Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Preface ~ Wish for a Better World

Karen Armstrong starts her Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life with a preface about her Wish for a Better World.  "All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality," she says (pp. 3-4).  And again:  "At their best, all religious, philosophical, and ethical traditions are based on the principle of compassion" (p. 24).
"Yet sadly we hear little about compassion these days.  I have lost count of the number of times I have jumped into a London taxi and, when the cabbie asks how I make a living, have been informed categorically that religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.  In fact, the causes of conflict are usually greed, envy, and ambition, but in an effort to sanitize them, these self-serving emotions have often been cloaked in religious rhetoric" (p. 4).
Today, I ran across a short interview entitled Religion is not the source of conflict.  You may want to read it, especially if you don't have the book we are using.

The text of the Charter for Compassion is found on pages 6-8 in the book and on the Charter for Compassion site, where you can also sign the Charter, if you haven't already.  Also available is a printable flyer of the Charter.
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.  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 single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain.  To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others — even our enemies — is a denial of our common humanity.  We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women
  • to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion;
  • to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate;
  • to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions, and cultures;
  • to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity;
  • to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings — even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous, and dynamic force in our polarized world.  Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological, and religious boundaries.  Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.  It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
The final version of the Charter was composed by a Council of Conscience made up of individuals from six faith traditions:  Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  As I type this post, I'm wearing the  peace medallion (pictured here) with almost the same six religions.  The ying-yang symbol usually indicates Daoism (Armstrong's preferred spelling for Taoism), but it could represent all Chinese spiritualities.  Going clockwise from the top, the religions represented are Christianity, Daoism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

DISCUSSION
1.  What has been your experience of compassion and — on the other hand — the growing "extremism, intolerance, and hatred" (p.6) that leads to further alienation.

2.  How do you feel about Armstrong's desire "to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity" (p. 7) and "to transcend ... religious boundaries" (p. 8)?

3.  What does "compassion" actually mean (p. 8)?  How can we "translate [it] into practical, realistic action" (p. 8)?

4.  What words have you looked up so far?  Is it important to you to understand the nuances of words like "numinous" as used in Armstrong's mention of cave art?
"Their depiction of the animals on whom these hunting communities were entirely dependent has a numinous quality" (p. 16).
5.  "Because it runs counter to the Darwinian vision, advocates of evolutionary theory ... have found altruism problematic" (p. 12).  Is this going to cause a problem for Armstrong's ideas about compassion?  Are we humans too selfish for this to work?

6.  Did you pick up on Armstrong's reason for making this a 12-step program (see p. 23)?  What's our addiction?
SCHEDULE:  I plan to begin our discussions of each step on the third Monday of the month.  The discussion itself, however, can continue the entire month — or any time after that, "forever."  If newcomers happen upon this after we've completed our discussion, I'll try to pick it up again with them.  The First Step will be posted on Monday, January 20, 2014.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010

11 comments:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

How have you experienced compassion? Here are some questions to get us started on the Preface.

Shirley said...

1. What has been your experience of compassion and — on the other hand — the growing "extremism, intolerance, and hatred" (p.6) that leads to further alienation.
Empathy expressed by others when I have faced losses is the example I could think of on having experienced compassion.
I am concerned about the growing extremism and intolerance that so many groups and individuals express. For example, the inability of so many to understand the suffering caused by our nation's health industry has resulted in great difficulty for needed changes to be made.

2. How do you feel about Armstrong's desire "to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity" (p. 7) and "to transcend ... religious boundaries" (p. 8)?
Understanding the beliefs of others should help us develop compassion instead of the self-righteousness too often encouraged within religions.

3. What does "compassion" actually mean (p. 8)? How can we "translate [it] into practical, realistic action" (p. 8)?
I think of the saying about walking a mile in another's moccasins as a definition of compassion. Following the Golden Rule is the path to compassion. The news story about the passenger who set aside his work to entertain and befriend the young child next to him during the 2 1/2 hour flight was an excellent example of compassion in action.

4. What words have you looked up so far? Is it important to you to understand the nuances of words like "numinous" as used in Armstrong's mention of cave art?

"Their depiction of the animals on whom these hunting communities were entirely dependent has a numinous quality" (p. 16).
5. "Because it runs counter to the Darwinian vision, advocates of evolutionary theory ... have found altruism problematic" (p. 12). Is this going to cause a problem for Armstrong's ideas about compassion? Are we humans too selfish for this to work?
I'm a slacker. Even though I didn't know the definitions of all the words, I didn't look any up.

6. Did you pick up on Armstrong's reason for making this a 12-step program (see p. 23)? What's our addiction?
The use of 12 steps as in AA is an interesting approach in overcoming our addiction to our me-centric lives.

Mary said...

It appears that I managed to post my comment in the wrong place. Bonnie, please move it here (and correct the spelling of 'troglodytes') Thank you.

Mary said...

And now you can all see how badly I need this year of trying to become more compassionate toward those with whom I differ! I have no tolerance for these conservative Christians who want to maintain the status quo..

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Mary, just for the record, I cannot technically "move" comments. Just like any of you, I can (1) post a comment under my own name and (2) delete my own comments. As administrator, I can do one additional thing: (3) delete ANY comments. So your comment from the other post (below) is posted under my name and photo, below, in what looks like MY next comment.

To move it yourself, you would copy what you posted THERE and paste it HERE. Then you would delete it THERE by clicking on the little icon of a garbage can. All of you can see that icon for ONLY your own comments, when you are signed in; I, as administrator see the little garbage can icons on ALL comments, but only when I'm signed in.

To "move" it for you, I have to go through all those steps, plus adding "Mary said..." so readers will know it doesn't come from me.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Mary said... on January 17, 2014 at 6:40:00 PM EST

1. What has been your experience of compassion and — on the other hand — the growing "extremism, intolerance, and hatred" (p.6) that leads to further alienation.

On Bonnie's Facebook page she posted and article about an ecumenical service in which a Roman Catholic Cardinal and a woman Methodist minister exchanged a blessing using a baptismal greeting with a cross of water on the forehead. I see this as a very simple example of love and compassion.

The reaction of some to this simple ritual has been very negative and this growing "extremism, intolerance, and hatred" (p.6) is leading me to further alienation from these narrow-minded troglodytes.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

1. What has been your experience of compassion and — on the other hand — the growing "extremism, intolerance, and hatred" (p.6) that leads to further alienation.

The outpouring of compassion last year, after I shattered my shoulder, was really wonderful. Church people, some who barely knew me, showed up with food. My roommate Donna fed me and helped me get around, and friends came to "babysit" since I couldn't do anything for myself in the beginning. My daughter took me to doctor appointments and to get my hair shampooed, because I couldn't do it myself.

I'm appalled by the extremism these days, especially among commenters who can remain anonymous on Facebook and blogs and online news stories. It's like the underbelly (dark seamy side) of humankind has emerged, and it is not a pretty sight. No longer do we have conversations about ideas, but must try to one-up the other speaker or put her down. And a lot of what spews out of people's mouths is full of hatred. I can only assume these are fearful people who are so insecure they must try to look better. They don't realize how awful it actually makes them appear.

3. What does "compassion" actually mean (p. 8)? How can we "translate [it] into practical, realistic action" (p. 8)?

My 3-year-old great-grandson Jaxon was playing the Candyland game with his mommy, who posted on Facebook yesterday: "Love this little boy's heart! Playing Candyland and he was upset when I told him he beat mommy. He asked why we both couldn't win and took my piece and took it to the Kastle and said, 'There, we boff winned.'" Compassion is present, even in children.

4. What words have you looked up so far? Is it important to you to understand the nuances of words like "numinous" as used in Armstrong's mention of cave art?

One person in our face-to-face discussion group didn't get her book until we met yesterday, so she hadn't looked at these questions. As soon as we got to this question, she looked up "numinous" on her hand-held device. Before I could even define it for her, she was punching buttons to find the meaning: "indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity; holy."

6. Did you pick up on Armstrong's reason for making this a 12-step program (see p. 23)? What's our addiction?

Armstrong said, "egotism," but I like Shirley's answer better: "me-centric lives."

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I meant to include an adult example for question #3.

3. ...How can we "translate [compassion] into practical, realistic action" (p. 8)?

I think Jimmy Carter is a compassionate man. One example would be his continued work with Habitat for Humanity. He's thinking about others, not just himself, and is willing to do something about it. That's how he translates it into practical action.

Carter is also willing to speak out about what he believes. He said, "If you don't want your tax dollars to help the poor, then STOP saying that you want a country based on Christian values, because you don't." I think of that as another way of showing compassion. What he says gets heard by more people than whatever I may say, though I think I should also be willing to speak up. Sometimes it can be scary to say what should be said, especially when some of those haters are ready to bash you (verbally) for saying it.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

3. What does "compassion" actually mean (p. 8)?

I'm still defining compassion, this time on my book blog, where I also quoted Karmapa as saying, "Being a Buddhist involves three things — giving up harming others, benefiting them, and taming one’s own mind. If you posses these three, you are a Buddhist."

Then I wrote:

"I think [commpassion] involves these three things he named: not harming others, doing what's good for others or will benefit them, and taming my own mind so that I learn to 'do unto others as I would want them to do unto me.' And I think it takes practice."

http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2014/01/compassion-karmapa-and-karen-armstrong.html

Zorro said...

http://topinfopost.com/2013/12/12/guy-brings-his-white-girl-to-barbershop-in-harlem-and-this-is-what-happened

Which approach would you use and why? Or would you not enter the conversation?

Shirley said...

Unfortunately, I doubt that I would have had the courage to speak up.