Monday, January 20, 2014

The First Step ~ Learn About Compassion

Karen Armstrong says:
I suggest that at the end of each session, each person resolves to introduce one regular practice into his or her life.  This resolution should, for example, be "realistic."  It has to be something that you can feasibly include in your daily routine; it should be challenging, but not so demanding that you give it up after a few days; it is no good saying, for example, "I am never going to say another unkind word to anybody in my life ever again" ~ because this just isn't going to happen.  It should be something really concrete:  "I am going to go out of my way to perform one act of kindness each day to somebody (make a list of candidates!) who really annoys me."  The resolution should also be practical.  It shouldn't be something vague, such as "I am going to open my heart to the whole world."  That is meaningless unless it becomes a concrete reality in your life.

Be creative and inventive; there is no need to stick slavishly to these suggestions:  think of ways in which your actions can become a dynamic and positive force for change, not just within yourself but in the world around you.  Make each resolution a regular part of your life, and by the end of the course you will have twelve new habits that should be effecting a transformation within yourself and your immediate environment.
Select and use whatever questions and actions you choose.  (I, Bonnie, suggest we not write about more than one thing at a time.  The goal is not to "finish" the set of questions, so think about it a long time before writing anything.)


1.  In the preface, Armstrong writes that our "egotism is rooted in the 'old brain,' which was bequeathed to us by the reptiles that struggled out of the primal slime some 500 million years ago" (p. 13).  Even though we've developed a "new brain" endowed with the power of reason, our instincts for survival "are overwhelming and automatic; they are meant to override our more rational considerations" (p. 14).  Why is it important to the practice of compassion to understand the functions of our old and new brain?

2.  "The Buddha's crucial insight was that to live morally was to live for others" (p. 40).  Why was it not enough for the Buddha to attain "the very highest states of trance" and practice "fierce asceticism" to attain enlightenment?  What was missing?

3.  Confucius believed that "when people are treated with reverence, they become conscious of their own sacred worth, and ordinary actions, such as eating and drinking are lifted to a level higher than the biological and invested with holiness" (p. 42).  He also believed in "a constantly expanding series of concentric circles of compassion" from family, to community, state, and world (p. 43).  In what ways do Confucius' beliefs apply to our world today?

4.  Armstrong writes that compassion is central to the three monotheistic religions, Judaism. Christianity, and Islam.  What stories, quotes, or passages stood out for you in this chapter?  What stories or myths in your cultural, religious, family, or other traditions emphasize compassion?


1.  Visit  Affirm the Charter and invite your friends to do the same.  (As I post this on Book Buddies, a total of 104,370 people have signed.)

2.  Examine the teachings of your own religious or secular tradition about compassion.

3.  Revisit this passage on page 63:  "Each of the world religions has its own particular genius, its own special insight into the nature and requirements of compassion, and has something unique to teach us.  By making room in your mind for other traditions, you are beginning to appreciate what many human beings, whatever their culture and beliefs, hold in common.  So while you are investigating the teachings of your own tradition, take time to find out more about the way other faiths have expressed the compassionate ethos."

4.  For the next month, keep a journal of notes, passages, poems, thoughts on what you learn about compassion (p. 27).

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


Bonnie Jacobs said...

In the morning, after I've finished reading the first chapter, I'll come back and answer a single questions. This book is different, so I'll do only one at a time.

Shirley said...

This book is indeed different. The first chapter was a challenge to me in that I did not find it enjoyable and kept looking ahead to see how many pages were left. However, towards the end of the chapter I finally got what I think was the point--each religion has its own beliefs yet all share the central goal of compassion.
I like the idea of setting a realistic goal of a daily compassionate act, but so far I've hit a blank.

Anonymous said...

I signed the Charter for Compassion today and posted it on my facebook page as well as on my church's facebook page

This is my first step. My next step is to take an inventory of the groups of which I am intolerant. I will then plan ways that I can lower my anger at them. This is going to be hard....

Anonymous said...

My journal on compassion:

Today I watched a video testimony of Hilary Clinton answering a Congressman's questions about her position on women's reproductive health. She gave a respectful and compassionate reply. I want to be able to do that when I hear comments from those with whom I disagree with and am intolerant of.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

As part of Action #4, I've been collecting thought about compassion. I wrote about a couple of them on my book blog:

Karmapa said, "The absence of compassion is the greatest danger facing human beings today."

I discovered that published on Facebook yesterday, the 29th.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Here's a story that came out of Atlanta's snowstorm:  Jessica Curerra and 9-month-old Haddie have Facebook — and a brave couple with an ATV — to thank for getting home safely on Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

Someone commented on Facebook about the story: "God bless those good samaritans! There is much more good, kindness and compassion in this world if you look for it."

alisonwonderland said...

I loved reading the news story about compassion in the Atlanta snowstorm! Thank you for sharing it, Bonnie!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

MaryZorro shared this video with us on Facebook, but I'll put it here for Book Buddies to have access to it any time. And for you, Layle, since this is the only way I can get it to you.

Shirley said...

Tom Hiddleston's discussion of compassion was interesting, but made me wonder about the difference between empathy and compassion. The discussion that I found most helpful was
which indicates that although both emotions reflect a person's concern for what another person is going through (I'd always thought though that empathy meant that one was able to understand because of the experience being one that the person had also gone through) that empathy was a more passive emotion while compassion involved action because of the feelings.

In an e-mail from my cousin, she shared concern about the rabbit who had made its home under her sidewalk. This summer she made several attempts in vain to get the rabbit to move as its home was damaging her sidewalk. However, when she realized she hadn't seen him with the cold weather, she became worried and set some food out for him. She did see some bunny tracks in the snow yesterday and plans to feed him during the cold weather and then hope that he will move on in the spring. I don't know how realistic her hope is, but I do think that her demonstration of compassion especially towards an "enemy" is commendable.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Shirley, that's a good distinction between the two words, that "empathy was a more passive emotion while compassion involved action." I had not really stopped to compare the two, but this makes sense.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Notes for my Compassion Journal:

It's surprising how much I see that relates to compassion, now that I have it on my mind every day. Like this from a Cree Native American teacher and storyteller, quoted on p. 89 of Agape Love by John Templeton:

"According to my tradition, from the beginning of creation, every morning, when the sun comes up, we are each given four tasks by our Creator for that day. First, I must learn at least one meaningful thing today. Second, I must teach at least one meaningful thing to another person. Third, I must do something for some other person, and it will be best if that person does not even realize that I have done something for them. And, fourth, I must treat all living things with respect. This spreads these things throughout the world."

Shirley said...

Templeton does give himself quite a daily challenge.

It does seem much more positive to be on the alert for the compassion we see or read about instead of the gloom and doom so often noticed.

The recent snows have brought out lots of compassionate acts. Our neighbor down the road has continued his practice of plowing out our drive. His wife didn't want to accept payment at first saying that he loves to play with his plow, but we want him to know that his services are much appreciated. There have been several stories on the news and in the paper of the compassionate acts being done for others.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

When she shared this link, Donna wrote on Facebook, "Compassion extended to another of God's creatures."

It's inspiring, so I recommend you go take a look at this boy's compassion.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Seems like this ought to fit in here, too.

"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." — John Lennon

Shirley said...

Quite appropriate! For as many times as this has been played and sung, it is sad that the imagine-ing hasn't become more of a reality.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

On Monday, February 17th, I'll post something to start our discussion of Step Two (chapter two). Meanwhile, here's something to consider:

"The Four Immeasurables" are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Notice that someone has put a warm knit bonnet on the statue):

Shirley said...

Even though it is to an inanimate object, that is a touching act of compassion.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Okay, time for a little "compassion" humor.

W. H. Auden said, "We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea."

Shirley said...

Clever insight. But somewhat of a guilt tripper as I probably do not do as much good for others as I should.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Do you know what the word "RUTH" means? Take a look at what I posted on my book blog (scroll down to the patient in the dental chair):

Ruthless Limerick
by Madeleine Begun Kane

A dentist who’s lacking in ruth
Worships money, possessions, and youth.
In his quest for all three,
His crimes guarantee
He’ll be jailed until long in the tooth.

Ruthless means lacking in compassion, and ruth is a noun meaning compassion for another. (I keep finding more and more things relating to compassion!)

Shirley said...

Quite witty. Learning the new for me vocabulary word was a nice bonus.