Almost a month since my last blog. Seeking inspiration, perhaps…the above message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) and my almost involuntary response to him are, I think, worthy of more thought and diligent introspection. How self-aware can one be, if one is not aware of one’s self, of one’s assimilation and response to stimuli?
An innocuous statement from HHDL: “Compassion reduces our fear, boosts our confidence, and opens us to inner strength.” Compassion is a big thing for him, for Buddhism in general. It is the term most among the religious employ to describe their ideal of ‘God.’ For instance, the All-Compassionate. But what prompted my response to him? What intention drove it; what purpose could it fulfill? What does it, the statement, and all that is associated with my response to it, really mean?
And that’s just it: a search for meaning, for deeper comprehension, for truth. The words and messages alone are insufficient, their contextual meaning, and underlying intent and sentiment, are key. I cannot speak for HHDL, but if you’ll permit me, I’ll try to interpret his statement as I understand it, and thereby reveal the sentiment, purpose, and essence of my response back to him. A peek into a part of my self, if you’ll bear with me! Stop me if it gets too dense to saunter through.
The short version? Sure… It’s easy to talk of responses such as compassion, forgiveness, etc. But without a strong foundation through comprehension, their advocacy and application, and extensions to such human responses, can become impractical and meaningless…and worse, ineffective pursuit of such pathways advocated, with hopes of possible rewards alluded to, may lead to disillusionment. Short messages are fraught with such risk. A conversation, even a dialogue, with multiple perspectives and thoughts explored, can be enlightening and truly helpful.
Compassion. Dictionaries define it as pity, as an emotion aroused by sympathetic feeling for suffering observed. Its connection and significance to Buddhism is rather clear: it is through observations of immeasurable suffering that The Buddha came to believe that suffering is one of the noble truths of life, and that compassion, a natural and biological response which no doubt filled his mind, therefore must be the salve, a possible social remedy for a gregarious species. He was, undeniably, correct in his conclusion, that compassion is a remedying approach to suffering: it is, after all, a natural, biological, response. But was he entirely correct in his assumption, his belief, about the human condition? Where there is suffering, there must also be joy, however small or fleeting.
The Dalai Lama wishes that everyone becomes more compassionate. The Ocean of Compassion among Superior Ones (from the Tibetan
bLama, with the b silent, which is, literally, a superior one) advocates a quality most valued in his culture, compassion, and offers inducements to cultivating this quality: reduced fear, increased confidence, and greater inner strength. Yet compassion is an emotion invoked by one’s ability to sympathize with what is perceived to be suffering by others – which, I think, requires a fearless, confident, and strong approach to any circumstance encountered. If you are unafraid, and confident of your ability to comprehend, you can truly understand the mindset with which another suffers, and further, if you are strong enough, you can then empathize with such suffering, and share in it. This leads to compassionate human interaction, to an approach that comforts others in consternation or agony. Compassion is the result of such capacities within a mind and heart…of a capacity for deeper comprehension, interest, and kindness, and not an independent mental capability to be exercised. It’s not very practical to put the cart before the mules…
Hence my rather immediate response to HHDL: “@DalaiLama With respect, dictionaries define compassion as pity; it is a natural, biological response to suffering, an outcome of sympathy.” His Twitter account is no doubt managed by some young monk assigned to the task; I expect no reply or response. Yet, it bothers me when cultural leaders (or their agents or representatives) repeat tired old messages absent (what seems to me) a clear understanding of human nature, or contemporary grasp of such aspects of nature. How does propagating arcane, obtuse messages make any difference in the world, or bring about any change, however well-meant? What I hoped to convey to HHDL was that compassion is a human response, one that requires the development and advancement of many other human qualities for its expression. Few gain the opportunity to develop such qualities in themselves; it takes a self, and deep self-awareness, to refine oneself to such enlightenment…while belief in a self is expressly proscribed in Tibetan Buddhism.
The danger of short messages, of inducements to betterment, has not been depicted any better than by Steven Spielberg in “Schindler’s List.” In that moving story, Oskar Schindler tells Amon Goeth, the brutal and murderous camp commander, that true power is held by one who pardons a perpetrator of mischief despite every justification for punishment. Forgiveness is conveyed therein to be a more desirable quality, feeding hubris, that the camp commander practices for a while, absent clear understanding, with tragic consequences later on. I’ll leave you with the relevant YouTube clip that introduces the idea…
YouTube Clip from Schindler’s List: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5lQA3bipHc
Feel free to comment and express yourself; your thoughts and comments will always add to the discussion.