More protection against bitterness
Happy is he who does good to others; miserable is he who expects good from others. Bowl of Saki, by Hazrat Inayat Khan
The spiritual person may be a teacher, a preacher, or a philanthropist. But in whatever form he may appear, the chief thing in his life is the service of mankind: doing good to another, bringing happiness to someone in some form. The joy that rises from this is high spiritual ecstasy, for every act of goodness and kindness has a particular joy which brings the air of Heaven. When a person is all the time occupied doing good to others, there is a constant joy arising; and that joy creates a heavenly atmosphere, creating within him that heaven which is his inner life. This world is so full of thorns, so full of troubles, pains and sorrows. In this same world he lives; but by the very fact of his trying to remove the thorns from the path of another, although they prick his own hands, he rises and this gives him that inner joy which is his spiritual realization.
Man's greatest enemy is his ego which manifests itself in selfishness. Even in his doing good, in his kind actions, selfishness is sometimes at work. When he does good with the thought that one day it may return to him and that he may share in the good, he sells his pearls for a price. A kind action, a thought of sympathy, of generosity, is too precious to trade with. One should give and, while giving, close the eyes. Man should remember to do every little action, every little kindness, every act of generosity with his whole heart, without the desire of getting anything in return making a trade out of it. The satisfaction must be in doing it and in nothing else.
Every step in evolution makes life more valuable. The more evolved you are, the more priceless is every moment; it becomes an opportunity for you to do good to others, to serve others, to give love to others, to be gentle to others, to give your sympathy to souls who are longing and hungering for it. Life is miserable when a person is absorbed in himself.
The Sufi therefore finds the only way out of the distress of life, the life which will always fail to prove true to one's ideal. He rises above it, taking all things as they come, patiently. He does not mind how he is treated. His principle is to do his best, and in that is his satisfaction. Instead of depending on another person to be kind to him, the Sufi thinks if he were kind to another person, that is sufficient. Every wise man in the long run through life will find in this principle the solution of happiness. For we cannot change the world, but we can change ourselves.
The principal teaching of Sufism is that the heart of man is the shrine of God, to recognize God in one's own heart, to feel His existence, presence, virtue, goodness, all manner of beauty. It must be remembered that the whole life around us is a life of falsehood. The more you see and experience the more you see how very false it is, how much disillusionment there is. The only way of getting over it is to light the lamp in the darkness of night, and all will be cleared. The secret of life is this, to produce beauty in ourselves. When beauty is produced in the heart, then all that breaks the heart vanishes and the whole universe becomes one single vision of the sublimity of God.
It's beautiful, this text. In my blog I also wrote about this theme of helping others (see "Victims and others"). What you say about the characteristics of a spiritual person can be applied to Levinas as well, I think.
According to Levinas it is not a problem that people are selfish, and anyway this is our nature, we cannot decide to stop being selfish, permanently. Humans like to live and to be happy, if they wouldn't have that urge, if they wouldn't enjoy to be alive, they wouldn't survive for a long time. But we don't only care for ourselves fortunately, we do feel an urge / desire to help others also, sometimes. As Stefan said before, this urge for altruism can also easily be explained biologically. If I would not care for myself I would not struggle to survive myself. But if I only care for myself, and the people in my group also for themselves only, it is more difficult to survive as a group.
So humans are not only selfish but they also want to help others sometimes. They will want to help others in the first place when they love them, a mother will help her child, a man will help his beloved wife, etc. But it is also possible that I want to help somebody I don't know at all, because he does an appeal to me, because I feel a desire to end his suffering and because I am able to help him.
This urge to help others leads to a morally just action, if the action is based on an altruistic desire, not on selfishness combined with a rational calculation of possible future rewards. Levinas doesn't help the orphan because he thinks that this orphan can help him in return. Then it would be more logical to help powerful people instead of simple orphans.
He just sees that the child is hungry so he gives him food, he doesn't think about rewards.
And here's is a second text from the above mentioned website:
The Quran teaches about the love of man for man. The words in which the Quran has chosen to describe this relationship are mercy and kindness because the pinnacle of love is worship and so the word 'love' is appropriate for God alone. Hence, for human beings the words mercy and goodness are used instead of love because just as the perfection of love requires worship, the perfection of mercy requires kindness. (Even if the word 'love' has been used, in some places, to describe the relationship between men, the use of the word is to be interpreted in an allegorical sense. According to the Islamic teachings, real love is particular to God alone and all other loves are metaphorical and not real.)
In short, the holy word of God has used the word mercy for describing the relationships between mankind. For instance, God says that believers are those who "exhort one another to truth" (103:3) and "exhort one another to mercy" (90:17).
In another place, He says: "Surely Allah enjoins justice and the doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindred."
Thus it is the command of God that men be just to others; of still greater virtue is that they do good to others; and an even greater virtue is that they show kindness to men like they would to someone near and dear to them. Can there be a better moral teaching in the whole world? The command to do good has not been confined to merely conferring favours on others, but has been taken to the next higher stage where the doing of good becomes an instinctive urge, described in the verse by the term 'giving to the kindred'. Although a person who does a good deed as a favour performs a virtuous act, there is some motivation of recompense and reward. Such a person may get annoyed if the favour is denied or not acknowledged, and sometimes, in the heat of emotions, he may remind others of favours conferred.
However, doing goodness out of an instinctive urge, which the Quran has compared to goodness done to the kindred, is the highest stage of performing virtuous acts, and there is no stage of virtue after it. Examples of this stage are the acts of goodness performed by a mother in caring for her child for which she seeks no recompense and gratitude.