Tuesday, June 16, 2009

compassion is our nature

I. Tenderness and Tigers
I googled "compassion images" this morning and found these moving pictures. I like emotionally moving images, sure, but I don't trust their sentimentality. It's too easy, too simple, to be very helpful.
I'm strengthened and heartened more by the photo farther down of a Thai abbot who works with tigers at a sanctuary (from the site Tiger Temple). Touching the heart, yes, but not so easy: I wouldn't choose to sit among animals that could bite my head off.
Life is like that, though. We do sit among tigers--if nothing else, the tigers of our own nature.

Images, left to right: "Compassion" (1897), by WilliamAdolphe Bouguereau; Mother Teresa of Calcutta; unsourced photo of soldiers.

II. Compassion for Self

Last night I put Slovakia to bed about 9 p.m. and sat on the couch with a glass of wine. It very clearly came to me that it's simply not necessary to carry certain burdens into the last third (?) of my life.

By "burdens" I mean something like what Catholics call "sins." I really like the list of the Big Seven (greed, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, pride, sloth). I'd like to write more personally about this, but it's back to Slovakia--finishing the Economy chapter today, d.v. (deus vult = "god willing").

So I'm just plunking down here a couple things I find encouraging in my willingness to let go of some of the burdens I carry. I picture them, this morning, as great big rocks I've piled into the panniers the little donkey of my self carries. The idea of emptying those panniers feels so good!
But it's also like being willing to work with tigers, as the monks at the Tiger Temple do, which is where the image is from.

This summer I've been especially aware of the burdens of resistance and resentment, which are both rocks and tigers. Hmm... I guess some "sins," like sloth, are more like rocks--cold and heavy--and others, like pride, are more like tigers--hot and fast.
It makes sense to me to practice compassion for my own self, since I can so clearly see that much of the harm I do (myself and others) is a side-effect of these burdens.

III. Lighter, Cooler

Catholicism can feel like a pile of hot boulders to me. There've been times I've needed that weight, that heat--they matched what was happening in my life.
But lately, I enjoyed scientific takes on these religious/psychological topics, which feel much cooler. I appreciated this interesting post about altruism from an evolutionary perspective over at Cocktail Party Physics: "be nice: it's what makes us human".

As a Westerner, I find Buddhism to be a little lighter than Catholicism (I know this is an illusion, or anyway an oversimplification, but that's how I experience it). So, from the site A View on Buddhsim, "Compassion and Bodhicitta":

Teachings of H.H. the Dalai Lama at Compassion, the Supreme Emotion:
"Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion...is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."
--Sharon Salzberg

"The Dalai Lama shared the following simple practice that will increase loving and compassion in the world. He asked everyone in the group to share it with as many people as they can.

The Practice:

1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved) and we are all connected to one another.
2. Spend 5 minutes -- breathing in - cherishing yourself; and, breathing out - cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the simplest person (clerks, attendants, etc., as well as the "important" people in your life; cherish the people you love and the people you dislike).
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.

"These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful. The practice of cherishing can be taken very deep if done wordlessly; allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that already exists in your heart."
The page on compassion ended with a couple funnies.
Humor is indispensable.
This one made me laugh:

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes."

Especially useful when criticizing tigers.


Manfred Allseasons said...

Yes. Compassion and politeness will keep you sane and more or less happy....well, I think so...

fresca said...

That, and vodka martinis!

momo said...

Lovely, lovely post. Recently I've been trying to deal with my resentments by making gratitude lists. I will think about these ideas about compassion today. thank you.

fresca said...

Yeah, it's an ongoing thing, isn't it...