This is your brain… this is your brain on compassion…
“Contrary to conceptions of human nature as fundamentally selfish, compassion appears to be as deep-seated a trait as fear or anger.”
Neurological Roots of Compassion Run Deep, Wired Science
If the mind of the well lived life is the Perennial Philosophy, the heart of it is certainly compassion.
Rather than attempting to wax eloquent on this theme I’d like to post a few choice quotes today on this topic… prior to doing so I’d like to say a few words about quotes and encourage you start collecting them (if you don’t already).
Many people collect many different things… stamps, watches, porcelain dolls, dvds, rare books, pocket knives, gemstones… It is a pleasure to possess beautiful objects that have substance and worth. It is also a psychological remedy for our fear of death and finitude…a subject for another blog.
Inception reminded us this summer that a potent idea is like a seed… a virus… an organism that can take on a life of it’s own. A potent idea wrapped in a well turned phrase can deeply influence lives and change worlds.
The gemstones below are earth shaking ideas clothed in well turned phrases…
“My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. These things are very useful in our daily life, and also for the whole of human society these practices can be very important.” The Dalai Lama
Today’s Gospel Mk 6:30f
When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.
A religious man or woman is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.
Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.
I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of kindness and compassion.
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.
There are certain key words in the Qur’an which are greatly stressed of which four are very often repeated i.e. rahmah, ihsan ‘adl, and hikmah (compassion, benevolence, justice and wisdom). Rahmah (compassion, mercy) and its roots abound in the Holy Qur’an. Among Allah’s own names are Rahman and Rahim (compassionate and Merciful). A Muslim begins everything by reciting Bi Ism-i- Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim (i.e. begin in the name of Allah Who is Compassionate and Merciful). Thus a Muslim is supposed to invoke Allah the Compassionate and Merciful at every step. He does not invoke Allah’s other names (Allah has 99 names according to the Islamic belief) as he invokes Him as Merciful and Compassionate.
And my favorite quote on this topic of late…
“The whole point of learning about the human race presumably is to give it mercy.”
I have studied the Perennial Philosophy intently for the past 35 years. I remember starting on this quest in the 9th grade when I wrote a paper titled “Man’s Search for Meaning”… a comparison of three “faith path” approaches, one of which was EST.
My craving, longing and yearning to understand goes much further back than that (a subject for later blogging)… ah, but I digress.
Although the Perennial Philosophy as the mind of the life well lived has been a clear concept for me for many years it was not until I very recently began reading Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” that I appreciated that compassion is the heart of the well lived life.
I’d like to encourage you to check out the Charter for Compassion site…
Read the charter (I have hung this up in my office and try to read it daily- yes, my HR contact approved it)… Make a compassion commitment this year… for the rest of your well lived life…
The Charter for Compassion
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.