I receive Tricyle Magazine’s Daily Dharma in my e-mail every day. They are almost always thought provoking or act as little reminders ; but, occasionally they resonate deeply with me. Today was one of those days.
We must realize, if tomorrow is going to look any better than today, that the currency for compassion isn’t what someone else does, right or wrong—it is the very fact that that person exists. Commitment to the possibility of kindness cannot be discarded as foolish or irrelevant, even in troubling times when we often can’t find easy answers. If we abandon the force of kindness as we confront cruelty, we won’t learn anything to take into tomorrow—not from history, not from one another, not from life.
– Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness
I urge you to read just one sentence and take time to think about it before moving on to the next.
We must realize, if tomorrow is going to look any better than today, that the currency for compassion isn’t what someone else does, right or wrong—it is the very fact that that person exists.
This line is so powerful because our first instinct is usually to parcel out our compassion based on another person’s actions. I recently had a discussion about Rush Limbaugh, where I said that I didn’t like his rhetoric and I believed that he was an incredibly irresponsible and possibly dangerous person; but, that I had compassion for him and the person I was talking to asked me how I could have compassion for a man like him. I thought “because he is suffering.” He is a human being sharing our planet and as much as I disagree with his behaviors, I truly do not wish him any suffering. It does not benefit me or anyone else for him to experience suffering.
Commitment to the possibility of kindness cannot be discarded as foolish or irrelevant, even in troubling times when we often can’t find easy answers.
Kindness and compassion can’t just be trotted out in good times with good and happy people. Our greatest challenge is to remain committed to being kind and compassionate when it is most difficult to do so. On a small level this might be extending kindness and compassion to a coworker who is particularly difficult or unpleasant and on a large scale it is maintaining these commitments during war or when under great emotional and/or physical siege. I heard the Dalai Lama speak in Minneapolis several years ago and he told the audience that one of his dearest friends, a Buddhist monk was finally released from a Chinese prison and he went to India to join a community of Tibetan exiles. While out gardening with him one day, The Dalai Lama asked him what his greatest fear had been and he said that his greatest fear had been that he would lose compassion for the Chinese.
If we abandon the force of kindness as we confront cruelty, we won’t learn anything to take into tomorrow—not from history, not from one another, not from life.
This is a beautiful reminder that it is in our hands to break the cycle of violence and suffering in the world. Years ago I saw an episode of Oprah, yes…Oprah. She had a Jewish couple on who had been harassed and harassed by a white supremacist. Instead of using anger and hatred to fight this man, they used love and when they found out that he needed help, they helped him and the cycle of hate was broken.
I joined Tricycle as a sustaining member so that I can go back and read from the archives and now, participate in their “online retreats.” As a sampler, right now, for free they have the first installment of Sharon Salzberg’s audio teachings on kindness. You don’t have to be Buddhist or even a believer in any religion or spiritual practice to learn important lessons about cultivating compassion and kindness from this gifted teacher. There is a new book out called, Good Without God that talks about how we as humans have potential for goodness and can lead lives of purpose and compassion without belief in God or a higher being.
I tend to lean on Buddhist teaching because they speak to me; but, cultivating kindness and compassion is not exclusive to Buddhism or any other religion, or religion at all. Find a way to cultivate kindness in yourself in the way that feels right to you.