Readings on Compassion

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” The Dalai Lama

“It is in compassion that we feel most at home and feel most whole. We feel that we are where we should be.” Ingrid Mattson

When I accept my own brokenness, and do not judge myself harshly because of it, I find myself capable of more compassion towards others regardless of whether I am aware of the form of brokenness they’ve experienced.
Rosalina Chai

Beloveds, each morning we are asked to take a moral stand on the side of love. May we find the courage and compassion to love like the sun, to generate love in abundance for a world that sorely needs it.
Each time that I facilitate conversations on systemic oppression and solidarity, I am struck anew at how programed we are to defensiveness and denial. Each time, my challenge is to love, simply love. We are not machines, broken and in need of fixing. We are wounded warriors in the struggle of life and we need, each of us, compassionate love to call us to our whole and holy selves.
May we wake each day with the mission to generate love in this world as humbly and faithfully as the sun generates light. May we trust that we can lean on each other for comfort when the struggle is relentless. May we know in the bones of our bones that we are not alone. May this knowledge give us the courage to shine the light of compassion on everyone. No exceptions.
Rev. Deanna Vandiver

Compassion allows us to use our own pain and the pain of others as a vehicle for connection. This is a delicate and profound path. We may be adverse to seeing our own suffering because it tends to ignite a blaze of self-blame and regret. And we may be adverse to seeing suffering in others because we find it unbearable or distasteful, or we find it threatening to our own happiness. All of these possible reactions to the suffering in the word make us want to turn away from life.
In contrast, compassion manifests in us as the offering of kindness rather than withdrawal. Because compassion is a state of mind that is itself open, abundant and inclusive, it allows us to meet pain more directly. With direct seeing, we know that we are not alone in our suffering and that no one need feel alone when in pain. Seeing our oneness is the beginning of compassion, and it allows us to reach beyond aversion and separation.
Sharon Salzberg in The Kindness Handbook

Before we can generate compassion and love, it is important to have a clear understanding of what we understand compassion and love to be. In simple terms, compassion and love can be defined as positive thoughts and feelings that give rise to such essential things in life as hope, courage, determination, and inner strength. In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of the same thing: Compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness.
The Dalai Lama

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Albert Einstein

Some people find the experience and practice of compassion as a spiritual discipline to be a more direct route to the transformation of the heart than prayer. It is not that prayer does not or should not play a role in their lives, but their way to the opening of the heart lies through deeds of compassion. “Just do it” summarizes this path of transformation.
Marcus J. Borg in The God We Never Knew

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh

The Jain religion in India teaches that because all life is essentially interrelated and interconnected, all living beings should be considered sacred and be respected. This belief forms the basis of the doctrine of ahimsa, which has been translated into English variously as “reverence for life,” “nonviolence,” and “dynamic compassion.”
Nathaniel Altman in Sacred Trees

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.[…]Compassion is one of the purest springs of love.
Anne Truitt

Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment. It dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of the selfishness that holds us back from an experience of the sacred. And it gives us ecstasy, broadening our perspectives and giving us a larger, enhanced vision.
Karen Armstrong in The Spiral Staircase

“Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society.” Cesar Chavez

“Have compassion for everyone you meet, for you do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.” Lucinda Williams

Longer Texts

This Psychology Today piece by Dr. Emma Seppala explains why compassion is good for your health and well-being.

From the Center for Courage and Renewal comes an exploration of compassion with Roshi Joan Halifax.

A UU minister explores the need for compassion in conversations about climate change in Orion Magazine.

This interview with Sharon Salzberg describes compassion as way of being in the world.

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