washington DC, 1985)

What is healthy self-interest, self-interest that serves (nurtures) the individual and the collective?

What is healthy or enlightened self-interest?


Enlightened self-interest is the philosophy that individuals can pursue their own well-being while considering the impact of their actions on others and society as a whole. It suggests that acting ethically and contributing to the greater good can ultimately benefit one’s own self-interest in the long run. Healthy self-interest includes activities and choices that contribute to physical, mental, and emotional health without causing harm to oneself or others. Striking a balance between personal needs and consideration for the well-being of others is a key aspect of cultivating a healthy self-interest.

Which historical personalities have promoted this way of thinking?


Historical figures who have promoted the philosophy of enlightened self-interest include Adam Smith, often regarded as the father of economics, and John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and political economist. Both emphasized the idea that individuals, while pursuing their own interests, can contribute to the overall welfare of society through ethical and responsible behavior. In more recent times, self-help authors like Dale Carnegie and positive psychology proponents like Martin Seligman have explored themes related to personal well-being and positive self-interest.

Did the Dalai Lama talk about enlightened self-interest?


The concept of enlightened self-interest aligns with some of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. His discussions often emphasize the importance of compassion, altruism, and considering the well-being of others. His teachings suggest that by cultivating a compassionate and altruistic mindset, individuals can achieve a sense of fulfillment and happiness, ultimately serving their own well-being in an enlightened way.

Might these descriptions be on the right lines for you Rick?

To my understanding, there is a subtle unconscious problem upon the necessity here.

They are. I think of healthy self-interest as a Realleben approach to living the good life. As in: Keep working with more radical ‘spiritual’ teachings like Buddhism, Advaita, Krishnamurti, and ‘supplement’ that work (which tends to bear fruit very slowly) with modest doable baby steps.

I would agree if we mean : might not bear any fruit for a long time, if at all. Disagree with : I’m becoming more and more like buddha everyday, but very, very slowly. Unless regular proper meditation (ie.awareness and freedom from experience, maybe with some moments of silence) actually programs the brain for freedom and understanding over time

Healthy self interest = responsibility for thought/actions of the self.

Is there a self thinks/acts?

Yes and No, depends how you want to spin it - the helpful teaching is that the self is a feeling/thought and a conditioned process, not an independant entity/agent.


When you point the thought/conditioned process/etc., is it an outcome of self or it is self itself?
Like thought/conditioned process/etc. are a verb/action/effect of a Noun self, or those are Noun itself and called self?

I don’t know - it depends on the details of the actual issue that you are trying to address? Dpends on context.
Apart from that, no concepts are perfectly, wholly correct.

Do you understand this simple equation :
Healthy self interest = responsibility for the self.

If not, is the question : “is self a noun or a verb, an entity or a feeling?” going to help?

It seems to me as though there are two different and competing approaches at work here.

The first, we might say, is to pay lip-service to teachings that radically question the principle of self-interest, while in real, actual life pursuing a life of cultivated self-interest. This is what probably most of us are doing.

The second is to take seriously the clear and present danger of self-interest - including its impact on the world (through wars, divisions in society, acts of extreme selfishness and cruelty, etc), along with our own responsibility for this - and to act on the basis of this perception.

Is there a dualism at work in us? Are both of these perspectives at work in us creating tension, conflict?

Is it that we do not know where to draw the line between necessary and healthy self-interest and actual selfishness?

Yes, it does, not that would help giving an answer but in questioning the question.

How can the self have any responsibility, if the feeling/thought/Conditionings itself the self?

Can a Religious one be responsible to not be religious? Nope.
Like that, Self interest itself never considers others. Even while going out for dinner, the self interest don’t adjust with the one food available/with the one nearby eats, so how can it be healthy or responsible?

It’s vision is dark, how can it be responsible for any vision of little light in that darkness?

That’s why question raised, are thoughts/feelings/conditioned process an act/effect/verb of Noun self (so that Noun self can be responsible for verb actions), or those thoughts/etc. itself are Noun and called self?

I am gonna challenge you: Restate the above without bias and judgement, neither of which serve the investigation.

I added some supplementary lines before I saw your post. I think they put the comments in perspective, because these dual responses are quite common in most of us I think. They are also pretty accurate imo, so I don’t understand why you judge them to be biased and judgemental?

Is it your view that most of us are not paying lip-service to teachings that radically question self-interest, but are actually acting on the perception that self-interest poses a clear and present danger to humanity?

I think most of us are a mixture of these two attitudes, so I am wondering if this creates a conflict in our minds, a tension?

Do you feel the question is unfair?

So we are asking whether “responsibility for the self” is possible. Can the self be responsible for the self?
If we mean something like : can it intellectually? The answer traditionally is Yes - it is possible to argue that responsibility for one’s action is a necessity for wellbeing.
And of course there is also the possibility of some, non intellectual intelligence affecting the process of self.

Responsibility for self, it is argued arises also from some insight into what the self is, which provokes a heightened alertness/awareness of its movement in the understanding that harm is best avoided.

Are you drawing a line here Rick, and suggesting it is wrong to either

  1. question self-interest itself, or

  2. to suggest that most of us are only paying lip-service to teachings that radically question self-interest?

I’m just trying to get a sense of where your red lines are in this discussion.

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What was Krishnamurti’s view of the self and self-interest?

GPT: Krishnamurti viewed the self as a source of division, and that the ego, or the sense of individuality, can lead to selfishness, conflict, and suffering. He believed that self-interest, driven by the desire for personal gain or preservation, contributes to division and disharmony in individuals and society. From his perspective, true freedom and peace arise when one moves beyond the limitations imposed by self-centered thinking and actions.

Might people who claim to have understood what Krishnamurti said about the self or ego, but who nevertheless continue to defend the value and importance of the self or ego, be considered to be only paying lip service to Krishnamurti’s perspective?

GPT: Yes, individuals who claim to understand Krishnamurti’s teachings on the self or ego but still defend the value of the self may be seen as paying lip service. Krishnamurti emphasized deep self-inquiry and transformation, aiming for a genuine shift in consciousness. If someone merely verbalizes understanding without embodying the fundamental changes Krishnamurti advocated, it may suggest a superficial engagement with his teachings.

If one were to say that probably for most of us self-interest and egoism are more actual than our purported understanding of Krishnamurti’s insight into self-centredness, would this not be a largely accurate observation?

GPT: Yes, that observation is likely accurate. Krishnamurti’s teachings require a deep and sustained self-inquiry, which can be challenging for many individuals. In everyday life, self-interest and egoism often play prominent roles, making it difficult for people to fully embrace the profound shifts in consciousness that Krishnamurti proposed. Recognizing this disparity between understanding and lived experience is a crucial step in the transformative process he advocated.

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