May 14, 2013
Chogyam Trungpa borrowed from Gurdjieff the very useful notion of “idiot compassion.” Gurdjieff, a rather fascinating spiritual teacher of the early to mid-20th century, had said that we are all idiots of one kind or another, and his extensive lists of the various types of idiots we could be included “the compassionate idiot.”
Compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering. Idiot compassion is avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, not giving people a harm time when actually they need to be given a hard time. It’s “being nice,” or “being good.”
It’s not compassion at all. It ends up causing us pain, and it ends …
May 13, 2013
So far I’ve just been advising people to do the metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness) practice while bearing in mind the sufferings of others, but karuna bhavana (the development of compassion) is a practice in its own right. I thought I’d take an opportunity to geek out by looking at an early source of instruction on this practice.
The “Path of Liberation” (Vimuttimagga) by Upatissa is the oldest meditation manual that I know about. It was probably written in the 1st century, several hundred years after the Buddha’s death. It’s from India, but the text has only survived in Chinese translation.
The scriptures of the Pali canon, which contain records …
May 12, 2013
In cultivating compassion we’re responding, with kindness, to the suffering we encounter in life — especially others’ suffering. And the essence of compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering.
But what do we mean by suffering?
There’s an unfortunate tendency for us to think of suffering in grand terms: the person with terminal cancer or a broken leg, the refugee, the starving child in a third world country. So suffering seems to be a special event. But actually, all beings suffer. We all suffer, every day.
- When you’re worrying what people think about you, you’re suffering.
- When you feel resentful, you’re suffering.
- When you’re impatient, you’re suffering.
- When you’re embarrassed, you’re suffering.
May 11, 2013
Yesterday I wrote about the complexities of the “near enemy” of compassion, which is the grief that arises from attachment. So we might feel bad when we see someone suffering, but not actually have any empathy for them. That’s not compassion. It’s “grief” at having our normal experience disrupted by someone who’s inconsiderate enough to suffer. Or we may spiral into despair and sorrow (which is called “failed compassion”) because we’re unable to bear the discomfort of knowing someone is suffering. This is all rather tricky for people to get hold of, sometimes, and it’s potentially undermining because we can end up doubting, in an unhelpful, self-hating kind of …
May 09, 2013
I’ve had more people asking me about the “near enemy” of compassion. So here goes…
The “near enemy” is, by definition, something you might confuse with compassion. You might think you were cultivating compassion but were actually cultivating something else, in the same way that you might water and care for a weed, thinking it’s a useful plant. The “far enemy” is quite straightforward. It’s cruelty, or indifference to suffering, which is just the direct opposite of compassion. That’s easy to understand. But what is compassion’s “near enemy”?
People often use the word “pity” to describe the near enemy, but the traditional commentaries use the word “grief.” Compassion is also …
May 08, 2013
Talking about cultivating or developing compassion can have the unfortunate side-effect of giving us the idea that compassion is something we don’t have, and need to create. Actually, the words cultivate and develop are meant to imply that we already have compassion as a natural attribute, and that what we need to do is to connect with this innate compassion and make it stronger. Really, karuna bhavana is “strengthening compassion.”
Compassion is part of our genetically inherited mental tool-kit. Other animals show compassion: primatologist Frans de Waal (one of my personal heroes) points out that chimpanzees take care of the sick and elderly, for example by bringing water …
May 07, 2013
There are four related dimensions of lovingkindness, together called the “divine abodes,” or Brahmaviharas. These four are (1) lovingkindness itself, (2) compassion, (3) appreciation, and (4) even-minded love. I devoted the first quarter of our 100 Days to lovingkindness, and I’m going to write about compassion, the second of these practices, for the second quarter.
The meditation of cultivating compassion is called karuna bhavana. Karuna is compassion, and bhavana means “development” or “cultivation.”
Metta, or lovingkindness, is the desire of bringing that which is welfare and good to oneself and others. Compassion is the desire to remove suffering, especially from others.
The Vimuttimagga, a very early meditation manual dating from just a few centuries after …
Feb 21, 2013
The statement in the title of this post is a common belief in spiritual and religious circles, but it appears there’s some hard evidence that when you harm others, you harm yourself as well.
According to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science, researchers looked into why it is that some soldiers (31.6%) who have traumatic combat exposure develop PTSD.
It seems that three factors are important: age, a history of childhood physical abuse, and harming civilians or POWs.
…childhood experiences of physical abuse or a pre-Vietnam psychiatric disorder other than PTSD were strong contributors to PTSD onset. Age also seemed to play an important role: Men who were younger than
Jan 27, 2013
Nicki, from Wildmind’s Google Plus Community, offers her take on “how it’s going so far” in the 100 Day Challenge:
The first thing I’ve noticed is a welling-up and outpouring of compassion. In interactions with friends I’ve been almost wholly focussed on them, their lives and interests and how to help them, rather than caught up in some internal dialogue with myself. And the compassion also extends more widely into the world.
Last week I was buying lunch in a takeaway shop, and saw an elderly man sitting slowly cutting and eating a piece of roast chicken (with apologies to vegetarian readers). It was obvious that the movements were difficult
Jan 25, 2013
I wanted to let you know about a free 8-session video interview series – The Compassionate Brain – hosted by Rick Hanson, PhD, through Sounds True.
The guests are (in order) Richie Davidson, Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Dacher Keltner, Kelly McGonigal, Kristin Neff, and Jean Houston, with Rick offering a summing up in an eighth session. (Rick is a neuropsychologist, a regular contributor to Wildmind’s blog, and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.)
So far over 33,000 people have seen these free videos, which explore how to use the power of neuroplasticity—the mind changing the brain to transform the mind—to open the heart, build courage, …