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In Praise of Great Compassion

Introduction

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Introduction

KINDNESS IS our first experience in life; our mother and those around her immediately extended affection, care, and a warm heart toward us. As we grow up, we continually experience the kindness of others — our teachers, friends, even the people we don’t know personally who provide the food, shelter, clothes, and medicine we need to stay alive. The kind hearts of others benefit us, but developing a kind heart ourselves really enriches our life by connecting us to others and enabling us to experience the joy of caring for and loving other sentient beings. In short, a kind heart is essential for our own and others’ welfare. For this reason I say, “My religion is kindness.” Everyone — even animals and insects — understands kindness and thrives by giving and receiving kindness.

Why should we be kind to others? First, kindness isn’t something foreign. Even ants and bees cooperate and take care of one another. They know that to survive they must work together. Animals look after their own kind. Rather than survival of the fittest, survival of the most cooperative enables life to continue. Charles Darwin said in the Descent of Man:2

As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races . . . Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to lower animals, seems to be one of the latest 2moral acquisitions . . . This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings.

And Albert Einstein tells us:3

A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

Our happiness and well-being are interrelated with those of others. We depend on one another to have the necessities and enjoyments of life; so if others suffer, we too will be affected. Since we depend on others so much, they deserve to be treated well; repaying their kindness only makes sense. Extending ourselves to others with a warm heart, even in small ways, brings so much goodness in our world.

Love and compassion are not foreign to us. Those mental factors are an inextricable part of our minds. Through Buddhist practice, we consciously cultivate and extend our instinctual affinity for kindness and our innate ability to empathize and share with others. As sentient beings’ love and compassion increase, so does forgiveness. We become able to communicate better with others, listening to their stories and paying attention to their feelings and needs as well as to our own. This has a ripple effect in society, spreading a feeling of well-being within each person as well as among people, groups, and nations.

Generating love and compassion takes effort; first we must learn how to cultivate these qualities and use them effectively with wisdom. Reading the teachings in this book will give you the tools to go in that direction. Practicing under the guidance of a Buddhist teacher who can model the teachings in his or her own behavior is of great help and inspiration as well.

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