Melancholy, by ©Janaka Stagnaro
Is compassion a virtue that needs to be cultivated before one can arrive at a true understanding of self and its place in the world? Albert Einstein thought so: "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
The Buddha, however, may have had a different view: "He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye." He may have placed more value on dispassion: "Dispassion is the best of mental states...."
This month's contents, including selected responses from our request for papers on compassion as an element of the spiritual search:
Laws by Richard Rose | Compassion Is Irrational by Ricky Cobb | Wisdom & Compassion by Alfred Pulyan | Compassion Can't Be Cultivated by Rich Hay | True Compassion by Bob Fergeson | Compassion as a Virtue by Steve Holloway | Dispassion by Gary Harmon | Compassion & Dispassion by Vince Lepidi | Compassion & Love of Truth by Franklin Merrell-Wolff | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Self-Absorbed by Shawn Nevins | Compassion Is Love by James Riley | Humor
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Down through the ages, mystics and scientists regarded the finding of laws to be the equivalent of finding milestones of progress. The application of them, or the observance of them, will help us understand things not previously understood. They may also save us a few sore spots which are normally incurred by banging our heads against walls that do not move.
Law of Proportional Returns: You will get that which you give. Effort is rewarded and helping others inspires help. Helping also develops in us a more acceptable attitude.
Law of the Ladder: The ladder here is used as a symbol to show that there should be a selective giving of goods, energy, or spiritual help. The law says that you should not reach below the rung upon which you stand, except to the first rung below you in order to help people. If you reach down too low your efforts will be wasted, and you will be hurt. Or crucified.
The Law also says that you cannot be helped by anyone too far above you, because you are not prepared to work on the same level at which he is working. There are less people on the higher rungs than on the lower. We will be lucky if we can find one man who can help us, but we should be working with six or more on the rung below.
Law of Love: The proper application of the Law should be in the direction of the friends upon the path, those on our rung and two adjacent rungs. This love can be expressed as friendship of the most unselfish type. For those too many rungs above we can only offer respectful silence. For those who cannot see us too well, being less fortunate—we can only afford compassion. Anything other than compassion may verge on self-deifying egotism.
Law of the Reversed Vector: In spiritual matters, man must become identified as a vector, or force, if he wishes for results. If this vector is aimed in the wrong direction (relative world scene) his life is wasted. The Law states that you cannot approach the Truth. You must Become (a vector), but you cannot learn the absolute Truth. We find that there is only one way, and that is to first build ourselves a very determined person—a vector. We must back into the Truth by backing away from untruth.
Law of Paradoxical Immanence for All Things Relative: Everything is relative to the ability for measuring by the eye of the beholder. We discover what appears to be an immanent paradox in all our findings and postulates. This tends to deter most minds from coming to a positive stand on many matters. The paradox, while disquieting, is often for the thinker, the first real hint that there is a transience about the observable, physical world that will always elude his enquiries.
Law of Relativity: We cannot think without association or relationship. We are related to all things.
Law of Faith: The Law has to do with the changing of the apparent status of matter by means of human belief. The size of the miracle depends upon the intensity of the belief of those minds. Healers are found to be most effective in multitudes, and less among people from their home town.
Law of Complexity: This Law may well be called the law of life, since life is found only in very complex structures. Complex structures are highly unstable. Any transcendental movement that has allowed itself to become complex, and to sprout all sorts of ramifications, is in the same jeopardy as protoplasm—it tends to die.
Law of Equilibrium (Karma): That the individual is accountable for thoughts and deeds born of his thoughts. Most people postpone the operation of Karma to future incarnations. Consequences of our acts come to us if they can in the same birth as when they were committed.
© Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.
Compassion is irrational. It is against the "self." Working for others at the sake of one's self. Yet it intuitively makes the most sense; it feels right. When we are helped, we are helping someone else do something good for themself. When we help, it helps others. All is helping and being helped.
You can't will yourself compassionate. You could try but it would end in some form of self-hypnosis and you'd "snap back" into reality when you see that you've been BS'ing yourself. You CAN make excuses to be compassionate. Whether those excuses cause compassion is unknown but you can set yourself up for it just like anything else. Seeing oneself in others and others in oneself shows that we are all human; we all share that and like the Dalai Lama (14th) said:
"You can relate to them because you are still a human being, within the human community. You share that bond. And that human bond is enough to give rise to a sense of worth and dignity. That bond can become a source of consolation in the event that you lose everything else."
"As above, so below" the ancient proverb goes. We are a mirror. The internal reflects the external as much as the external reflects the internal. Compassion is this "shining light" in action. The connection we all share (or are) is, in my opinion, necessary for growth. Without it, all that is seen is, "me, mine" and greed run rampant. When "we, us, ours" is seen, greed is not needed and goes away, just up and leaves on its own accord.
Albert Einstein said, "Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison [of separateness] by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." When all is seen as one, not separate, not "self" but simply "Self" or Nature in all its workings, then compassion is natural. And you can't force nature!
The Buddha said the same thing basically:
"He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye."
This "impartial eye" is compassion itself. It is not aPART; it does not discriminate, separate or see anything or anyone as "other." It is not-self. It is caring and compassion and acting best for all beings for all selves. They're all you, you're all them. Where is there compassion? Is it all compassion?
Life is fleeting, we're always a moment nearer to death. If you see that in yourself and in others then there is compassion.
I would suggest that compassion is a not a virtue that can be cultivated, but rather the natural outcome of the unitary state of consciousness (a state of no-mind actually, in which one "minds" everything in general and nothing in particular) that arises when all egocentric sense of being is transcended. Seen in this light, the passion I naturally have for myself (individual love of being), expands to embrace the totality of Being Itself. Then I love All in Myself, and Myself in All. As such, true under-standing of Self arises from the realization that I, as the field of pure awareness under-lying all, AM All and Everything (and, as such, No-Thing at All/No-Thing-In-Particular).
Although Albert was constrained by the innate duality that relative words naturally project, I wholeheartedly agreed. However, I would go on to suggest that compassion is not something I have, but rather a particular (non-particular actually) state of the consciousness I am and, thus, myself. Just as Life, defined as the degree to which I am consciously aware of being in any given moment, and that based on the self-reflection environmental stimuli occasions, is something I am, not something I have. As such, it is really "I", as an ever growing center of conscious awareness, "I" as a particular conscious perspective or point of view, that expands to embrace the totality of my own being and, thus, the entirety of myself.
The Buddha is really saying the same thing as Albert, although seen from the opposite perspective of "no-self" (as "no one" separate and apart from the world) or "nobody in particular." In this regard, the Buddha's "impartial eye" is equivalent to the Bible's reference to the "single eye" that becomes "full of light." It is an "I" or perspective of awareness that is no longer identified with self to the exclusion of other. It is an I/Eye (perspective, way of seeing or mental lens) able to drop all self-identification with particulars (particles) and, thereby, see from a detached, non-dual, impersonal, non-linear and/or absolute perspective. It is an "I" with sufficient mental space and leverage (because it takes nothing personally and so identifies with nothing at all) to see both sides of the same coin "all at once or at one time."
Seen in this light, the Buddha's dis-passion negates the object or other and Albert's co-passion negates the subject or self. Both, however, approach the same unitary state of awareness that under-stands all from opposite directions. Just as infinite velocity and absolute stillness both lead to omnipresence. In any event, the perfect under-standing that arises is the natural outcome of a unitary state of mind, consciousness and/or being that "knows by virtue of being one with that which it knows."
We cannot speak of helping when we ourselves know not what we are attempting to help, or even what is performing this so-called help. Most attempts at compassion are simply the projections of a needy ego in a vain attempt to bolster its dream and force others into helping it in its desperate projecting. This dreamer, the helping person, is caught in a mechanical cycle of trying to make the unreal real by repeated attempts at convincing itself and everyone it meets that its personal dream is valid, real, and the only dream worth dreaming. A creature such as this can hardly be said to be practicing compassion, when its so-called helping embrace is more along the lines of the jaws of a steel trap, designed to prevent any change in the dream, the dreamer themselves, or any other dreamers who happen to get caught in its "open arms."
The above statements may be shocking and upsetting to those with sensitivities rallied around their own helping egos, but they serve a purpose. This purpose is to shock the sleepers into facing the vanity and pride that they themselves are somehow beyond help, awake, capable, and now have the right of dictating behavior to others in order to "save" them. Only a man who is himself free of delusion can hope to help another in any real way. The ego-self, which must be continually bolstered at every bump in the road, is not a thing capable of helping. Only by helping others to go beyond the need of any further help are we said to be practicing true compassion. To do this, we ourselves must have also made the journey into Reality and must be safe on the further shore, no longer lost in dreams and delusions of being a separate thing: something which needs, which helps, and which does this to others, whether they need it or not.
How do we come to this place of no-concern, where help is no longer needed, where we are awake, beyond the nightmare of thing-ness and separate-ness, secure in Love itself? How can we cross over from the being of a dreamer lost in his dream, to true changeless Being; aware, never-dreaming, Compassion itself? The old adage over the entrance to the temple of Delphi gives the clue: Know Thyself. The pride and fear that go with thinking and feeling as basis for our very being also keeps us from ever really looking at ourselves. We instead project our opinions and needs, hates and loves, out into the world of "others" and then pretend that our manipulations of these others is compassion. The only way to act compassionately towards another is to help wake him from his personal nightmare, his dream of separateness and pride. This can't be done from within our own nightmare, no matter how vain or humble. One lost dreamer cannot help another; there must be a common ground. Being lost in the movie of one's own inner drama does not provide this. It only serves to separate: one from the other and everyone from the Self.
The most common argument that prevents us from accepting the above is that we do know ourselves, and that we can help others, as we are. This refusal to face the facts is rooted in our fear of change. To help someone, we must first help our self. To help our self, we must change our very being: from a dreamer in a dream, thinking he's servant or king, to a man knowing only one thing: "I don't know who or what I am... but I must find out!"
The suffering of anyone close must invoke the compassion of any sensitive person. I have friends and family who have suffered assorted medical problems—stroke, heart attack, cancer and debilitating infections—and I feel for them all. Compassion for those close to me is clearly good. If some compassion is good then it stands to reason that more is better. "Widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures," as Einstein says, should be our goal. But is it really that simple? I live in one of the largest cities in the world and sometimes it seems full of people who deserve my compassion. So many seem unhappy, fearful, sickly and often angry. And those are just the people I actually see. To read the newspapers or watch television makes me aware of even more people who are suffering: from war, oppression, poverty and natural disaster. If one is a compassionate person there are so many to suffer with. Faced with so much suffering, compassion drives one to ask, what can a person do? I can try to help those who I come in direct contact with. I can give money to charity. I can find work that might help or at least not make things worse. These things may give some little satisfactions. But, as a person, I am small and powerless and anything I do is inevitably insignificant. Becoming more compassionate only increases feelings of frustration, powerlessness and hence depression.
All this assumes I am a small insignificant person, just one amongst many. But in reality I am not. As Einstein partially realised and many, many others have firmly recognised, personhood is a delusion. Our society conspires to keep us believing that the idea of self is the fundamental basis of identity and that without it we will simply collapse. Our language maintains this belief, so we talk of our bodies as personal possessions and of our minds as things we control. We firmly hold beliefs about the world that are easily demonstrated as falsehoods. We are simply deluded about what we are.
Once one has found a way out of this delusion the whole of existence is turned around. I am no longer a small person with a private internal mental life surrounded by millions of people who are a bit like me. I am all of the world and I am all of these people. Here language conspires to trip me up. It is hard to describe feelings without implying the self that feels them. It is hard to convey how I act without implying the existence of a self that initiates action. Decisions are made without a decider. Thoughts occur without a mind. Feelings are not attached to me, they float free. So what am I? How can I say this in words that will not confuse and limit. Perhaps I can say I am the space in which the world happens. Or I am Awareness, and without awareness there is no world.
Compassion only has meaning if I am separate from people. I do not feel compassion for a painful leg, I feel the pain, and if it is appropriate an action occurs (I do something about it, in conventional words). A mother would not describe feelings for a sickly child as compassion. The child is part of her, she feels its suffering and will do what she can to alleviate it. That is how things really are. The people around me are me and I am them. The feelings that arise are just feelings that come and go. Action occurs and tasks are done. All of this comes from what I truly am.
I do not prescribe how you should shed the delusion of personhood and the belief that your identity is your body and your consciousness. I chanced upon Douglas Harding who showed me what I am and what I am not. There are probably as many paths as people. Your path is yours to notice and to follow. I wish you a pleasant and rewarding journey.
In distinguishing all the others, the way wanders in the empty middle of the circle,
~ See Gary's Spiritual Books Worth Reading web site.
Compassion and dispassion are not contradictory views. Rather, compassion flows from dispassion. When one is dispassionate, one's ego is put in abeyance. The perspective shifts from individual, self-centered biases, desires, and perceived needs, to a universal, absolute, and "objective" view. There is a stepping out of the limited ego-self, with its emotional identifications and intellectual vanities, to the encompassing of a total, truer view of things. Our intuition tells us that the individual ego-self is not all that important within this broader, truer view. The spiritual seeker, realizing this, will use his intuition to apprehend the total view in order to find the Truth.
Compassion is the exercise of dispassion applied to living beings. When one is compassionate, one shifts his view by stepping outside the melodrama of his own egotism and embracing the entire human condition. The compassionate spiritual seeker has a keen sense of finitude of life and the futility of egotism, yet is still bound by his egotistic desires and fears. He knows that the rest of humanity is facing the same dilemma. It is here where the cultivation of compassion is important in the spiritual search. Compassion helps the individual become free from his own desires and fears, because he realizes he is not special and that others are facing perhaps even greater fears and are bound up with stronger attachments. This is especially so when the seeker realizes that most people are clueless about the possibility of finding Self-Definition in their lifetime, and will remain asleep spiritually. Our individual suffering is nothing more than the suffering of all humanity. When we see this, the statements of Einstein and Buddha converge. We break out of the prison of our own separate, petty desires, and instead experience ourselves as united to others by seeing our Self in all beings and all beings as our own Self.
Does God come only in glimpses,
Or am I a fool?
Wind sweeps my mind of thoughts
On this day,
All things are forgotten.
A river of words moves among us
I found this breeze
Thoughts dance in and out
An open window draws forth stale air.
I am alone,
Is it always like this
Shall you cultivate compassion or dispassion? My first reaction is to exclaim there are no virtues that need to be cultivated—just look and see the Truth! Yet, exhortation does little good as blanket advice. I risk falling into neo-advaitist platitudes: you are already enlightened, there is nothing to be done, etc.
There is a reason(s) you are not aware of Reality. There is a block between you and the Truth. Manifestly some people are aware of a deeper aspect of their self, and spend their lives helping others discover the same.
In my present experience, a look within my mind reveals what is behind the black wall of the self/personality/mind. This redirection of attention should yield the same result for you, yet probably does not. In my past, a thousand exhortations to look within would not have revealed what is now present within me. As John Wren-Lewis says, there is a malfunction in consciousness that need unblocking. The unblocking is unique to each person and may entail cultivating compassion, or may not.
We think of compassion as giving of our selves to benefit another, to the point, perhaps, of throwing our selves on a hand grenade. Yet, if your goal is self-discovery, hand grenades may severely limit your potential for success.
Does compassion entail giving our life for someone already dying, or opening our house to thieves? Does dispassion entail squashing small animals that stumble in our path, or watching children drown?
Will I only pile questions upon the original question, or will I say something useful?
Early on, I tried to cultivate dispassion because it seemed the world was a distraction to the study of the self and mind. I wanted to become indifferent to food, weather, shiny baubles, and sex. Of course, I had a vision of my self as dispassionate and that was not the truth—that was just a flattering screen role. I slowly recognized this and abandoned cultivating dispassion, yet in the process of cultivating dispassion became a more focused, intent seeker.
Later, I tried to cultivate compassion. Unlike my foray into dispassion, this time I did not have an accompanying vision of my self as a compassionate saint. Rather, I suspected that my block to looking deeper within was related to my block to looking deeper without and that exploring compassion would help overcome that block.
I tried to feel what others were feeling, tried to reach out with my mind and find rapport. I tried to reach out to animals and plants as well, tried to feel what (if anything) was out there. The trick was to simply feel what was there and not create what I hoped would be there—to see clearly, not to create. This was very frustrating, since most of the time I felt nothing. Yet sometimes I would, and sometimes would feel a call to act upon that feeling.
Perhaps this seems a far cry from compassion, yet I think true compassion emanates from a dispassionate awareness. Without a clear picture you risk killing people with misguided kindness. Also, by paying attention to what you are feeling, in hopes of feeling an echo of another mind or life, you are looking within.
Paradoxically, I found that compassion and dispassion moved hand in hand as I moved along the spiritual path. You see life and see life encased within other lives, billions of lives that passed the same route. You carry a 400 million year old fossil in your hand as you help someone carry a package to their car. You help a child who fell and scraped his knee, yet notice the cemetery in the background. Think upon the fact that everyone and everything you help and love is transient.
If we embark upon a path of compassion, we must serve without pride in our service. Perhaps recognition of transience helps temper pride. You work even as you suspect the folly of all work—becoming more capable of helping others, yet not mounting a crusade to do so. I see the cultivation of compassion or dispassion as part of a larger quest to be honest regarding what we see and feel within and without.
Compassion is love, the end to the spiritual search.
Compassion is our natural state, but can only be truly felt when we give up the false idea of a separate self.
It is only in those brief flashes of clarity, unclouded by the constant chatter of the mind concerned only with the survival of the separate me, that we notice our natural compassion that was there all along.
It is only from this natural state of compassion that we can realize that nothing in this existence is either good or bad. It just is and because of that alone can be described as holy.
This alignment with life, when we give up the illusion of trying to change or rearrange anything, is the only place where we can find lasting peace.
This is far different than the definition the word compassion is usually associated with. Compassion, in common usage, means to feel empathy for another separate self because of the imagined belief that we, too, might find ourselves in a similar situation.
Built on this false assumption, compassion becomes a state that is never truly realized, a goal that can be approached but never reached.
Compassion exists and can be felt only when the compulsion to name and label and judge is finally and totally exhausted.
The first great discovery is that we have the ability to name everything and the promise of freedom that implies. True freedom, however, is when we realize that we don't need to name anything, that everything is divine simply because it is.
Compassion is love—what silence is to noise; what space is to objects; what this moment is to the past or the future.
Compassion is what remains when everything else is stripped away—a container big enough to hold everything.
To understand compassion as somehow fleeting, somehow limited, somehow restricted to a chosen few is to suffer.
Compassion is here, now, always has been and always shall be.
Compassion is too simple to understand; too complicated to comprehend.
Compassion is being, what remains in the absence of everything else.
Compassion can't be found; it was never lost.
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