The thought for today is COMPASSION.
Mother Teresa implored us to “find someone who thinks he is alone and let him know that he is not.”
Compassion is at the core of anyone seeking enlightenment. It is the very essence of leading a spiritual life.
We have compassion when we are aware and acknowledge that each individual we encounter is going through some form of suffering. We have compassion when we have the genuine and sincere desire to wish that the individual is alleviated of that suffering, for the suffering to end.
Compassion is closely related to, although different from empathy. We have empathy when we are sensitive to other people’s feelings. We have empathy when we are able to feel other people’s feelings and put ourselves in their shoes.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy which is about feeling sorry for them, or having pity on others. Rather, when we empathize, we can identify with their suffering and imagine what they’re going through.
The Buddha knew that humans are trapped in samsara, the cycle of birth and death, and that suffering inevitably comes with it. Hence, his teachings centered on the development of compassion as a very important spiritual quality.
To develop compassion is developing “Bodhichitta”, the mind of enlightenment.
Batchelor describes it in Buddhism without beliefs: A contemporary guide to awakening as “an attitude of taking responsibility for helping others, serving others, and putting that into action without any selfish motivation” (p. 11).
It is taking appropriate course of action and being motivated solely by the desire to help and alleviate people from their suffering. It is wishing for enlightenment not only for one’s self but for all others.
Having such an attitude is accomplished by having an enlightened mind, the Buddha nature, the essence of every being.
“The enlightened mind is omniscient. The enlightened mind sees everything. Not only everything, but everything simultaneously” (p.13). Having an enlightened mind is developing a nonduality consciousness.
The natural state of the mind is one of peace and clarity. And what makes the mind move out of this peaceful and clear state is our emotion.
Emotion per se is not unhealthy. It is what we do with the emotion that distinguishes enlightened beings who have control over their emotions or their emotional reactions, from those who are controlled by their emotions.
An enlightened mind is what allows us to act, say, and think out of compassion and wisdom. An enlightened mind is what gives us the ability to see the interrelatedness in all things and honor and respect all of creation.
I can feel angry but not BE angry. Otherwise, I BECOME the anger. I need to separate myself and be able to disidentify from the emotion. That is how I can become the observer and watch myself go through the experience of feeling angry.
Wisdom guides me to what I do with the emotion. It is always a choice. I can choose how to respond to the emotion when I have it. There is a huge difference between reacting and responding. I react when I associate with the feeling. I respond when I am able to remove myself from the situation and act, behave, say or think with loving kindness.
Batchelor writes that “a compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them” (p. 89). (See related post, MASTERY).
The danger of messianic and narcissistic inflation
There is also a danger for what Batchelor refers to as messianic and narcissistic inflation. He points out that “the greatest threat to compassion is the temptation to succumb to fantasies of moral superiority” (p. 89).
It is important for us to be clear on what our intention is in helping others. What is our intention in suggesting to a friend what she needs to do?
Do I feel good when I am able to shed light to a friend’s dilemma because she has been alleviated of the pain or confusion? Or do I feel good only because I was able to prove my superiority over my friend? That I am more evolved and more spiritual? Does the feeling good feed my ego, or is the feeling good coming out of my true essence?
When we have the desire to alleviate the pain or suffering of another and when serving others is the goal, to effectively do so begins with serving ourselves first.
We can only be a true servant to others when we begin with improving our own actions and attitudes.
And we improve ourselves by starting with the mind, by disciplining the mind.
And developing an enlightened mind, developing Bodhichitta, is the essence of Buddhism. And to develop Bodhichitta requires the development of compassion.
To be continued
Batchelor, S. (1998). Buddhism without beliefs: A contemporary guide to awakening. New York: Riverhead Books.
Gyatso, G.K. (2007). Transform your life: A blissful journey. New York: Tharpa Publications.
64 Ways in 64 Days Nonviolence Daily Reflections Day 46 – Mar. 16, 2012
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