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.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.)
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.
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 charterforcompassion.org. 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