February 27 Can We Save Compassion?

This week Annie will facilitate. 


This morning on twitter, The Death of Compassion is trending. It's based on an article by Charles M. Blow of The New York Times, in which Mr. Blow shares his opinion about the ways in which the current conservative coalition is showing even less compassion than during the Reagan era. He also suggests that because "the Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion" we [I'm assuming he is referring to we liberals and progressives] need not try to find any compromise points with those who "promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia." 


As mindfulness practitioners and students of the Buddha, our practice is based on compassion. What do you think about what Mr. Blow writes? If both sides give up on compassion, what happens next?


On Monday, after our sitting period, we will listen to an excerpt from a talk by the esteemed Dr. Jan Willis, who in addition to being an author and a professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, is also a teacher and scholar, practitioner (for more than 40 years) and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism.  


In her talk, Dr. Willis talks about the 8th century Buddhist monk and philospher Shantideva and his teachings on The Way of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who travels on the path of liberation not only for their own benefit, but for the purpose of liberating all beings. She or he, generates bodhicitta through mindfulness practice and lives guided by compassion or the wish to alleviate the suffering of all living beings. For an excerpt from The Way of the Bodhisattva please go to the bottom of the newsletter.

Shantideva says:


"May the supreme and precious bodhichitta

Take birth where it has not yet done so;

Where it has been born may it not decrease;

Where it has not decreased may it abundantly grow."


Dr. Willis differentiates between metta, or loving kindness -- the wish for all beings to be happy -- and bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment which wishes for all beings to be free of suffering. She says that bodhicitta arises naturally from our insight into the nature of interdependence, or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, our inter-being.


Here's is one way in which I practice contemplating the arising of bodhicitta (as they say, Buddhists love lists):


(1) I am not responsible for this whole universe because I am just one light in a sky full of stars, I am not better than or more important than anyone else.

(2) I am also not not responsible for the universe because I am just as capable as the next person. I am no less than anyone else.

(3) And, I am not equally responsible for the universe because I am not separate from anyone else.

(4) My freedom is only possible when others are free as well. If one being anywhere is suffering, then I will suffer either now or at some future point. It's in my best interest to help others awaken. And yet, #1, 2, and 3 are also true.


Dr. Willis goes on in her talk to discuss how it feels when we have that bodhicitta. She describes a moment in which she was a young girl and choking on food. Her mother rushed in, reached down her throat, got the food out, stood up and promptly passed out. This is a moment in which her mother had bodhicitta. She was fully aware that her life was bound up in the life of her child. Shantidva says this about how we feel when we are in that state:


"All the joy the world contains

Has come through wishing happiness for others.

All the misery the world contains

Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."


Could it be that we are actually at our happiest when we are aware of and acting out of inter-being?  Not putting ourselves first, last or equal, but seeing how we are integral to the whole with everyone and everything else.


After we listen to some of what Dr. Willis has to say, we can discuss bodhicitta and the "Death of Compassion." How might you revive compassion and generate bodhicitta in your life? Do you want to? How have you done so in the past? Do you feel resistance to any of the four parts of bodhicitta I suggested above? What else are you thinking about these days with regard to compassion, your life, and the universe?


I look forward to connecting with you on Monday.


Much love,