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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the ninth chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion on Sunday July 26th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Reading notes: HHK Interconnected Book (Module 3 – Living the Connection)

Chapter 9: Sharing Resources

So far: inner qualities of interdependence necessary for sustainability and compassion.

Next: directing these inner resources requires freeing ourselves from deeply held views and habits.

Central problem: comparing and competing (including the belief that these are beneficial for progress).

But: not the only option.

Sharing: 

Comparison and competition are counterproductive – aimed at increasing our portion of resources.

Need to shift our paradigm to relating to others (not independent with boundaries).

From an individual perspective, sharing sounds like giving up our freedom and resources without any personal advantage. We see others’ gain as our loss.

Serious world problems (refugee crisis, world hunger, environmental destruction) are compounded by our reluctance to share resources.

Alternative view based on interdependence and shift our paradigm:

Inner resources increase in the context of sharing – happiness is unlimited and renewable and increases when it is shared. Realizing this changes everything.

Rethinking Competition

Competition: valued, encouraged, almost required (economic, education, etc).

Positive results in terms of survival and material development.

But: disadvantages

  1. Comparing ourselves to others

  2. No final finish line to cross (endless)

  3. Life becomes an endless race.

  4. Leads to resentment, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction

  5. My addition: self-judgment

Problem: does not help with the pursuit of happiness.

Option: take a more thoughtful approach to setting values in our life

Common aim: happiness and freedom from suffering – this common goal provides a foundation for universal equality. Until this goal is reached, everyone is a valid object for compassion and deserving of conditions to flourish.

Completion –> winners and losers, but nobody actually wins.

Tapping Inner Resources

We tend to engage in an unthinking rush to upgrade (education, jobs, living space, finance, possessions etc)

This unthinking rush also feeds consumer culture.

Comparing: better to compare ourselves from where we came from or with those below or behind us in competitive schemes. Stop comparing with those above and ahead. Look back at the progress we have made. This helps us let go of dissatisfaction and instead experience contentment.

Example: comparing our cell phone with an earlier model instead of with the latest.

Teach ourselves to be satisfied with what we have and who we are.

People tend to under-rate themselves in terms of beauty (more of the compare world)

Misperception; also beauty lies within; beauty concerns our connectedness

We have all that we need and more.

Find an Inner Compass

It is a challenge to turn ourselves away from our habit of determining our worth by comparing.

Consumer culture promotes – must have X item to maintain our status gauging our personal worth on the basis of external and materialistic terms devalues inner qualities (so important).

Counter: cultivate our own inner standards; generate clarity about where our true worth lies and confidence in our ability to measure how we are doing.

Also: cultivate satisfaction – recognize our value.

Contentment is important; also courage to reorient ourselves.

Why courage? We are pulled by external social forces and pushed by our own greed and dissatisfaction – these reinforce each other and lead us back to old habits (social status and consumer goods).

Hard to change direction.

Must be decisive – ground ourselves in satisfaction and stay mindful of our true aim make lasting shifts for ourselves and later for communities.

Blind Faith

Consumer lifestyle relies on non-renewable natural resources. We assume science will find other resources to use when these run out. We take this approach rather than reducing our use of resources.

When premodern folks follow religions without question, we criticize that as blind faith and superstition.

But we do the same with technology and science. We follow with blind faith. Don’t even ask who funded the study? We don’t ask why research explored one question rather than another. We imagine that science is presenting objective truth.  We tend to blindly believe that science and technology have the power to protect us from the consequences of our own actions we continue the same patterns of consumption.

But: many scientists have alerted us to climate change, peak oil, species extinction, etc.

Problem: We believe when we are told what we want to hear – that our way of life can last forever. We believe in automatic happy endings even when inconsistent with fact. We fail to do what we actually need to do to bring about happy endings.

We ignore the environmental damage of continuing to rely on nonrenewable resources even though sustainable options are available.

Consumers, suppliers, citizens, scientists, and policymakers all play a role. We can all apply intelligence and question the viability of continuing our approach unchecked recognition that our consumptions patterns are leading in a dangerous direction courage to put on the brakes and change course (reducing consumption of nonrenewable resources).

Politicians who see this don’t even end up on the ticket. Unpopular.

Important to move in the direction of making reduced consumption of renewable resources popular.

Citizens: need to express skepticism.

Scientists: need to analyze the problem and create options.

Corporate and political: need to make these options available.

Consumers: Contribute by using options offered, even when not the easiest to adopt.

Consumers: Make individual changes and indicate that they want and need change on a collective level.

Challenging to modify our individual patterns of behavior, but if we are serious about protecting the planet’s resources courage to change.

Resources are Limited

Important to educate ourselves about the reality that we are interdependent individuals, inseparable from that reality – everything is interconnected.

The world is consuming as if natural resources will continue in an endless flow. Not true. Natural limits.

All arises from causes and conditions – when those causes and conditions no longer come together – no more arising.

Also: each cause and condition is dependent on its own set of causes and conditions. The web of interdependence links everyone and everything – therefore when one thing changes, everything shifts.

Changes – often too subtle to notice, but happening all the time. Our nonrenewable resources are dwindling with every use. The natural resources will run out completely at some point. Too late to moderate consumption to fit with what is available.

Our desire for consumption has no natural limit. Limits must be self-imposed.

We know this – why don’t we do it?

  1. No emotional awareness of interdependence (conceptual only)

  2. We do not feel or act as if we are interconnected. We act as if our actions are disconnected.

  3. Bombarded by unrealistic promises (media, marketing) that we can live in isolation from consequences.

  4. We don’t step back and think for ourselves.

What to do?

Slow down, relax our minds, and think deeply about how we are living in an interdependent world.

Ask ourselves – “Are our attitudes and behavior consistent with that reality?”

Find within the infinite sharable inner resources motivation we need to be able to share our limited external resources.

Building a Longer Table

Especially important for countries to contemplate if they consume resources disproportionate to their number.

Example: 5% of the world lives in the US, but we consume 30% of the resources used annually worldwide.

It is not our birthright to grab this large a portion of resources for our use. The world’s resources belong to the world collectively.

Also: these resources are not the property of this generation.

We must see ourselves as stewards (rather than owners) to protect these precious resources for generations to come.

We behave as though we are alone in drawing resources. Wealthy nations hoard and waste. No matter how rich and powerful we are, when the resources run out, there won’t be any left for us.

When we have so much good time to consider whether others don’t have enough. Good time to consider whether our use of resources comes at the expense of others.

Saying: If you have abundance, consider building a longer table.

Our wealth and excess can remind us that others are hungry or impoverished. We can be inspired to do something about that fact.

Global Production of Inequality

Globalization has allowed powerful countries to keep others away from their resources and at the same time secure commercial and political interests outside their own borders.

This is far from reflecting fundamental human equality.

Multinational Corporations:

  1. Seek new markets to sell their products at a good profit.

  2. Seek poor countries where cost of production is low (factories and buildings made of substandard materials, cutting corners on health and safety). This is possible because people are poor and desperate enough to work without demanding better conditions.

  3. The prices we pay are the result of these substandard low cost working conditions.

When we purchase consumer goods, we contribute to these conditions. Even if we grow our own food and make our own clothes, we still are dependent on the world – not innocent bystanders.

Water: A Universal Resource

Seems not to have limits.

Source of life.

No human race without it.

Equality in terms of need.

Access depends on circumstances.

All areas of the world use water. Arid areas pipe it in from other locations. Gardens and lawns mean we use more than our equal share.

Communities with ample resources may go through life without noticing that elsewhere people are dying for lack of clean drinking water.

Nations – same attitude issue – act as if something we have entitles us to squander it.

We are blind to the sameness of our needs.

Important – draw on inner resources to feel connected to others who share the same needs, but don’t have access.

Our resources are not ours alone to use or waste. Access does not mean entitlement to treat them as our exclusive possession.

Resources of the earth are common wealth. No reason to think water belongs to some but not others. Thirst is felt equality; bodies depend equally on clean water. The water belongs to all beings.

Awareness of interdependence recognition of the precious nature of scarce resources and inspires us to take extra care (consider what we are growing and how we are using water).

Living Breathing Planet

Forests are disappearing; fossil fuels are running out; earth’s drinkable water is diminishing.

We know this, but knowledge is not changing our behavior.

Need to learn to feel how very precious and rare our resources are – shift from mind to heart.

Helpful to think of resources as living beings personal connection. See them as sacred respect and motivation to care for them.

Question: Are trees and other living things appropriate objects for compassion?

HHK: even if they do not have an actual feeling of suffering, they yearn to survive. Trees seek out nutrients and sunlight and adapt to overcome adverse conditions. Plants seeks favorable conditions and protect themselves. They display a desire to live. We need to respect that.

We share that yearning to live with plants. Recognizing that can lead us to behave differently when we make use of the planet’s forest and other living things.

Scaling Up

Once we adopt a view of stewardship – how can we change course and live more compassionately and sustainably on this planet?

Huge challenge. So much sets us mindlessly moving in a reckless direction.

The future is being created by the causes and conditions we generate today. If we change our conduct today, we change the future.

Limiting consumption: Useless because we are such a small drop in a large ocean?

Consider: is this just an excuse to avoid changing our habits?

Waiting for someone else to take the first step just leaves us stuck in the same place.

Not helpful to delegate to those in power. This is not how interdependence operates.

Powerful can only bring change in conjunction with others. A Leader’s decision does not help without others participating.

Hearing about a local community project or reading about the suffering of children in another community might be the condition to motivate a leader (or others) to take up a cause.

Once leaders act – they need backing and support to counter the powerful interests against action. They need something to point to in order to establish there is a move for action that cannot be denied.

Each of us bears responsibility and has the opportunity to bring about needed changes – to identify, to inspire, to implement.

One role we play – consumers.

Consumers use energy – collective action amplifies effects.

We can send a message through our actions as consumers – expressing what we want and what we are willing to pay for it. As consumers we can change what is produced. They depend on us. If we change our behavior, they will change.

Our inner resources can provide the motivation to make consumer changes. Habits can be reshaped with discernment, empathy, compassion, generosity, responsibility and commitment. We can draw on these to shift to productive, sustainable practice, ending our current cycles of harm (to people, animals, and the natural world).

Replace greed with contentment and moderation.  Replace competition with sharing and compassion.

These are not idealistic shifts – they are fact-based and pragmatic.

If we approach the world’s supply of raw goods with a spirit of sharing and a sense of contentment and can appreciate what we do have, the earth’s limited external resources would be matched by the appropriate inner attitudes. This is an approach based on reality.

We can liberate ourselves from greed and dissatisfaction freedom to consciously embrace opportunities to share.

We can be different and equals, sharing resources and creating shared beauty.

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the eighth chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion on Sunday July 19th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

HHK Interconnected – Second Module (feeling the connection)

Chapter 8: Responsibility as Opportunity (Summary)

When we assume we are all separate, responsibility towards others is viewed as a burden that limits our freedom.

Adopting the perspective of interdependence reorients our relationship to responsibilities. Responsibility looks and feels different; responsibility becomes an opportunity and feels like love.

When we become discouraged, connecting with others and helping them allows us to recognize that our life has value.

By being loving and kind towards others we can discover affection and kindness towards ourselves. Being kind to others is the best way to be kind to ourselves.

When we broaden our view to include our connectedness to others (both material and inner qualities), then we understand the great value of our life.

Example: Consider helping a single stray dog (alone, distressed, frightened). We can see the immeasurable value of our own life when we look into this dog’s eyes, give this dog food, or scratch the dog’s ears.

Every small action is a turning point or stepping stone to see beyond our narrow view focusing on a separate self. Don’t judge the impact of such actions from the immediate external results (which may be small).

Consider instead the impact on the scope of our own awareness which can be immense. When we learn to truly recognize how much the value of our life rests in our connectedness to others, our relationship to responsibilities can change dramatically. We start looking for opportunities to deepen those connections and contribute positively.

No action is too small to fundamentally reorient our life in this way.

Material change is important (providing a meal to the hungry dog), but the primary value relates to inner qualities of love, protection, and care. These qualities are received as comfort, security, and easing of suffering. This is how others serve as a mirror of our beauty which cannot come to light when we are caught in an ego-centric life. This is the value of interdependence.

Contemplation: Bring to mind a time when you provided help to another being. How did that make you feel?

Action from Love

Interdependence opportunity to love.

We can expand our access to the love we have within us by putting ourselves in situations that allow us to love. Love is like language.

Language: We have the inherent capability to speak but without the conditions to learn language we will not develop the ability to speak.

Love: We have a natural capacity to love, but if we do not put ourselves in situations where it can develop, it will not grow to its full potential. It helps to have an environment where we hear the words “love” and “compassion.”

Taking ownership of our love: See it as something valuable you have and can use. Explore it, experiment with it, enjoy it, and play with it. Most important – practice extending it.

The more you feel and act on love, the more you appreciate your responsibilities as opportunities.

Discussion: When we practice Tonglen we have an opportunity to experience positive feelings towards others in the “safe” space of visualization practice. Here Karmapa is encouraging us to explore, experiment with, enjoy, and practice extending love in our daily lives. Any thoughts on how to put Karmapa’s suggestion into practice?

Generosity of Spirit

Generosity: Acting out of an attitude that has let go completely and does not hold on to anything for oneself.

Generosity does not mean meeting everyone’s needs (not possible)

Generosity is an attitude, a mental orientation that manifests in the act of giving unstintingly whenever we have the chance.

Generosity is not just material.

Generosity includes offering ourselves, offering a hand, offering a word, offering heart and mind.

Generosity extends our open heart and into action ready to act to benefit others.

Generosity of spirit helps keep our aspirations limitless (even when results are limited).

Buddha perfected the practice of generosity: His actions were not limited to the mere act of giving. He offered to others the satisfaction and joy he experienced as a consequence of his giving. Whenever he gave, he reaffirmed his intention to give again in the future whenever possible. Mentally, he was giving everything to all beings at all times.

Like Buddha, our aspirations can be limitless (in terms of sentient beings and time). When our aspirations are vast as the sky and extending until the time when all suffering is ended, we will not be discouraged if we do not see immediate results (or even foreseeable results)

Creating unlimited aspirations for unlimited time provides the momentum to maintain our enthusiasm over the long haul.

Contemplation: What does generosity of spirit mean to you (not material generosity)?

Contemplation: How do we put generosity into practice?

Collective Responsibility

Metaphor or interconnectedness: Like the threads in a fabric, the actions of one person serve as causes whose affects others must experience. Our actions can either harm or benefit others. Responsibility is part of the fabric of reality rather than an optional accessory.

Different types of causality:

  1. Causality that we see at work in natural processes (seed becomes a tree)

  2. Causality initiated by intentional actions of humans and other sentient beings (karma)

  1. Some results impact the actor

  2. Some results impact others

  3. Not neutral – either beneficial or harmful

We are responsible for others because all of our actions impact on both ourselves and others (beneficial or harmful). Recognizing this reality and our responsibility motivates us cultivate our qualities (generosity, contentment, courage, and love) in order to be capable of working for the benefit of others.

Results can be enhanced by joining with others. Shared positive aspirations and collective actions lead to positive results. Results of actions match the intentions that drive them (positive or negative).

Example: fashion trends – Jackie Kennedy – photographed in leopard skin coat set a fashion trend quarter of a million spotted cats died painful deaths.

When collective action happens we sometimes fail to look at the impact, but in this context the numbers make it more important to consider the results (beneficial or not). This is especially an issue in the world of technology which intensifies the reach of collective actions. Also, when we see a picture on a screen we are less likely to connect it with a living being.

Discussion: Can we identify examples of positive or negative collective action that we have participated in or observed?

Without Limits

Positive qualities (love, compassion, responsibility) arise readily towards those we already feel a connection to (children, parents, friend, pet). Love and compassion spontaneously arise as a result of our feeling of connectedness to a person or animal.

Because we are connected to everyone, there is no reason to extend love, compassion and responsibility to some but not others.

Equality must be applied universally. The same is true of love compassion, and responsibility. We must expand until we enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to benefit any being with whom we come into contact (including the rich and powerful).

Why the rich and powerful?

Someone is an appropriate object for compassion because they suffer. There is nobody who does not suffer – therefore everybody deserves compassion.

There is no reason to be more willing to help those who are afflicted by readily identifiable forms of suffering (illness, hunger, poverty, physical abuse, discrimination) while excluding those we consider well off (wealthy and power). These individuals experience little physical discomfort, but their unhappiness, distress, painful mental and emotional experiences may exceed what is experienced by those with fewer economic resources.

Examples:

An insatiable thirst for more wealth and power, battling anxiety and fear of losing what they have, struggling to have their superior status affirmed, and guarding reputation all lead to a miserable existence.

They may also be under the control of emotions or experiencing the consequences of destructive actions. Our concern for wellbeing (ours and others) should not focus solely on material conditions.

When the suffering of others is internal, we can draw on our own inner resources and qualities to help. This increases our confidence in our ability to fulfill our responsibility towards others who are suffering.

The advantage of contributing to the authentic happiness of the wealthy and powerful has benefits beyond bringing them happiness. These individuals are in the position to impact large numbers of people.

Examples: A business with lots of employees and individuals who make decisions that impact many people. Helping those on whom others are dependent helps those who depend on them.

The motivations and conduct of the wealthy have far reaching effects. Helping them move towards awareness of interdependence can affect many.

Finally, when wealthy and powerful folks do not care about others in society that is a sign of suffering (ignorance, greed, aversion, other troubling emotions) and a reason to feel compassion for them. Perhaps we can directly or indirectly help them see the role they can play — the opportunities they have to benefit others.

Discussion: We worked with extending love and compassion to difficult individuals (including wealthy and powerful “bad guys”) in Chapter 5. Here Karmapa points out that one advantage of generating loving kindness and compassion for individuals with wealth and power is that these individuals have the capacity to benefit large numbers of individuals. Any thoughts on this insight?

Not the Size of the Check

Spiderman quote: With great power comes great responsibility.”

Karmapa: Yes, with wealth and power we can do more, but having resources does not mean being obligated to do more.

Favorable conditions provides a greater ability and opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This can motivate us to work for the benefit of others. We see opportunities.

However, we should not be giving based on a sense of obligation. If seen as obligations they become a burden.

We should feel that the value of our lives is enhanced when we live our connections with and for others as opportunities to connect with love and offer benefit.

It is not the size of the checks, it is our emotional relationship to responsibility – seeing responsibility as opportunity, grounding this in noble aspirations, approach it with enthusiasm, expressing it as a form of love that results in joy.

Seizing and treasuring opportunities means we will do more for others naturally which results in sustainable and significant action.

We are all Karmapas

People have different capacities at different points in their own development.

Tibetan Buddhism – different phases of the spiritual path. We might begin our path wishing to free ourselves from suffering. As we train, we build up our capacities and over time the responsibility we are willing and able to assume expands – gradually we become willing to experience everybody.

Physically we have limits even if we train regularly. Mentally there is no natural limit. We can slowly train to extend our capacity indefinitely. Mind has untapped resources and infinity agility.

First we learn to be of true benefit to ourselves and from there gradually develop our ability to act for an increasing number of people until we encompass all beings.

Karmapa: means “One who performs the activities of a Buddha.”

HHK’s situation – unique but not unique.

He was always told that he had a responsibility to feel concern for everyone, but there is nothing unique about having this responsibility. We all share the same responsibility to care for others and be of benefit to the world. HHK’s title just drew attention to that fact.

Karmapa is reminding us that we have responsibilities to the world and encouraging us to develop our abilities to be of greater and greater benefit. He believes that everyone can and must be the Karmapa – a person who acts to benefit the whole world. We all have this responsibility.

Having been recognized as Karmapa is a precious opportunity to serve others and fulfill his responsibilities as a human being sharing this planet.

Because of the conditions of our lives, the opportunities will take different forms.

But, we all have a precious human life that allows us to discern what is harmful and what is beneficial. We have the opportunity to benefit beings in a vast way. If we put this opportunity into practice, all of us will lead beautiful and meaningful lives.

We all have room to grow. We can train to be capable of benefitting a larger number, more quickly and with greater skill. We can expand our concern and cultivate our capacity until the whole world is our concern.

We must use our discernment to determine how much we can realistically accomplish. We should not be attached to lofty aims.

Just start where you are. You can always grow from there.

Discussion: Any thoughts on this? “Karmapa is reminding us that we have responsibilities to the world and encouraging us to develop our abilities to be of greater and greater benefit. He believes that everyone can and must be the Karmapa – a person who acts to benefit the whole world. We all have this responsibility.”

 

 

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the seventh chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion on Sunday July 12th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 7 – Authentic Freedom (Summary)

What do we mean by Freedom? Doing whatever we want? Exercising our will over others? No obligations to others?

These meanings are based on the idea of self-sustaining separate entities. Other’s needs undercut our freedom. Relationships bind us and limit our freedom. This view leads people to dominate and oppress others.

Freedom is not a limited resource. One person’s freedom does not limit another person’s freedom.

Everyone can experience real freedom.

Wisdom distinguishes ego-centric ideas of freedom from authentic freedom.

We cannot exist outside of interdependence. Therefore freedom cannot mean escaping those inherent connections – our own freedom is inseparable from the freedom of all. One person’s freedom does not detract from other’s freedom. We all enjoy this freedom without conflict.

Freedom’s Inner Conditions

Authentic freedom arises initially from inner conditions – our own minds. Freedom is not about controlling our outer circumstances. No matter how challenging our circumstances. We can experience freedom if we cultivated inner resources. Also, we could have lots of external freedom and yet be bound by inner turmoil.

With inner freedom we have the freedom to work on the external circumstances that are beneficial for all.

What do we really want when we say we are seeking freedom? When we contemplate this we can see that what we desire is genuine happiness. If we feel free, we feel happy and if we feel happy we feel free. We must cultivate the inner conditions that give rise to those states.

Freedom Starts Here

Can’t achieve freedom by disentangling ourselves from connection and responsibility for others. If we try to leave interconnection behind, we are doomed to fail.

Tibetan saying: “Being in control of oneself is happiness; being controlled by what is other is suffering.”

However, we can also fall victim to inner forces that take over and control us. Being slave to our inner masters of jealousy, greed, resentment or prejudice is not freedom.

Authentic freedom means freedom from the control of destructive emotional forces. It requires wisdom and patience to work with these.

First step: Reflect on how emotional forces work. Determine which are constructive and helpful and which are destructive and harmful.

Second: Enter into a dialogue with the destructive forces and get them to release their hold. You do not need to do their bidding.

Example: When we are angry we may ponder ways to bring down the person who hurt us. This way we harm ourselves (lose sleep, eaten up inside, health suffers). When we experience anger we are the first victim. Recognition is the first step to dealing with it.

Benefits of Self-Discipline

Self-discipline or Self-mastery can be developed joyfully. We can chose, wholeheartedly, to do what we know is the best thing to do. This requires Mind Training.

When HHK feels constricted by his position, he asks his mind to open a bit more.

We have the freedom to work with our minds. No one is in control of our minds by ourselves. We can work with it to open further.

Abundant Freedom and Happiness

Inner freedom does not mean freedom to follow emotional impulses.

Freedom is rooted in wisdom: Intelligent application of discernment joined with contentment; appreciating what we already have.

Freedom and happiness do not depend on enjoying one particular set of external conditions or having one particular experience.

Discernment allows us to see that we have numerous opportunities open to us. Patience provides a longer view beyond instant gratification. An open heart and mind allows HHK (and us) to stay open to the choices we can make. Mental flexibility contentment and satisfaction with what we can do and can experience rather than fixating on what is beyond our reach. In this way, inner qualities work to create a state of authentic freedom.

Also, in our interdependent world, pursuit and experience of freedom must take others into account as well.  Freedom depends on and involves other people.

We can’t say, “My freedom or happiness is more important than that of anyone else.”

We are equal. Everyone is fully deserving of respect, understanding, and empathy. We cannot disregard the freedom and wellbeing of others in pursuit or our own comfort or freedom.

Practical reality: Failing to consider others goes against our interdependence.

Freedom can be achieved in a context of interdependence and should not be confused with momentary gratification and ego-centered impulses.

Authentic freedom arises when we bring together inner conditions that work interdependently to allow us to experience true freedom. Inner conditions mean discernment, empathy, openness, patience, wisdom, and contentment. These make true freedom possible.

Inner Contemplation

Outer conditions play a role in our ability to free ourselves. And finding our own freedom is not enough.

First, we must start with inner freedom, liberating our own mind. Attaining inner freedom protects us from external forces that would limit our own freedom and makes us able to fight for freedom for others.

Example: If we want to fight against discrimination against women, we must first free our own minds from discriminatory attitudes (including subtle). Working to free our own mind includes noticing the ways in which we are confused.

External conditions: We must be aware of external conditions that limit freedom. For example, communications technology and consumerist culture.  These forces can limit our freedom if we don’t know how to engage with them.

On the one hand, social media and the internet can facilitate free exchange of ideas. On the other hand, electronic media controls our freedom in many ways:  (1) consumerist vision; (2) social interest groups (including ISIS). Information is manipulated and we are manipulated if we believe misinformation.

Technology also can impinge on our freedom. We think we are having a private conversation on a cell phone, but not so.

Our fears and anxieties are used to control us (e.g. post Sept 11). Fear leads us to agree to limits on our freedom and privacy. Focusing on external sources of fear makes our minds vulnerable to fear and hatred.

We must work with our own minds to provide internal protection in order to be capable of working to bring conditions of freedom to others.

We share the world with people whose external conditions are lacking in freedom: (1) Many people are enslaved, especially women and children of poor families sold into servitude. (2) Limits on freedom of movement, freedom of self-determination, freedom of religion – exist in many places.

We can and must concern ourselves with the outer conditions of people’s freedom.

We must concern ourselves with the wellbeing of those people who are suffering because they are deprived of their basic human freedom. We are all responsible to change the external conditions.

We see our need for freedom and naturally wish for our families to be free. We can see the whole world as our bigger family. We are totally interconnected with all of the world.

Our freedom struggle begins with our own hearts and minds, but then must reach its fruition in the broadest possible context of universal freedom.

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the sixth chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday July 5th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

PART II:  FEELING THE CONNECTION

Chapter 6  OPENING HEART AND MIND Summary

Summary by Susan Busby

In PART I, His Holiness spoke about the many ways we are connected and the importance of contemplating our interconnectedness.  In this chapter, His Holiness talks about the importance of being open-hearted, and he points to the danger of closing our hearts.  He states we can close down to others based on our exposure to situations that overwhelm us, either in person or through television or the internet. He states the benefits of being open-hearted is “other-oriented” and also benefits ourselves. He provides some helpful remedies for us to prevent us from shutting down.  To achieve the goal of radical openness he suggests having and reaffirming our aspiration to be open-hearted,  and having patience, courage and constantly practicing, not leaving anyone being behind.

We can shut down and feel overwhelmed when trying to take in all the news that can be filled with suffering.  He states that the damage done to us “is not done by the news of suffering” but happens when we harden our hearts to that suffering.  In fact he says we damage ourselves when we “close ourselves off from others.”  He states that keeping an open heart was a very important part of his education.

TRUST AS A GIFT

His Holiness then talks about another challenge to keeping our heart open. He states that one of our most challenging situations is when someone hurts us.  He talks about the tension that can be created when politics enter the picture which happens in our mundane reality and also happens in a monastery.  He talks about individuals who betray our trust, which can happen at the societal level and an individual level. His remedy for this betrayal is not what most psychologists would advise us to do– protect ourselves from this sort of harm. He states that just because people betray our trust does not mean that we need to shut them out. However, he says that we do not become a doormat. We retain our purity, our commitment to an open heart.  But it seems like he is giving us the same advice that Michelle Obama gave:  “When they go low, we go high.”  He also cautions to not shut down in the interest of short term interest at the cost of our commitment to openness and goodness.

What is your first response when someone has betrayed your trust?

Did your response create greater or lesser connectivity between you?  Was that connectivity positive or negative?

 CULTIVATING RADICAL OPENNESS

In case we are feeling overwhelmed or daunted by His Holiness’s exhortation to stay open in difficult situations, he states that this is a gradual process that we can train in slowly over time.  An important inner condition to develop on our way to radical openness is patience. He cautions against becoming indifferent to the suffering of others that he has talked about elsewhere as one of our greatest dangers.  One way he teaches us to stay open in the face of suffering that is overwhelming is just to keep the suffering of others in our awareness.

UNIVERSAL AND UNCONDITIONAL

Another step on the path to radical openness is to start with people we like and can connect with, and if people are difficult, we can even start with animals.  He says that it is fine to start here as long as we maintain our commitment to keep expanding. He then states why it is illogical to exclude others from our loving kindness and compassion – we are all equal and all are interconnected so he questions why we differentiate.  This harkens back to the interconnected discussion in Chapters 1 and 2, and the equality discussions from Chapter 4.  When we  have the aspiration to benefit everyone , that gives us the target to aim for, and each person we benefit by our openness provides training for us.

A BRAVE HEART

Another quality he discusses that is helpful for radical openness is courage.  We need to have courage to keep our heart open, and this he says is a “powerful support” for compassion.  He distinguishes compassion and pity.  He states that pity is an attitude of superiority to those who are suffering, and if we cannot help them we just turn away. He contrasts  that to compassion where even if we cannot help someone in the moment, we don’t turn away but can make aspiration to help them in the future or to continue to look for ways you can be of benefit.  He also states that we try to retain a state of mental openness to respond appropriately.

FACING OUR FEARS

One way to gain facility in our radical openness, is through the process of contemplation so we can prepare ourselves for difficult situations before being in the midst of it. He gives us some very extreme scenarios—being faces by a terrorist—and asks us to contemplate how we would relate to the terrorist, asking ourselves if we can recollect that even a terrorists wants to have happiness and avoid suffering.  We can even think of a difficult boss, relative or co-worker.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche talks about this type of contemplation in his book Emotional Rescue.

His Holiness states that we need to work with fear which can “keep us from growing beyond what is familiar and comfortable for us.”  He further asks us to contemplate how leaving our comfort zone can result in tremendous personal growth.

Bring to mind a situation that was difficult but for which you feel there was growth for you.  Think about how difficult it was to perhaps hear from someone about how you hurt them, perhaps unintentionally. We might have had the tendency to argue, defend, shut down, or have revenge fantasies.   And how, if you were able to stay open, it changed you.

FROM RESULTS TO CAUSES

His Holiness states that if we can understand interdependence and stay open, working on the causes of suffering, we can become a “conscious agent of change.”  We do not need to make radical or drastic external changes immediately, which enormous change could sound impossible and unrealistic.  All we need is a shift in our perspective to look at the causes of the situation. Like the slogan “change the way you see it” to see the problem as an opportunity.

He teaches us that “when suffering is present, it is the result of various causes and conditions that have come together.”   When we can look at the causes of a problem, we can see how our actions really matter because we can change our actions and this can influence the result.  The example he gives is of global warming.  If all of us make small changes in our daily lives, for example being aware of our carbon footprint, purchasing only items we need, being aware of unnecessary packaging, joining a “no waste” group, switching to solar power or renewably sourced power, becoming vegetarian, cutting down on food waste, composting, purchasing through a co-op or CSA, etc etc.  These changes may not be comfortable.  Renewably-sourced energy is still more expensive to purchase in many parts of the country. Switching your diet can be difficult. Composting takes extra time and can be smelly and messy.  His Holiness states that if an issue is important to us we can discover a great deal of things to do that can affect the outcome.

What do you think of this focus on the causes instead of the results?

If you think of the issues that are important to you, what are ways that you can make small changes in your life?

FOCUSING ON MOTIVATION

His Holiness states that to attain our goal of radical openness, we need to understand, value and respect the concepts of diversity and equality.  He discussed these in Chapter 4.  If we don’t understand these concepts well, we will not be able to be open and will judge and shut out others from our circle of compassion. He cautions that when we commit to change our behavior in furtherance of a cause we believe in, we also need to be non-judgmental of others around us who may be behaving differently.  Otherwise our wonderful intention and behavior will be just another layer of pride in our hard outer shell of ego that keeps our compassion circle small. Our radical openness will be limited by our own ignorance.

A LONG TERM VIEW

In order for us to act more skillfully in the world, Karmapa teaches that we need to be familiar with “the interplay of motivations, perceptions, feelings and actions.”  We first need to start with ourselves.  If we are not honest with ourselves about our own motivation, thoughts, feelings and actions, we will likely cause further suffering when we try to be an agent of change in the world.  He also cautions that we cannot know the motivations, thoughts and feelings of others, just by looking at their outward physical manifestations. This is especially true when we are connecting with others who are different from us culturally or socially. He teaches that when those factors are involved, the outer manifestation of motivation, thoughts and feelings may look very different and it would be easy for us to misinterpret it.

Our expectations of others also is another source for us to create our own suffering.  He often compares Tibetan and Western ideals, and here talks about parenting.  He states when we have “too many expectations of how people should treat us verbally and physically, we may fail to recognize the real concern for us that they feel in their hearts. “  He states that in addition to cultural norms, there are also different personality variations which could lead us to interpret their behavior as cold instead of warm.  Taking a long view of relationships can help he says, and when we can stay open to more positive interpretations, we can sometimes see love in a situation where we thought there was none.   This ability to press the pause button on our assumptions and judgment is another form of openness.

 

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the fifth chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday June 21th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 5

FROM EMPATHY TO COURAGEOUS COMPASSION

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We have many positive qualities within us – qualities like empathy, courage, and wisdom. We might call these qualities the values of interdependence

Actively cultivating these qualities helps us go beyond a theoretical understanding of interdependence, to begin actually feeling ourselves to be profoundly interconnected.

Our inner world evolves in conjunction with our outer world. It shapes our interpretations and emotional responses to what we see around us, suggests possible courses of action based on those interpretations and our own aims, and produces the intentions to carry them out. This in turn changes our external circumstances, and from there the cycles of mutual impact continue.

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We are generally much more aware of the impact our outer circumstances have on our inner states and tend to grossly underestimate the effect of our inner world on the outer world.

(Krysha NOTE: We are very aware of how the world is happening to us, but not so aware of how we are happening to the world.)

The world inside our hearts and minds is made of different “material” than the physical world. Perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and intentions form part of the composition of our inner world, and so do all our other affective and cognitive capacities. These capacities are not physical, but they have the power to reshape the world.

WALKING A MILE TOWARD A COMMON GOAL

Empathy plays a powerful role in moving the awareness of interdependence from our heads to our hearts and from there into compassionate action. The interconnections that link us to others are not solely physical. We are profoundly connected emotionally to others, as well, and our capacity for empathy is a palpable sign of that emotional connectedness.

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Empathy reveals on an affective level what ignorance and egocentrism deny.

Empathy enables us to reach across differences and connect as equals. It does so by cutting straight through the walls that we build up around us and allowing us to touch the core of our equality: the ability to experience pain and joy.

Empathy takes us along a direct route to that ground. It lets us actually feel what equality has told us to be true: that we are all equal in terms of our search for happiness and to avoid suffering, even as the particulars of our experiences vary at any given moment.

This function of empathy is captured. By an expression from the indigenous peoples of the Americas that speaks of walking a mile in another person’s shoes.

We should…try to experience their situations from their perspective rather than our own.

We stand inside their shoes and see their lives from the inside, not merely observing it from the outside.

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On the basis of the empathy that arises… we can see a manifestation of the same basic wish that we share with them.

CONNECTED RIGHT FROM BIRTH

Empathy allows us to become aware of others’ situations and problems on an emotional level.

Studies of interaction among infants and very small children have shown that humans respond empathetically to others’ suffering from the very start of our lives.

Our own observations from our experience suggest that empathy is a natural human response. We wince when we see others injured…when we hear laughter, we can find ourselves smiling even if we did not hear the joke.

This ability to connect with the inner condition of others does not appear to be something humans need to be taught…Babies are apparently moved by others’ pain even before they learn to speak.

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Empathy can be thought of as hard-wired into our brains.

Although we are born with this inner quality of empathy, it can become less accessible to us over time. Indeed, nurture often seems actually to be diminishing our natural capacity.

But it is far more common – and of greater concern – that our empathy becomes impaired in the normal course of our upbringing. I believe it is time we asked ourselves collectively what we are doing in the socialization process that ends up diminishing the empathetic responses we observe so much more readily in children than in adults.

NO SOCIAL HEALTH WITHOUT IT

I think we can consider a lack of empathy to be a kind of disease as well.

There can be no social health unless empathy is made a central value.

I think apathy kills more than any other single disease. We turn our backs on many people in pain, rather than extending a hand or offering a world of comfort, out of failure to empathize.

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On a broader societal level, many situations of violence, oppression, and sheer neglect are allowed to continue because our empathy is underdeveloped or even switched off…we could call it empathy impairment.

When we are constantly linked externally but cannot connect from the heart, remaining emotionally unaware of the experiences of others, we lose our basis to create a healthy global society. (NOTE: shift from a barter economy to the use of money – less personal connection).

Given the extent of our connectedness, we need to care about the consequences of our words and actions on others. Empathy both keeps us concerned and helps us understand the experiences that our actions create in others.

Empathy impairment is a particularly dangerous disease in leaders who are in a position to make a difference in social policy or practices. The US president Barack Obama has spoken of the urgent need for empathy in society, and points out how harmful it is to the entire country when its government is lacking in this essential quality. I think the public should make this one of the main qualifications that they require of any politician seeking their vote.

Actually, since there are scientific means to measure empathetic responses neurologically, I have a proposal. I am half joking of course, but imagine if, before a country holds political elections, candidates were required to undergo a neurological study to determine their level of empathy.

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Or we could ask:

Do they disregard or deny the feelings of others? Are they able to connect on a human basis with those who are different from them? Do they only engage with others who further their own political aims? Do they care about the consequences of their decisions on others? By asking such questions, we could make empathy a criterion for serving as a political leader.

HOW EMPATHY CAN BE IMPAIRED

Like all other aptitudes we are born with, empathy can be reinforced or weakened.

CONTEMPLATE:

  • How might empathy be weakened?

  • What outer environments weaken empathy?

  • What inner environments or conditions weaken empathy?

We can intentionally provide better inner conditions for our own empathy to flourish.

As the studies show, we all start out with the capacity for empathy, if we live in environments where it is a distinct disadvantage to be sensitive and caring, the growth of our empathy and compassion can become stunted.

We can ask how our global society fares in this regard. People are constantly pitted against one another, as competition and greed are stimulated and celebrated.

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From school age onward, social dynamics are set up that encourage us to see ourselves in a race to be the one to win prizes and praise that cannot be shared.

This creates contexts in which not only is there no space for empathy; it is actively impeded. If we wish to nurture empathy as an important quality for creating a sustainable interdependent world, we may need to rethink many of our educational and social practices.

Question: What do we do about empathy that has already been weakened?

  1. Recognize how much is lost when our empathy is diminished.

  2. Explore strategies for bringing our empathy up to full strength.

CONTEMPLATE

  • How might empathy be reinforced?

  • What kind of environments reinforce empathy?

  • What inner environments or conditions reinforce empathy?

  • What actions of body or speech might enhance empathy?

We don’t need to start from ground zero, since empathy is inherently present in all of us. Therefore, our task is more a matter of developing something that has been underdeveloped, or restoring something that has become weak or restricted.

Our natural capacity for empathy seems to decline as we age.

We can take Hitler as an instance of someone whose empathy was profoundly restricted in scope.

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Hitler was known to have displayed great tenderness and empathy toward certain dogs.

The challenge is to train such people to broaden or transfer the feelings of tenderness and care that they are able to feel toward certain people or animals to other beings as well. Actually, we could all benefit from such training.

This is where training in compassion and loving kindness can come in. (discussed in third section of book).

Note: this training proceeds by

  1. strengthening the existing basis of empathy or compassion that we already have.

  2. Extending it outward so as to be increasingly inclusive and increasingly intense.

Actually, until the moment when we have an unbearable, unconditional response to the suffering of all beings without exception, our empathy has not yet reached the limits of how far it can grow.

OUR BACKSTAGE PASS

Inner and outer conditions are continually interacting to shape our actions, and thus to shape our world. For that reason, we also need to consider the internal conditions that lead people to act and react in certain ways.

When it comes to people’s actions, motivation is a key aspect of the context. Motivation arises from within and guides an external course of action. We must find ways to look beyond people’s visible conduct and gain a sense of the inner states and emotions that motivate that conduct.

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When our mind and heart are open, we can better listen to what our empathy tells us. This helps us understand what is going on inside others, motivating them to act as they do.

There is always an unseen background. Each person has within them an inner emotional world, where things have been evolving and are decided long before they are revealed to the public. Things never simply burst forth for no reason and with no impelling force whatsoever. Empathy can serve as a backstage pass, giving us access to the reasons and the forces impelling others’ actions.

We see what was going on inside a person, leading them to act as they did.

We can only bring about lasting changes in behavior by recognizing and addressing the inner and outer conditions that lead to it.

IN THE MOST CHALLENGING CASES

One of the Boston bombers had expressed on social media that he felt friendless. He did not fit in and felt socially isolated.

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We hear of sociopaths who were so starved for affection in their childhood that they have become cruel and callous, apparently losing their ability to empathize. They are unable to feel the pain that their victims feel, and they inflict pain on others or even kill them.

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Angulimala who killed 999 people and made a necklace of their finger bones.  Rather than trying to counter Angulimala’s murderous actions by force, the Buddha challenged him to stop himself. What the Buddha recognized that others could not was that Angulimala had the potential for change. This is only possible when we connect on a level that is beyond their external conduct.

Just looking at Anulimala’s behavior, it would be easy to consider him a lost cause, or even a monster. Yet the Buddha was able to turn him around completely.

No person is beyond the reach of our understanding if we are able to extend ourselves toward them. But we must learn to look beyond their words and deeds to see the inner conditions that led to them.

CONDEMN THE BEHAVIOR, NOT THE PERSON

Death of Osama Bin Laden. I did not feel quite the way I most often do when I hear of someone’s death. I simply thought, “Oh, I see. He is dead.” People in the USA were dancing in the streets.

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I had the thought that by dancing like this at the death of one enemy, in that very moment they were giving birth to many new enemies. This is how  cycles of hatred and harm are perpetuated.

The belief that our enemies are utterly unlike us is a significant problem. It is a major part of how enemies are created in the first place – and it is a part that we ourselves can change.

(George Takaki’s book: Strangers from a Different Shore about Japanese internment camps – use of nicknames to dehumanize your enemies).

We can condemn their behavior, but we should not dismiss the person.

Take into account all the factors affecting the over time. There is more to a person than just the particular action that we are witnessing and disliking. If we are willing to look, we can always find another aspect of them that we are able to connect to and work with.

The term terrorists, is applied nowadays to all sorts of groups, and this becomes an excuse to spy on, attack, or imprison people, and otherwise limit their freedoms.

If we do not address the causes and conditions that five rise to terrorism but only seek to stop each new manifestation of it, we will never uproot terrorism. Killing terrorists will never end terrorism.

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The longer term challenge is to understand why people came to take such extreme positions in the first place.

Even if we do not accept that their reasons justify their actions, we still need to determine what their reasons are.

It is the reality that we are interdependent that makes it imperative that we not only look for ways to halt each new terrorist act but also to identify the causes and conditions that give rise to such violence.

By shifting even one of the causes and necessary conditions, we can and will change the end result. For that to happen, we must acknowledge and understand them.

BEFORE CASTING THE FIRST STONE

When we analyze the forces that motivate harmful behavior, we find a fairly familiar set of dark emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and greed.

We need to understand our negative inner conditions so we can reduce them and base our connections with others on our positive qualities instead.

We fall prey to disturbing emotions that can overtake us and influence our judgement, our decisions, and our behavior. We can become totally controlled by disturbing emotions such as anger.

(NOTE: It is often said that the mind is the king. It determines the actions of body and speech.

The state of our mind determines how we see the world and how we react or respond. A mind permeated by a disturbing emotion will see the world through that lens and actions will be permeated by that disturbing emotion as well.)

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In the moment of rage, we say we were not in our right mind. In a sense we were impaired like a person who is temporarily insane or whose empathy is completely switched off.

If we were looking for the actual source of the violent behavior we see in the world, the blame should be laid squarely on the disturbing emotions that were present at the time of the action, not simply on the person as a whole. We do not usually approach anger and violence from this viewpoint.

Learning how to break a situation down into its constituent conditions and parts is necessary in order to see how things can be changed. It allows us to isolate, denounce, and eliminate the causes of the destructive behavior rather than rejecting or eliminating the person as a whole. WE all fall prey to destructive emotions such as anger, at different moments and to different degrees.

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Therefore we need to improve our skills at reducing the emotion of anger individually and as a society.

No one in their right mind actually seeks out pain and problems, yet we see people harming others or themselves and clearly not making any progress toward securing their own happiness and well-being…We are observing someone even more deserving of our compassion…They have become enslaved to their own disturbing emotions and lack true freedom. Even as we develop strategies for reducing negative conditions, we can also be actively working toward greater empathy for those who feel such harmful emotions.

In our quest to enhance our own empathy, we don’t work only with those who deserve our pity. We can also work with people who are seemingly better off than us. Rather than fixating on differences, we can recollect the shared aspiration that we all have.

The resources that we all have in abundance are our inner resources, and these are what we can develop boundlessly to yield the happiness we yearn for. When we are focusing solely on material resources as a means of securing happiness, chances are we will not actually experience happiness.

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FROM EMPATHY TO COMPASSION

Empathy does not require you to condone what others do or excuse it. It just gives you some understanding of what they are undergoing. With empathy, subject and object are distinct. By contrast, compassion brings you closer. Compassion goes deeper than empathy and involves you further.

With compassion, you feel as if that distance disappears, and you imagine that you actually are the other person…You and they almost become one person. You can feel the other’s suffering and wish for them to be free of it.

Compassion is therefore more engaged and much more active than empathy alone…You might pass someone on the street and feel some empathy, but compassion stops you in your tracks. It draws you in and much more readily translates into action…Where there is compassion, there is much more energy to act.

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Although empathy can give us the awareness or understanding of what the other is undergoing, the other somehow remains other. Compassion enters straight into your heart…We are almost one person with them.

ENDING SPECTATOR COMPASSION

During the Boston Marathon bombing, I say images of a young man with both legs blown off, his bones protruding, being assisted by an older man in a cowboy hat. When we watch the images…that compassion is a sort of spectator compassion. It is wholly unlike the compassion of the man in the cowboy hat. He was so totally focused on saving the younger man’s life that there was no space for any sense of his own personal distress.

When you are completely connected to another’s situation and feel as if you were in their place, you direct all your energy toward finding some solution….anything and everything you can possibly do to protect his life and ease his pain. Your thoughts and feelings are so completely directed toward addressing and ending that suffering that you only experience the wish to free him from suffering. You do not actually experience suffering.

Spectator compassion is a kind of knowing without really feeling. Real compassion connects with the living experience and wants to move with the person, to bring them out of suffering and up to the final goal of happiness.

I think if your empathy with someone you see suffering overwhelms you with suffering yourself, this is a sign that you have not fully come over to the other’s place. You are still a spectator of someone else’s pain. Your empathy has not gone far enough.

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Once you connect completely on the level of feelings, that distress goes away.

In HHK book, The Heart is Noble, the focus of our compassion should not be narrowly aimed at the suffering itself but must take in the person who is suffering…When we are connecting with the person in their pain, we do not even consider this option of giving up and abandoning them in that state.

COURAGE IS THE ROOT OF COMPASSION

The element of courage is essential for strengthening our empathy…Compassion does not leave you feeling overwhelmed or impotent in the face of the suffering you see. Courage is the root of compassion.

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It is not the case that when you feel compassion you only see suffering and pain and cannot see anything beyond that. Rather, you have the imagination to see the other as free and happy and you keep that aim in mind.

With compassion, the result – happiness – is present before you, like a finish line. In a race, you might be tired physically, but you are sustained by your determination not to stop until you have reached your final goal. You are sustained by joy at the prospect of attaining that goal.

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