Monday, January 31, 2005

Being Compassionate

Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche, is really a transcription of talks given before live classes. At the end of one session, Rinpoche was asked, "What does being compassionate really mean?" Here is his reply:

My idea of being compassionate is to let everyone become part of one's life. It is to know that everyone wants happiness, just as I want happiness; and that no-one wants suffering and unhappiness. The trouble is that, due to ignorance, we don't know how to be happy, so we tend to have lots of unhappy experiences. Compassion means to be willing to help everyone equally, whether or not they are useful to me; whether they are angry or violent towards me; even if they wrongly accuse me of something. Whatever experience people give me in that way only increases the wish to help; but there should be no expectation as to the outcome, the result of that help. So if, for example, your helping someone gets you sent to prison, you learn to be thankful that you're able to take away that person's negative emotions and exchange them for your own happiness. That's genuine compassion - when you give whatever you have without expecting anything in return.
Now I know right away that there will be objections to this. Why should I jeopardize my well-being, my freedom, for someone else? What about boundaries? What about self-care? Well, remember we start with being compassionate toward ourselves and no-one is suggesting that we take on a level of heroic compassion that is beyond us at the moment. And no-one is suggesting that we engage in "idiot compassion" - that is, the kind of help that only causes us to be exploited. But think of this: What about those ordinary Germans of conscience who risked everything to have compassion on their persecuted Jewish neighbors and, as a result, ended up in the concentration camps themselves? Should they not have done that? Or is that perhaps an aspiration worth working toward? I know that I could live with myself if I helped and it would be very hard to live with myself if I didn't. And so even if I'm not so advanced at this point to take such a risk for another, I want to have that level of compassion. Wanting to is a beginning - a powerful beginning.

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