The life that has gone on before: The Perils of Compassion, Part 2

The word “Sensei”, to the western mind, brings up an image of a great master, a teacher of the esoteric arts.

I have heard that in its native Japan, the connotations of this word are very different. Any teacher of any sort, from the most ordinary to the most renowned, is called a sensei. A kindergarten schoolteacher is a sensei; a professor at a university is also a sensei.

Perhaps the word has lost some of its grandeur. Perhaps the western interpretation is more suitable; for the two characters that are used to write the word combine to form something most striking: the life that has gone before. A sensei is not merely a teacher, someone who parrots from a textbook but someone who has walked the way before you, someone who has trodden the path you are seeking, been through the same forge, climbed out of the same valleys and laughed on top of the same mountains. Common teachers are everywhere – but Sensei, in the true sense of the word – they are so hard to find.

The forge of experience

And this is yet another reason we have to begin with ourselves. Understanding is one of the foundations towards a soft heart; and understanding comes from having trodden the exact same path, having cried the same tears and shouted in the same joy. Is there a better way – no, is there even another way – to find this understanding?

Words are just words. Whatever you say, there will be disagreements. Sometimes they come from people who have experienced differently, or have read different books. Sometimes they will come from people who try to prove themselves better, who try to satisfy their ego. Words are empty; they mean nothing. Everyone can argue with words, and so they will.

But who can argue with who you are? It is possible, to be sure – but so much harder.

When an unhappy man says: Do this and you will be happy – who will listen? When a poor woman says: Follow this metaphysical Law, think this way, recite this affirmation, and you will achieve abundance – who listens? It is no different from a fat man telling you how to lose weight, or a girl who has never been fat in her life – it is absurd. But this is what is happening all over the world.

Unhappy people are telling others how to be happy. They are going around spreading their advice. I remember the first time someone told me how to solve our sorrows. He was a professional athlete; he told me to simply to train to the point of exhaustion – and then I would simply come home and slump into bed, too tired to think about my sadness. And for the rest of my life – just push my body until I can think about nothing else but sleep. And I was only a teen – I listened!

This is happening on a wider scale people who are still in the depths of their own sorrow are talking to others; becoming a friendly shoulder to cry on. Others become psychologists, therapists, teachers. Please dont misunderstand there are so many wonderful women and men in these roles; but there are many who arent.

It is better to remain silent

This will sound harsh – but until we move out of our own sorrow, perhaps it is better to keep quiet.

Until then, it is merely the blind leading the blind. Everybody is just parroting what they got from other parrots, theyre just repeating what they got from books. They dont even know if it works, for theyre not happy themselves. Everyone else is just listening to everyone else, and it goes around in a circle. Yes – a very bold thing to say – but until you have found peace, it is better to keep quiet.

For the blind leader has caused so much damage. He is leading others down the wrong path, and everyone who follows will be even more messed up. She falls down a hole, and everyone who is holding on to her will fall down the same hole.

When I first decided to move out of my suffering, I followed all the different teachers I could find. Everyone recommended positive thinking, so I tried it for months, only to discover that it led to repression. And so I tried NLP, I took on this method and that system, only to find most of them were no different they were just more sophisticated ways of doing the same thing: pushing your pains downwards and keeping it there.

This is the reason I am only sharing what has worked for me. Never as someone who holds all the answers, only as someone who is walking right besides you. Never – never – as someone who has reached the end. My writings are focused on a narrow area of the human experience the inner world. It is one of the few areas I feel qualified to write on, the only area I have made significant progress in. Everything else is pure book knowledge, and book knowledge is just words.

Two acts of charity – but only one a kindness

This will sound even more extreme. Forget teaching, or advising. Just the act of helping others could be a slap in the face. Perhaps we shouldnt even consider any kind of charity or volunteer work or kindness – not until we find this inner peace. I am not saying, dont do charity work, or never volunteer at the local shelter, for many of the kindest men and women can be found there. All Im saying is – it may be wiser to wait until you have found your own inner peacefulness.

“Why does he say this?” you might think. “Even external charity? Even helping others out?”

Two people come to mind; they best illustrate this difference. I have mentioned my own struggles with anger and sadness many times before. When I was in that phase of my life, I met a young woman. She sticks out in my memories – she was pretty, smart and polite, but there was something harsh about her eyes, a selfishness and cynicism. One day she pointed out that my repressed anger was subtly present in my every word and action. “Youre a very angry person,” she continued. “You know you can call me if you ever need to talk about something, maybe I can help.”

A very sweet gesture, and I should have felt happy and grateful. But somehow I felt humiliated and a little resentful. I didnt know why at that time, for it was just a small suggestion, and so I kept quiet but I realize why now. There was a very subtle insult behind her words. The insult was completely unintentional, her intentions were kind. But the insult was inevitable, simply because she had not found that peace within. Every action would be tainted by what she had inside her – and I shudder to write that, because I have been far more guilty of that crime, that contaminated kindness, than she was.

There was another woman I remember, though. I would have been only ten at the time. I was running around in the rain on a crowded street, waiting for my parents to pick me up. It was a rainy day, and I slipped and fell down a set of stairs. I remember sitting there for a few minutes, grimacing in pain. Everyone just walked past, ignoring me. And then this young woman, she was pregnant, but she left the shelter she was standing under. She slowly and carefully walked down the same slippery stairs, holding her full belly. She let herself go wet in the rain, simply to ask me if I was okay. I dont remember much else; not even her face but when I began to write this series, memories of her gentleness, the feeling I had around her, began swarming into my mind.

Two minor moments in my history. Perhaps they dont mean much in the grand scheme of things – but perhaps they do. Two acts of outwards compassion, but one an insult, the other pure. And the genuine act of compassion – it has stayed with me for so many years.

Guilt and selfishness

How can you help others, if you havent helped yourself?

When I decided to retreat from the world to find myself, I felt a lot of guilt. There are people suffering outside, homeless, sick, starving – and what was I doing? Silent contemplation, meditation, reading? Shouldnt I be out there first, before spending time on myself?

And I suspect this guilt is something many others will find inside themselves as well. Mothers, fathers, lovers – they will be thinking: “What about my children, what of my spouse? What kind of mother would I be, if I didnt take care of them first?”

Naturally take care of them. Keep your commitments, nourish those you love. But then, find your peace too. Make that a priority, just as high as anything else.

I was recently reading a rant by someone who thought the Buddha was selfish. For those who dont know of the Buddhas story: Before he became the Buddha, he was a prince. But he was one who desperately wanted his peace, so he abandoned his wife and family to go out into the world. He took six years to find it, to find his blissfulness – but at the expense of leaving everyone and everything behind. Six years satisfying himself isnt that the ultimate act of selfishness!

It might appear that finding your own peace means nothing to anyone else; nobody else benefits but you. What if the truth was just the opposite? What if the six years he spent, was to create authenticity in his life? Six years to open his own eyes, to lift the veils of his blindness – and by doing so, leading countless numbers of people out of their own misery?

Osho said something else about the Buddha that stuck in my mind for a long time. It was in response to the others who had condemned the Buddha. He has never taught anyone to be charitable, these detractors said. He has never taught anyone to give to the poor, to spread education, to make hospitals. All he taught was how to end your own suffering – he was teaching selfishness.

But was he against charity? No. He knew that once you find your inner serenity, charity will come of its own accord. He didnt have to say anything – because he knows it will happen. It cannot be otherwise. And when that charity comes, it will not be contaminated, it will not carry a subtle derision. It will simply appear because it is natural to behave that way; and then it will be pure. Perhaps charity that is the result of a law, a commandment, or a teaching, perhaps charity like that is mere egotistical posturing.

First help yourself

So if you want to help others, first help yourself. This guilt is simply a result of false conditioning. Drop it, just drop it. Become unselfish first by becoming selfish.

Until then, you yourself are drowning how can you help the other? Both of you will be flailing around, pulling each other down.

Isnt this why a smiling baby is one of the most beautiful sights in the world? A newborn babe is so unconditional, so carefree. It smiles without expecting you to smile back. And when we look at them, a part of us longs to return to that innocence. When they smile, we smile and laugh in return – this reaction is almost uncontrollable, except to the most hard hearted of humans.

In the same way, if you want to make a difference in the world, then first focus on yourself; make yourself supremely happy. Then your joy will become contagious; like a smiling baby, your very presence will make a difference.

Link Love

Id like to highlight two personal development blogs. They are slightly different in focus, more on the external world, and more scientific in feel. It might make a nice change from the type of material I post.

The first is the Positivity Blog, run by Henrik E. A recent good post of his: 9 Mistakes in Goal setting, a very comprehensive look that really helped me in my own process.

The second is Scott H Y self titled blog. What amazes me is how young he is, only 19. A recent post that struck me as relevant is The Psychological Benefits of Optimism.