Virtue Is Its Own Reward–and More

A letter in the Washington Post today, “And This Is the Thanks I Get” gave notice that the writer is “out of the wallet finding business.”  She recited three instances in which she received only a token thank you at best, despite taking pains to ensure a lost wallet found its way back to its rightful owner.  It is human nature to expect appreciation from those we confer a benefit upon, especially when there was no obligation to do so on our part and the benefit is significant for the other.  No doubt in recognition of this nature, the admonition “virtue is its own reward” can be found in the writings of Cicero and Ovid, on through English and American writers and no doubt many religious texts.  Buddhism has a slightly different take than this commonly accepted view.

Daisaku Ikeda points out in Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Life, that “Inconspicuous virtue brings conspicuous reward. From the perspective of Buddhism, we never fail to receive the effects of actions, whether good or bad …” In other words, doing good deeds creates good karma or making good causes creates good effects. Significantly, the effect is simultaneously inscribed in one’s life at the same moment as the cause. As is the case with many phenomena, the effects however are not necessarily immediately manifest. So, in practical terms, while it may appear that virtue has gone unrewarded, the reward may simply be delayed. There is no point then in feeling resentment at ingratitude–you will get whatever reward you deserve just not from the ingrate. The ingrate has his own less positive result coming, for the lack of appreciation shown.