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Topic: Cultivating Compassion?

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Subject: Cultivating Compassion?
Date Posted: 8/3/2008 11:19 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
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Has anyone read An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama?  I finished it last week.  It's one of those books where I feel humbled by the author.  I don't think that I could ever equal the Dalai Lama in compassion and kindness for all people and creatures.

Anyway, the book is primarily about cultivating compassion at a personal level which in the Dalai Lama's perspective multiplies it throughout the world.

One of the hardest concepts to swallow is how he perceives this to work.  It's very easy to feel compassion for those you love and for those you don't really know.  But, including enemies and those you dislike is another story.  According to the Dalai Lama, we should all practice daily cultivating compassion for everyone.  First you start with strangers (you meditate on people you met casually and think compassionately for them).  Then you add those you love.  And, finally work on those you do not like or even hate.

Now, from what I got from it, the Dalai Lama doesn't necessarily mean that by trying to feel compassion towards those who have done you wrong that it's like all is forgiven and the world is beautiful and poof! the hate is gone.  Rather, his philosophy is that no matter what relationship you have with a person, you should try to feel compassion towards that person on a basic level that all being no matter if you like them or not suffer.  Whether a person has been nice to you or not, they have felt pain, grieved, felt loss, and so forth.

I have been playing around with it myself.  It's not so easy trying to feel compassion for folks who you don't like or who have wronged you.  I can see what he's getting at, but it isn't easy to practice.

What do you think of his philosophy?  Have you tried this type of practice or do you do it regularly?  Do you think you would be able to extend compassion not only to those you care for but those you don't?  Is it something for the spiritually advanced like the Dalai Lama, Jesus, etc., but not for us regularly struggling human beings?

And, if you read the book, I'd be curious how you felt about it.  It moved me deeply.



Last Edited on: 8/3/08 11:21 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/4/2008 12:01 AM ET
Member Since: 9/16/2007
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He is such an amazing person!!!  I've never seen him in person, though he's been here a coupl etimes, but I did listen to his address on the radio when he was here about 10 years ago, and I felt so blessed.

I don't know Mel, it's a great goal, I suppose, but I'm not sure ordinary people could pull it off.  But then, I suppose practicing things like this is how one gets to be spiritually advanced.  Still, to me it brings up the question of human evil, and how can we be expected to feel compassion towards someone we believe is evil?  Should we, even?

Date Posted: 8/4/2008 12:15 AM ET
Member Since: 5/13/2008
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It's funny this topic should be on top -- this is the first time I am visiting this particular forum, and I was looking for books about Buddhism! As for the idea of compassion, it seems like one of those things that you are continually working on every day of your life. In a good way, though. I haven't read the book, but is the general idea that you try to see the inner workings of a person to try to understand them? Empathy? I really love the idea of being able to let go of all the ugly nasty feelings of everyday life.
Date Posted: 8/4/2008 1:38 AM ET
Member Since: 3/6/2008
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I haven't read the Dalai Lama's book but I admire him very much. My spiritual director has studied Buddhism and has practiced this compassion meditation but it's not one that you can do quickly. It takes a while to build up to someone you hate. I can't remember all the stages of the meditation but I'll check with her to find out. I'm all for forgiveness but I prefer to work on my own inner healing through prayer and meditation before I can move on to forgiveness. It may sound selfish but true inner healing leads to love and compassion, so everyone benefits.
Date Posted: 8/4/2008 2:34 AM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
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Welcome Ann and jump right in! :)

I think it's one of these spiritual goals that we strive towards.  Perhaps we're not quite evolved for it, but we strive none the less.  Their can't be harm in practicing, right?

I was thinking about this tonight.  I worked with an awful, mean woman.  For awhile she and I were friends.  And, while you are on her good side, she's as good as gold.  But don't ever get on the bad side.  She disturbed me alot because I saw her destroy people emotional.  I saw her destroy their reputations at work.  Eventually, they left.  Then I crossed the line and became friends with a new co-worker who she didn't like.  She waited until I weak (I was on leave for my arthritis and working part-time at home) and then she worked to destroy my reputation at work.

I don't know if I could ever forgive her.  But...as a human being...if I found out she had cancer or something, I think I could feel compassion for her on that level.  I wouldn't be able to forgive her for her cruelty but I think I could empathize with the fact that she was suffering through something terrible.

That's on an individual level.  Then I began to ponder could one feel compassion for someone evil, like a Hitler (compassion for the suffering that lead him to be the evil man he was?).  I don't think I could go there at all.   I think I'd need a few reincarnations to be that enlightened!

Ann, my feeling was the practice was an attempt to grow compassion so that you felt it for all being on a basic level--on that level that we all suffer, grieve, get sick, and so forth.  I think empathy would be a result.

This is one of those books I'll have to reread because there is so much there even though it's only about 180 pages.

Date Posted: 8/4/2008 9:44 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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Wow, that's an amazing way to live.  I try to be pretty patient and compassionate, but I have to confess, sometimes I do it because I know that pisses some people off even more.  Like when someone is overtly rude, trying to pick a fight with you, and you just give them this serene, its-not-worth-getting-upset-over response, half the time that halts their tirade, half the time it fuels it.  And since I'm not always sure about my motives, I can't really take credit for it.  But I do mean to keep working at showing compassion and really meaning it.

One of the things that stuck with me from the Year of Living Biblically (and the author got it from C.S. Lewis, I believe) is that faking being a better person than you are is a baby step towards becoming a better person, because when you pretend to be something, if you do it often enough it becomes a habit.

Date Posted: 8/4/2008 10:41 PM ET
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Vanessa, I think you hit the nail on the head.  Just because we're not going to be the next Dalai Lama or some guru sitting on a mountaintop in perfect bliss, we can still work on these spiritual goals like compassion.  Even if you can't find it in yourself to feel compassion for someone who has done you wrong, it doesn't hurt anything to still practice.  The more you practice or let it into your life, the easier it becomes.  As you said, it becomes habit.  Sort of like in mind-body stuff "right reaction readiness".

Isn't that much of what Eastern spirituality is about?  It's taking the path not necessarily arriving at the goal that is important.

Are their any Buddhists on here, because I'd like your take on things, too.  Don't want to misrepresent your religion.

Date Posted: 8/4/2008 11:08 PM ET
Member Since: 9/16/2007
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Absolutly!  None of us can be perfect, doesn't mean we shouldn't try.  One of the major sayings from our sages is:  "'You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it'

Date Posted: 8/5/2008 3:21 AM ET
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Jeanne, that's a great philosophy to live by (the quote you gave).  So often in life we avoid because something is too hard or out of reach.  Sometimes it's not the goal that is important, it's the trying.

Date Posted: 8/5/2008 9:00 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
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I've encountered this philiosophy, and it's talked about some in The Art of Happiness as well.  It can certainly be a challenge.  If someone has wronged you, or worse wronged someone you love, it's very hard to feel compassion for them. 

One of the ways that I find most successful when I think of someone like that, is trying to think of how painful their lives must be.  The woman you talked about, for example, destroys others.  Why does she do it?  She must feel terribly empty inside to feel that it's an okay way to deal with things.  There must be a lot of anger in her, and possibly a sense of herself as not being good enough.  In any case, she's going to drive away everyone and be a terribly lonely, angry, and bitter person. 

Not saying I do this well, or all the time, but it does keep me from things like road rage.  Because when someone cuts me off, I feel sorry for them that they don't realize that they are adding all this stress to their body (because when you drive too close to someone, or pull a dangerous move on the freeway, your body gets filled with stress reactors) and endangering their lives all in hopes of getting some place a few seconds sooner than they would otherwise.

Subject: His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Date Posted: 8/5/2008 10:53 PM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2007
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I haven't read that particular book, but I've been reading a lot of different texts by HHDL.  I HAVE been meditating and trying to learn to feel compassion for all sentinent beings...starting with humans, anyway.  It is tough, and I don't know if I'll ever get "good" at it.  But it's interesting to practice.  As I remember from what I've read, he says we're all human beings, and we all want happiness and want to avoid suffering.  We're all in this together.  We all are part of the human family and we all have the same goals.  But some people are misguided and create suffering for themselves.  We should hope and pray for them to be relieved of suffering, and feel compassion for them as fellow humans much like ourselves.

Easier said than done, but I'm working on it....

Date Posted: 8/5/2008 11:03 PM ET
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Kari, I think what you wrote about are the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who came from different religious backgrounds (Hinduism and Christianity) but arrived at the same way to deal with their situations. I think both were able to disassociate from the acts of anger and hatred that the people on the other side committed towards them and seeing them as victims of their upbringing and society.  Both had a philosophy of combatting hatred by showing love.  I know Gandhi often showed kindness to people who arrested him, fought against him, etc. 

On an individual level, you are right.  The woman I spoke of was very bitter over things that happened in her life.  She was very angry about her father remarrying after her mother died and was practically at war with her father from that day forward.  She say everything in the world from a "you're with me or against me" mentality.  Sometimes when I think of her, I still get angry because she screwed up my reputation at work.  And, then I try to disassociate and like you said, think about how much anger and loneliness she must have inside, to be so rotten to everyone.  I try to concentrate on that fact that maybe sometime she'll come to terms with whatever it is and then maybe be able to find some joy in life.  It doesn't mean I'm not still angry with her.  But I work on seeing her as a flawed human, like everyone else.

Marguerite, as you said "easier said than done".  It's easy to talk in the abstract.  But, when you are faced with someone who really does you wrong, it's hard to think "Well, that's okay.  I'm angry, but I know deep down inside, he's human and suffers too"   

On a small level, I try to at least do it with strangers like the cashier who is kind of rude.  Instead of thinking "Humph, I'm going to write her boss and get her fired", I try to think "well, I've had bad days too and have not been the nicest person.  Maybe she just had a really bad customer who was mean to her."  Then I try to just let it go.  It's really not worth it to be mad at a stranger, is it?

Date Posted: 8/7/2008 1:35 PM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2007
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The other day I was in a meeting with a couple of people who I find irritating for various reasons.  As I sat there listening to them doing their "irritating" things I consciously tried to think of them as humans like me who want to be happy and avoid suffering.  I have to admit it didn't get me very far, but I will keep on trying.  HHDL did say that it takes years of practice.  I believe that!

Date Posted: 8/8/2008 1:44 PM ET
Member Since: 3/6/2008
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The website Spirituality and Practice is offering an "e-course" using the Dalai Lama's meditations. Each day they email a reading and meditation which you can discuss with the rest of the participants. There's a small charge but if anyone's interested, here's the link. http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/ecourses.php?id=37
Date Posted: 8/9/2008 10:12 PM ET
Member Since: 8/19/2007
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Hello! Nice thread. It's hard to do, but isn't it amazing to think what might happen if everybody did it -- tried to open the heart of compassion? I find so much peace in the books of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. I wish I could find that peace in my own life. Like the warring pumpkins, we need to be reminded to reach up and feel that stem and vine atop our heads, connecting us to everyone else. Peace today, Lisa
Date Posted: 8/9/2008 10:16 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
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Okay, I'll bite... 

Warring pumpkins?

Date Posted: 8/9/2008 11:54 PM ET
Member Since: 8/19/2007
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There's a story from Buddhism about a patch of pumpkins that all just hated each other (that one got more compost than I did, etc). A Buddhist master came along and told them to feel up on top of their heads. There they each felt a stem attached to one great vine linking all of them. They realized they were all connected. I know, squashes don't have arms/hands etc, but it's just a parable. In times of duress I try to remember "We're all bozos on this bus" (and someone let the pigeon drive!)

Kari, I love your Doris Lessing quote.

Date Posted: 8/10/2008 5:41 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
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Thanks, I loved it as soon as I saw it.  I was holding my cat (a grey tabby) and read it out loud to my husband and the cat looked at me and blinked contentedly.  My husband said "I think she just said that you are allowed to read her more love poetry like that."

Thanks for explaining the warring pumpkins thing.  I'm not particularly well versed in Buddhist parables.  I have a hard enough time with Taoist ones.  :)



Last Edited on: 8/10/08 5:42 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 8/11/2008 3:41 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
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One thing the Buddhists do better than followers of most other religions is that they live their religion instead of just talking about it and claiming holiness.  They also don't concern themselves with the actions of others - a huge lesson that those in the West (particularly the US) need to learn.  You don't find a lot of hypocritical Buddhists.

The book is awesome, as are all of his works.  I like The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom the best, I think.

Date Posted: 8/14/2008 10:58 PM ET
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I think part of the lesson with all of this is there is no harm in trying.  Okay, so you aren't Buddha or Jesus or whoever.  You aren't enlightened.  But, each day you set a little space to think about your adversaries and friends as human being just trying to make it through each day.  Maybe it will do some good, maybe not.  I think you feel better taking time to meditate on something positive then to sit and stew over some slight that someone has caused you.

Marguerite, I think I might try that.  I think it highlights that people aren't always annoying or irritating just to spite you.  Like when my Dad does something that really gets on my nerves and then does it again, I don't think he's even aware that he annoys me.  I'm the one reacting.  So, I can try to remember that there is no conspiracy and he isn't trying to ruin my day.  It's not easy though!