Heal­ing through com­pas­sion

The Asian Age - - Oped - Moin Qazi is a well- known banker, au­thor and Is­lamic re­searcher. He can be reached at moin­[email protected]

“The true aim of the cul­ti­va­tion of com­pas­sion is to de­velop the courage to think of oth­ers and to do some­thing for them.”

— Dalai Lama

All the ma­jor re­li­gions place great im­por­tance on com­pas­sion. Whether it’s the para­ble of the good sa­mar­i­tan in Chris­tian­ity, Ju­daism’s “13 At­tributes of Mercy” or the Bud­dhist teach­ings of metta and karuna, em­pa­thy for the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers is seen as a spe­cial virtue that has the power to change the world. This idea is of­ten ar­tic­u­lated by the Dalai Lama, who ar­gues that in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences of com­pas­sion ra­di­ate out­ward and in­crease har­mony for all.

Com­pas­sion is how we can heal our tinc­tured planet. When we mind­fully at­tend to the per­son we’re with, or the tree in our front yard, or a squir­rel perched on a branch, this liv­ing en­ergy be­comes an in­ti­mate part of who we are.

Com­pas­sion is of­ten seen as a dis­tant, al­tru­is­tic ideal cul­ti­vated by saints or as an un­re­al­is­tic re­sponse of the naively kind- hearted. But if we view com­pas­sion this way, we lose out on ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial of one of our most pre­cious but ne­glected in­ner re­sources.

The great in­ter­faith scholar Karen Arm­strong ar­gues that com­pas­sion is hard­wired into our brains yet is con­stantly pushed back by our more prim­i­tive in­stincts for self­ish­ness and sur­vival. “Com­pas­sion, ac­cord­ing to Su­san Son­tag, is an un­sta­ble emo­tion. It needs to be trans­lated into ac­tion, or it withers.”

It is true that it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing to preach and prac­tice com­pas­sion. When best­selling books and movies all seem to fo­cus on self- in­dul­gence and en­cour­age whin­ing over the petty prob­lems of life, how can we grow into com­pas­sion­ate, self­less hu­man be­ings? The answer has as many petals as an un­fold­ing lo­tus flower, and within each petal is a sim­ple truth: Com­pas­sion has to be prac­ticed with a spirit of al­tru­ism; we should ex­pect noth­ing in re­turn.

Com­pas­sion im­pels us to work tire­lessly to al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of our fel­low crea­tures, to de­throne our­selves from the cen­tre of our world and put another there, and to hon­our the in­vi­o­lable sanc­tity of ev­ery hu­man be­ing, treat­ing every­body with ab­so­lute jus­tice, eq­uity, and re­spect.

By mak­ing com­pas­sion a part of our daily life, we can make it be­come such a vol­un­tary and spon­ta­neous re­sponse that we don’t have to strain to sum­mon it forth from the dregs of our soul.

Self­less love needs to be a key com­po­nent in our com­pas­sion­ate ac­tions — a love for the dis­traught, a pas­sion for en­vi­sion­ing a new fu­ture fash­ioned from love, an un­ceas­ing re­solve to as­suage the pain of fel­low be­ings, a rad­i­cal love that ex­ists at the crux of hu­man change.

Our faith in God and hu­man be­ings too is shown pre­cisely in the small acts of kind­ness, broth­er­hood or sis­ter­hood, and fa­mil­iar­ity in our day- to- day lives. Faith in God and hu­man be­ings does not re­quire us to dis­play heroic acts of courage and fidelity. On the con­trary, it is the day- to- day com­mit­ments to our near and dear that make up the fab­ric of our life. These acts do not just nour­ish our spir­i­tual and moral tex­ture; they teach oth­ers the power of com­pas­sion and keep spark­ing rain­bows of ce­les­tial joy within us.

It’s much eas­ier to be self­ish. What the world needs the most right now is love. There is so much strife and strug­gle; love alone can pro­vide a light of san­ity and weave or­der out of chaos.

Moin Qazi

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