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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.



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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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


Page 99:

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.

Page 100:

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.


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.

Page 101:

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.

Page: 102

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


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.

Page 103:

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.


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.

Page 104:

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.

Page 105:

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.


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


  • 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.

Page 106:

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.


  • 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.

Page 107:

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.


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.

Page 108:

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.


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

Page 109:

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.

Page 110:

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.


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.

Page 111:

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.

Page 112:

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.


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.)

Page 113:

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.

Page 114:

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.

Page 115:


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.

Page 116:

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.


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.

Page 117:

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.


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.

Page 118:

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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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 fourth 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 14th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 4 – Equality and Diversity

We are living in an historical moment when there is great awareness of human diversity and a much broader commitment to human equality than in the past. To nurture this positive development we need to remain clear on the actual foundation of our equality, so that we do not mistake the diversity differences as an indication of inequality.

The bases of our equality are: 1) By virtue of having a mind or awareness, all sentient beings are equal in our capacity to experience pain and joy, in our pervasive longing to avoid suffering and to be happy, 2) All human beings are equal in our capacity to cultivate inner conditions on which our happiness depends, as individuals and also as a society, and 3) We are all equal in depending upon the earth to sustain us.

Contemplation: Which foundation for equality speaks to you? (1) all sentient beings are equal in terms of their longing to experience joy and avoid suffering; (2) all human beings are equal in terms of their capacity to cultivate inner qualities of empathy wisdom, and compassion; (3) all sentient beings are equal in terms of depending on the earth to sustain us.

Equality is not sameness. Tibetan example of trees – at the level of roots we are the same, but branches have great variety. Our many differences in lifestyles, opinions, gender ID, racial characteristics, etc. do not make us more or less human.

 Contemplation: What do you experience as the benefits of diversity (cultural assumptions, religious views, philosophies, lifestyles, opinions, sex and gender identity, race)

The Marketing of “Equality”

The ideal of equality may be broadly accepted, but we do not act and feel equal. There is a great deal of real and perceived inequality. Globalism and consumerism uses equality as a marketing tool to stimulate a sense of personal inequality which can be overcome only by buying more goods.

Global economy sends the message that we are inadequate and incomplete – we need to acquire things to make up for that – leads to constant comparisons with others and the need to keep up. Not knowing the basis of our true worth leaves us impoverished.

What is Development, Really?

We have a culture of seeing some communities of people as “backwards”, in need of development, etc.

What is meant by development? Commonly meant as material development, more consumer goods, etc. This can lead to people becoming “low wage slaves” and the loss of their original human culture. But development could mean having better access to other conditions for happiness and well-being: Development of inner conditions for growth as a human being.

But this is tricky – other worthwhile resources are education, healthcare, etc. As these are adopted, traditions and cultural knowledge begin to dwindle. There is no easy answer! So big questions: How can we establish social equality without erasing diversity? How can we embrace our differences with mutual respect and harmony?

Contemplation: HHK says, “We need to think carefully about how to manage obvious differences. How can we establish social equality (education, medical knowledge, racial and gender equality) without erasing diversity (religious, sustainable ecosystems, biodiversity)? How can we embrace our differences with mutual respect and harmony?”

Difference is not Deficiency

Distinguishing between being equal and being the same: Reducing the ideal of human equality to the idea of sameness results in great harm, especially when the ideal to be aspired to is determined by the self-interests of a few.

Example of extreme plastic surgery, with South Korean women becoming visibly identical in pursuit of a commercially driven vision of beauty.

Our idea of equality must go deeper: not in how we look, but in who we are. We are equal in our shared human condition and in the latent nobility of heart that lies within each of us.

The Value of Diversity

The view of interdependence teaches us to value biodiversity in the natural world. Likewise it can help us value human diversity. It can lead us to appreciate the benefits and beauty of our differences.

One particularly difficult area for appreciation of differences is religion. However, since humans are very diverse in predispositions and needs, we  benefit greatly from having a wide variety of spiritual paths available to us. The idea that one religion is “right” and all the others are inferior or mistaken is unsustainable and not useful. The point for any religion is to suit and benefit individuals.

Religions have the common goal to alleviate suffering and help us find happiness and live meaningful lives.

A Century to Share

In the past century our ability to share information, ideas and goods and our ability to travel have increased dramatically. Much more cross-cultural and cross-religion sharing and communication than in the past. However, with such sharing and contact, both parties are impacted and changed in some ways … both positive and negative consequences.

“Each culture and religion is no longer the property of any single community but is available to all who live on this planet to learn from.”

Given this new reality, the appropriate attitude is to learn to value one another and recognize diversity as highly productive and beneficial. Let go of privileging our own views and deem those of others as inferior. However, wrongly approached, this can easily lead to cultural appropriation and spiritual materialism, not genuine human sharing. Encounters with other cultures and religions must challenge us on some level in order for them to be meaningful. We need to really listen to other traditions, taking care not to project onto them our own meanings and assumptions.

“Authentic sharing means being open to the possibility that the other will change you.”

Our valuing of diversity needs to be grounded in an awareness of our basic equality … on the level of common sense, common values, and common human needs and aspirations.

Sharing is a double-edged sword. It can be used for good or ill. E.g. airplanes can be used to transport people to desired destinations or to drop bombs. Like airplanes, sharing has sharply increased in the past 100 years or so. The focus of sharing needs to be learning to understand one another and appreciate our great diversity.

Contemplation: When we encounter views that are different from our own (including traditions from other cultures here and around the world) what are the best ways to interact, listen and communicate?

The Consequences of Ignorance

All too often the above is not how we respond to sharing. Much of the time we react out of ignorance.

“Into the vacuum created by our basic ignorance about others, we heap our own projections. We take isolated details and flesh them out into full-blown fictions, or we uncritically adopt them from the media or society. When we do not recognize or acknowledge our own ignorance about others, we believe in these fictions.”

Likewise, we take one aspect of a person and think we have seen them in their totality.

Also, we ascribe a false reality to something that has merely been imputed … a person’s name, for example. Or a person’s race or religion.

“We fail to recognize when we are operating on the level of words and labels and not the actual people or things themselves.” Also, “Ignorance denies our own role in producing ideas that we have about others. Ignorance ignores the many interconnections that link us to others and the way those interconnections shape or views of one another.”

“We focus on fictions we ourselves have written and think we are reading the truth.”

This kind of ignorance easily gives rise to fear, and fear is easily manipulated. E.g. fear of Muslims as of 9/11, fear of Middle-Easterners as of Boston Marathon bombing, etc., etc.

“If we analyze this confusion whereby we take projections and appearances to be reality, and we ask ourselves how we became so caught up in labels and identities, we can trace the problem back to a basic problem of selfishness> we cling to our judgements and impressions simply because they are our own. This is a form of arrogance.”

“Rather than simply taking our limited views as the truth, we could ask how things appear to others. There is a great value of seeing through the eyes of others as well as our own.”

Contemplation: How do we become caught up in labels, identities and judgements with respect to diverse groups (including foreigners, evangelists, ethnic group, and political affiliation)? How can we let go of these mistaken judgments?

Hierarchy and Power

We take external appearances as a sign of inherent difference. This includes social hierarchies that we believe are natural and fixed, rather than based on social construction. However, in hierarchies, those at the top depend on those below and vice versa. Nobody is powerless. Those with power are neither inherently superior nor inherently inferior to others. Equal does not depend on social order, but on the reality that we are all endowed with the potential for goodness and the capacity to feel pain and joy.

We can mistake a privileged place in a hierarchy as an opportunity to further self-interest. This is an abuse of hierarchy and is counter-productive. We all must understand the interdependent nature of hierarchies and the importance of responsibility and concern for others. Hierarchies are social orders we create for a specific purpose. When the hierarchy outlasts its purpose we must reorganize ourselves.

Social Inequality is Not Natural

What is the basis of our society today? Our society today is not based on the yearning we each have for happiness, which is equal in all of us.

Rather it is based on who has access to power and who has access to power through wealth. Access to education is crucial, as that determines our economic opportunities. Money is made a condition of access to healthcare and to other means of eliminating our suffering and securing happiness. Therefore there is lots of inequality.

We feel this situation is the fault of the government or big corporations, etc., but this is false. Those in power depend upon those below them. We all have the responsibility to not support this kind of hierarchy … vote against them, don’t buy their products, don’t go along with their policies. (Resist and educate)

Hierarchies and inequalities are human constructs, and can change over time. In ancient history physical strength was important, but now empathy, openness, caring and gentleness are more needed … a shift from generally masculine toward qualities that are more feminine. But this is not a zero-sum game, where for one to win the other must lose.

In the end, our efforts to extend equal rights to all in our global society will succeed or fail based on whether or not we can connect with the real ground of our equality. When we lose sight of our common humanity … our common needs and interests … then diversity looks like an obstacle to equality.

“Interdependence offers a way to see instead the great value in diversity and to recognize that equality does not require uniformity.”

“We also need to learn new habits of connecting from the heart across differences. To that end, our basic capacity for empathy is a powerful resource we can develop to connect on that deeper level.”

Contemplation: When we recognize that hierarchy is driving inequality (wealth, education, healthcare, environment, race, sex and gender) what actions can we take to alleviate this situation?

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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 third 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 7th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

CHAPTER 3: Being and Interdependent Individual

It may seem strange to apply the term “interdependent” to ourselves. It seems to negate individuality. Not so. Interdependence is what develops the personality traits that define us in unique ways.

We never question our assumption that we are a separate, self-sustaining or independent entity. Buddha taught interdependence because he saw that people were clinging to this assumption that we are independent and separate. Buddha taught that this view is the source of our deepest confusion in life and the gravest problems in society.

This view underestimates or ignores the connections between ourselves and others. We see others as apart from us. We believe we can act without consequences for others.  However, we cannot ignore the collective effects of our individual actions.

“Interdependent individual” is not an oxymoron. It is a powerful guide leading us to take better charge of our lives.

Examining the Unexamined

Interdependence is how things are whether or not we are aware of it. Both scientific studies and observation of our experience come to the same result – interdependence.  Everything arises from multiple causes and conditions, including ourselves. Nothing comes from a single cause alone.

    Contemplation: Consider the people and events that made you who and what you are today (body and mind).

Yes, we are unique, but not distinct and unrelated to others. The unique person we become over the course of our lives is based on the ongoing interplay of interdependent causes and conditions.

If we cling to individuality without appreciating how our individuality is supported by interdependence, we live in a state of willful blindness that harms us and others and limits the positive ways we can help others through our connections to them.

From Arrogance to Love

Viewing ourselves as independent leads us to believe and behave as if we are entirely self-made, as if we gathered all the conditions needed to bring us into being. We think we owe nothing to others.

Ignoring interdependence disregards the importance of others to our current well-being. We devalue their contributions. This harmful delusion impairs our ability to relate in a healthy way to others.

Interdependence is a more realistic and healthier vantage point from which to relate to our individuality.

    Contemplation:  How has interdependence made you unique?

    Contemplation: Consider what you have received that makes you the unique individual you are today. Consider your feelings about the individuals identified in this contemplation.

    Contemplation:  Karmapa says that gratitude and appreciation for what others have done for us leads to cherishing and affection for others, which in turn leads to responsibility for the well-being of others. Contemplate this point.

We can actually experience the intimate connections that link us constantly to others and to the planet. This transcends simply understanding interdependence. This is an active sense of love and concern for other people and the natural world.

Real Self-Reliance

We need to cultivate healthy self-reliance. Interdependence provides a firm basis for healthy self-reliance because interdependence allows us to consciously change course and grow in new directions.

Why? When things depend on causes and conditions for their existence, they are open to change. Causes and conditions constantly interact in ways that affect the outcome.

Example: A seed is not the sole cause of a tree. Conditions such as moisture, soil, and warmth determine the size, strength and quality of the tree. Manipulating any of these conditions changes the result.

In the same way changing conditions in our lives (especially inner conditions) can change our lives.

First, we need to identify correctly the inner conditions we can and must change. Being attentive to the workings of interdependence allows us to recognize the opportunities we have to take charge of our lives. This is healthy self-reliance because it does not deny the role of others or external circumstances. Instead, takes them into consideration. We attend to both our experiences within and also to the interactions we have with our social or natural environment.

[Humility and Confidence are explained later in this Summary]

    Contemplation: Consider what positive quality you aspire to strengthen (love, compassion, wisdom, humility, or confidence). What is your plan for strengthening that quality?

We cannot change the course of our lives by changing a single cause or a single condition. We must cultivate many inner conditions to bring real transformation. The potential has always been there, but once we decide to develop that potential, we do so by bringing together all the conditions that enhance the quality we want to strengthen.

Mental and emotional elements are required to give rise to compassion and other qualities. We need to consider the health and strength of our motivation, our feelings, our understanding, and our perceptions. Then we can use self-reliance to develop the qualities we wish to nurture. Simply wanting change is not enough by itself. Our wish to change must interact with other inner elements and then those inner elements must interact with outer conditions to shape our external circumstances.

Don’t be discouraged if change happens more slowly than we want. Recognizing the possibility of change is inspiring, but we can’t change rapidly. Compassion and other qualities are not something we can acquire, install and power on. They must be cultivated gradually and in concert with other qualities. Why? Because inner emotional and mental states exist interdependently; therefore, increasing our virtuous qualities takes multiple steps. Simply wanting is not enough.

Self-Cultivation is not Self-Absorption

We must cherish ourselves in a healthy way. We have the primary responsibility for the state of our own hearts and minds. This is healthy self-cherishing – looking after our inner affairs.

Each person must become his or her own protector in order to extend care and protection to others. Extending protection to others is what prevents us from falling into self-obsession or self-absorption.

Self-absorption ignores the web of relationships in our life. Our view is restricted to “I”, “mine”, “my” partner, “my” parents, and “my” friends. Egocentrism is a prison in which we shut ourselves away from everyone else. Only a few people or pets matter to us. Only they are allowed to enter our self-made jail. Everyone else is irrelevant. We are shut off from the world. Our self-sufficient and independent view reinforces those walls. We create this isolation. Only we can liberate ourselves from this imprisonment.

Once we tear down these walls, our view is so broad that it can take in the entire world. Our awareness of connections must be expansive because we are impacting others, not just through immediate and direct interactions. Through long chains of causal connections, what we do in our own home and neighborhood contributes to the happiness or suffering of others in the far corners of the globe.

At the same time, we can’t overlook our own experiences.  When we become aware of how much unites us, we become able to learn about others by seeing our own situation clearly. When we recognize that we want to be happy, we see that the people connected to us want to be happy. By knowing what hurts us, we know what not to do to others. Our experiences help us know what others are feeling.

At the same time, we need to educate ourselves about the unique situations others face in order to be capable impacting them positively.

Our knowledge of our shared inner condition is the starting point that motivates changes in our actions so that we benefit others and avoid harming them. We begin with understanding that others want to be happy and free of suffering just like we do.

Humility and Confidence

Humility and confidence are qualities we must cultivate to become healthier and happier interdependent individuals.

In a self-oriented world, humility and confidence seem inconsistent with each other. But in the world of interdependence, new possibilities make sense (including humility and confidence paired together).

Our consumer society thrives on competition and displays of strength. The “winner” approach seeks positions of superiority over others and conceals weaknesses. This makes it hard to address weaknesses (which we need to do).

Humility does not mean weak. Healthy humility does not demean our qualities. Rather, we recognize that because everything is relative, there is always room to grow. Nobody is ever the absolute best.

Humility is enhanced by understanding that we are in a constant state of development. However much or little positive qualities we have, further growth is always possible. Our positive qualities can be developed without limit. We may know a great deal, but we can still learn from others and from our own experiences. Healthy humility helps us keep an open door to improvement.

Pride closes that door. We tell ourselves we are better than everyone else and have more than everyone else. Pride looks down on others. We need them to be less in order for us to be more. This egocentric wall boxes us in. Reducing pride does not mean losing confidence.

Confidence is a virtuous form of pride. We realize that we are able to do good things. Confidence helps us get rid of our limitations. Humility and confidence allow us to grow beyond our limitations while allowing us to live our interdependence well.

Being the Best Ever

Independent means feeling distinct and separate from everyone else and wanting to stand out and be the best. We feel we matter only if we are unique and special in some way.

When we appreciate the value of what we are and have, then there is no need to stand out. This relates to the third quality of interdependent individuals: contentment.

Contentment means enjoying what we have and what we are, truly savoring and making full use of it.

The consumer culture is based on dissatisfaction – thirsting after what we lack. The habit of desire disregards what we have, constantly searching for newer and better. We are unable to feel satisfied with who we are or even notice what we have. Dissatisfaction also affects relationships. We feel we are not good enough; our partner is not good enough. No matter what we have, we want more. Learning to enjoy what we already have rather than chasing more is a better approach.

Dissatisfaction is seen as healthy because it drives progress. Contentment is seen as complacent and stopping forward motion.

However, there is no conflict between contentment and progressing. Satisfied does not mean we stop growing or gaining new things. It means appreciating what we have. Contentment provides a strong basis for improvement. Without appreciating what we have, there is no firm basis to build on.

We make happiness unnecessarily complicated, but happiness can be simple and natural. Appreciation and joyful gratitude is the spontaneous natural extension of full awareness of interdependence.

Just being a human being is amazing. Our precious human life means we have opportunities to develop positive qualities. A sincere wish to make the most these opportunities provides tremendous value.

    Contemplation: Our precious human birth is valuable beyond compare. We have something special and worthy of profound satisfaction. If we use this life to develop our understanding of interdependence, this will lead to endless value for ourselves and others.

Adjusting Course

Life presents endless opportunities to deepen our awareness of interdependence and reorient our daily interactions and experiences accordingly.

    Contemplation: Simply observing our own experience is a reminder of the value of interdependence. Contemplate this and make a short list (no more than 10) of examples of other individuals who are indispensable to our well-being on a typical day.

    Contemplation: Consider your feelings about the individuals identified in the previous contemplation.

    Contemplation: How are these moments of interdependence opportunities to cultivate humility, confidence, contentment or any of the inner qualities we have determined to deepen?

These moments can transform interdependence from an idea into something we feel and value highly.

In the course of everyday life we can awaken to the reality of our interdependence and begin to live according to this basic underlying principle – it becomes a way of life, a principled way of life.

The Refuge of Love

Karmapa left Tibet and came to India when he was fourteen. There he found lots of new opportunities and much benefit, but also many challenges. He has not been free to go wherever he chooses, which  greatly reduced what he is able to accomplish. He had to cultivate satisfaction with whatever was possible.

Karmapa views the point of life as cherishing and supporting others, trying to serve as a refuge where others can find love. This is what has given meaning to his life.

Even though he cannot benefit others in a direct way, he holds in his heart affections and concern for others – then they know someone cares deeply for them. As long as he is alive, he will offer support and love to all. All we are connected with him can take comfort in the knowledge that they have at least one person in the world that sincerely and completely cares about them. This gives Karmapa purpose and meaning in his life.

This basic fact of interdependence is a source of courage and determination for him.

Once we fully embrace our connections to others, we can intentionally breathe life into them, and this can fill our lives with meaning and love.

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