The Dalai Lama said:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Human beings have a huge capacity for compassion. There are some amazing real life stories out there. For example parents who have forgiven and befriended their child's murderer. But still I would say to the DL: Great idea, but easier said than done!
I can say in all honesty that I do not have a mean bone in my body. I have some fire, but I am not nasty or cruel. Still, there have been moments in my life when I did not respond with kindness. I always regretted it deeply. No one actually wants to hurt anyone. We all desire good things for ourselves and for others. Through experience I have learnt that when I am unkind, most of all, I hurt myself. It is always painful and never satisfying.
Yesterday I went to the Ausländeramt - the German immigration office. The person I had to deal with was rude and unnecessarily difficult. Really, the naughty-me could have slapped her (that's my fire!). I bit my tongue so as not to say something sarcastic about the “helpful and friendly service” as I left. I simply said thank you and goodbye.
Always to be kind is quite a high aspiration. The degree of kindness I could offer that lady was to just let her be and not give her a dose of my disapproval. How did I manage that despite feeling quite annoyed? This is where compassion comes in...
“Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.” (I like this definition from Wikipedia). Literally “compassion” means “suffering with”. Quite simply I thought, “that lady is pretty unhappy. She is frustrated and obviously hates her job”. I could be judgmental about her inability to cope better, or I could remember that I, too, don't always manage my frustrations in a way consistent with my highest ideals. And I am pretty lucky that I have a job I love. So why be mean to her? The world really does not need more meanness.
Compassion is one of the key teachings of the Buddha. But to simply go forth and say “be kind always” is tricky. I have found that in order to feel genuine compassion I need to view the situation from a broader perspective. When I started studying the way tantra looks at reality, I came to understand that compassion is the result of seeing things in a certain way. In short we are all one human family, sharing similar hopes, desires, pain and joy. Your well-being effects my well-being. I translate “suffering with” into “we are all in this together”.
"Be kind. Everyone you meet is in the midst of a great struggle." - Plato
I believe that behind the smiling exterior or strong armour we present to the world, everybody knows pain, disappointment, loss, fear and all the other kinds of human suffering. No one is immune. Everybody has a story. When I remember that we are all struggling with something and doing the best we can, I feel more connection, I become softer and more forgiving. I can choose to practise compassion, or loving-kindness. The more compassion and connection we can cultivate, the more support and love there will be for us in this world.
"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive" - Dalai Lama
Our upcoming retreat in Thailand is dedicated to the theme of Metta (Loving-Kindness) and cultivating compassion. You can read more about that here.
I will leave you with this beautiful thought (though no one seems to agree on who first said this...Buddha, Lao Zi or Jack Kornfield):
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Please enjoy the Metta Meditation below which we will be practising on our retreat.
In the first stage, you feel metta for yourself. You start by becoming aware of yourself, and focusing on feelings of peace, calm, and tranquillity. Then you let these grow into feelings of strength and confidence, and then develop into love within your heart. You can use an image like golden light flooding your body, or a phrase such as ‘may I be well and happy’, which you can repeat to yourself. These are ways of generating the feeling of metta for yourself.
In the second stage, think of a good friend. Bring them to mind as vividly as you can, and think of their good qualities. Feel your connection with your friend, and your liking for them, and encourage these feelings to grow by repeating ‘may they be well; may they be happy’ quietly to yourself. You can also use an image, such as shining light from your heart into theirs. You can use these techniques — a phrase or an image — in the next two stages as well.
Then think of someone you neither like nor dislike. Your feelings are ‘neutral’. This may be someone you do not know well but see around. You reflect on their humanity, and include them in your feelings of metta.
Then think of someone you actually dislike — an enemy. Trying not to get caught up in any feelings of hatred, you think of them positively and send your metta to them as well.
In the final stage, first of all you think of all four people together — yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Then extend your feelings further — to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighbourhood; in your town, your country, and so on throughout the world. Visualise and sense waves of loving-kindness spreading from your heart to everyone, to all beings everywhere like ripples spreading in a pond. Then gradually relax out of meditation, and bring the practice to an end.