What compassion and loving kindness is not, Part 5
Childrens bedtime stories are the biggest treasure trove of spiritual wisdom. It is right in front of us, in the bookshops, in the arms of the sleeping children, but we ignore them.
The lessons contained within are priceless; but it is saddening. Sometimes, parents who read these stories to their child, they dont believe in them either. Just nice little stories, they think, to shield them form the real world for as long as possible.
There is one story from my childhood. It struck me because Oshos book on Compassion told the essentially the same story:
A long time ago, there lived an old lady. She was of aristocratic blood, rich, and a big fan of the theater. And every night of the long, dreadful winter, she would take a carriage to the theater, where they made a show of the grandest tragic stories ever written. She would sit inside and cry, shed tears of sympathy, for the fake characters and their fake drama.
And all the while, the carriage driver and the horses, would be sitting outside in the cold. Shivering, hiding from the winds as best they could inside the wooden carriage. And after the show was over, the grand old lady would majestically re-enter her carriage. “Back to the mansion!” she would snap haughtily.
Compassion is not a feeling
What then, is compassion? This is one of the distinctions I struggled to understand – compassion is not a feeling!
Compassion springs forth from the heart; it is the heart, the ocean. It is not just a feeling, feelings are merely ripples. They cost nothing, and they mean nothing.
This is something that western psychologists have often gotten wrong; theyve categorized compassion as a feeling – a mere emotion! No different from anger, from humor, from pride. These are all fleeting, theyre all based on something that passes away in time. He feels angry; his car has broken down for the third time. Her son won the local basketball tournament, her chest swelled with pride.
And is this what compassion is? Just a mere, fleeting, emotion? You see a child who has fallen, scraped her knee, and you feel a surge of pity. Is that all it is? Something that arises and then disappears, never to be seen again? If that is so – was it even there in the first place?
It is easy to read the story of the grand old lady, and shake our heads. But how many of us have not done the exact same thing she has? That childhood story came to mind simply because I have seen it happen in various guises in others, and in myself.
As Osho continued, what do feelings matter, when your house is on fire? A man of feeling will cry and shout while your possessions are burning. A man of compassion will begin moving! He does not waver – it simply has to happen, he simply has to do something. Compassion moves your body you have no choice in the matter.
Compassion is not just action
And the opposite is just as true. Compassion is not just action. Action on its own can come from many different motivations, and none of them compassionate.
In Finding the Servant Heart – my confessions, my early motivations for giving money to the homeless. I wanted to look good in front of my date, I was afraid they might harass me, I wanted to believe in the law of Karma. And this is exactly what is happening all around the world.
Ive seen some businessmen give to charity – what for? Reputation in the eyes of the world, marketing for their business, or perhaps some sort of internal quest for redemption. So it stands: Money alone is not a measure of your compassion.
Ive seen healers, social workers, and counselors. Some are the most beautiful hearts Ive seen, but others were in it purely for the money. And yet others were burnt out, secretly hating their job. They wear a counterfeit smile, they go through the motions without any heart. So it stands: Actions alone are not a measure of your compassion.
These acts of benevolence were blunt bargains – they were trading skills for money, money for reputation, money for marketing, time for approval – and on and on it goes.
And it makes me wonder – wouldnt their acts of charity, however grand, be subtly contaminated? Wouldnt the recipients feel it? Wouldnt the hungry man at the soup kitchen feel the disguised disdain when he receives the soup, wouldnt his pride be bleeding even as his stomach is being filled?
Wouldnt the internal conflict be carried over to whatever they were doing? An angry person, a sad person, they will be angry and sad regardless of where they are. They might find a worthy cause and genuinely strive to make a difference, but their anger goes with them, and finds somewhere to explode. Ive seen this happen many times, people fighting tooth and nail over petty organizational details – over the best way to arrange the chairs at the charity concert, over the budget, how much on the DJ and how much on the drinks
Compassion is a state of being
What, then, is kindness? It is a state of mind, a condition of the heart.
Stephen Miracle guided me to a Biblical story I remembered from my youth:
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. I tell you the truth, he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.
~ Luke 21:1 4 (New International Version)
What was Jesus judging her on? Some might say that he was judging her on the percentage, on the numbers – she had given it her all. But he was judging her on what lies beneath her actions – a heart, a heart big enough to give everything she had.
Charity cannot be assessed simply on the basis of our behaviors. Charity cannot be assessed on the number of zeros on the cheque we have written.
The confusion here has arisen, simply because the carrot and the horse have been put the wrong way round. Generosity – the giving of ones all – arises first, from a soft heart. Aid, warmth, a meaningful contribution to the world – they come after you create that state of being within.
In fact, when you become loving to yourself, when you accept and heal your own wounds – an authentic way of being arises, and then it is impossible for your actions not to be infused with warmth and kindness.
Compassion does not discriminate
A couple weeks ago, a reader sent me a precious gift – The Book of Mirdad. The most striking quote from it:
“You have no friends so long as you can count a single man as foe. The heart that harbors enmity, how can it be a safe abode for friendship?”
When compassion is a state of mind, how can it discriminate? How can there be conditions upon a state of being? An angry man is angry at everything. A happy man is happy no matter where he is. How can it be from the heart, if you only show it to one person and not another?
Another quote from the same book:
“And whom, or what, is one to love? Is one to choose a certain leaf upon the Tree of Life, and pour upon it all ones heart? What of the branch that bears the leaf? What of the stem that holds the branch? What of the of the bark that shields the stem? What of the roots that feed the bark, the stem, the branches and the leaves? What of the soil embosoming the roots? What of the sun, and sea, and air that fertilize the soil?”
The tendency to choose is natural – look at the leaves on a tree. Some are healthy; some are sick. Some are beautiful; others are ugly. How can we help but pick and choose?
And Mirdads answer is equally beautiful – be aware, he says, that we are the Tree of Life.
We are all part of one gigantic whole, leaves on the same tree. This basic understanding is at the root of so many of the ancient traditions. It is a fundamental delusion of our ego – the false self – to see ourselves as a fragment. The ego makes us a leaf, but one that is so far from our roots that we no longer see our connectedness.
One last quote, then. By none other than Albert Einstein:
A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
When we find true Compassion, you will find it naturally – there is no picking and choosing. When Compassion becomes a way of being, a state of the mind, a condition of the heart – you will simply pour it on everyone. An angry woman takes it out on you because you just happened to be there. Its not personal; if you werent there she would have picked someone else to shout at. It is the same with Compassion – it doesnt discriminate. It just flows on and on until it finds someone.
There are three more bloggers Id like to pass out some link love to:
First up is Alex Blackwell, of The Next 45 Years. Him and his wife, Mary Beth, provide a personal development blog, but with a fantastic twist – they provide genuine and heartfelt material on marriage, family, and relationships, in addition to all the other wonderful stuff. A recent post I liked was: 10 things to do or say everyday.
Next up is Neil Sattin, of Getting to the Heart of Personal Development. Personal Development with Heart, as you can guess. He provides material also on Fatherhood, Relationships, and even Dog Training! A recent post I liked was How to get organised and not overwhelmed.
Last but not least is Marcel Legroswho looks like one of my favourite childhood heroes, Highlander! Awesome guy too, youll love his sense of humor. Play the Game of Life is the name of his blog, and it reflects his philosophy of life, as does the light hearted and yet meaningful material he provides. A perfect example is: Can watching Star Trek make you happy and successful?