Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Compassion in Action - - The Dalai Lama

Compassion in Action - - The Dalai Lama

What is it that can motivate some people to overcome The Blind Side they often have towards the sufferings of others, and help them reach out and make the difference they are meant to? Certainly, a major element has to be compassion. Without this necessary ingredient the suffering
of others goes unnoticed by us, or is treated in a light and superficial manner. But, more remarkable is the ability to not only feel compassion, but to put our compassion in action. And, there are unexpected benefits in doing so, which is something Leigh Anne Tuohy discovers when she meets homeless Michael Orr.

Michael didn't intend to be homeless. At a young age he was taken away from his mother who had a drug problem. Though talented and bright, Michael didn't have the kind of opportunities and support he needed from others to help cultivate his unique gifts and skills. One of those skills lay in his shear size, making him an ideal candidate for football, which is why he made it to a top high school. But, without encouragement and support Michael wasn't going to go very far. Compounding the numerous obstacles he faced, he now had to cope with being black in an all white (and mostly prejudiced) school. Thank goodness for Leigh, who found it in her heart to one day reach out and help a complete stranger (Michael) in ways that went far beyond a small hand out.

How is it that some people are inspired to be compassionate and put their compassion into action, while others do not? Surely, we must have the capacity for empathy. We must have enough sensitivity to experience another person's suffering as if it were our own. Or, to put it in the words of beloved spiritual teacher, the Dalai Lama, who wrote the book Ethics for the New Millennium, we need to "cultivate a feeling of intimacy toward all other sentient beings, including of course those who would harm us.. which is likened in the literature to the love a mother has for her only child." This requires the Dalai Lama says a "sense of equanimity toward all others that is not seen as an end in itself. Rather, it is seen as the springboard to a love still greater." And, int his was "we begin to perfect our compassion, [where] neither the other's appearance nor their behavior affects our underlying attitude."

As the ethic of compassion is developed, as seen in The Blind Side, it is done so by overcoming "feelings of partiality," the Dalai Lama states, where if we do put our compassion into action, it tends to be primarily for only those closest to us like our friends and family members. Though the Dalai Lama acknowledges that it is natural to be compassionate first towards those closest to us, he says to really practice the ethic of
compassion we need to go beyond this. And that is why our "essential challenge, as we begin to extend our compassion toward all others, is to maintain the same level of intimacy [toward others] as we feel toward those closest to us."

That is certainly what we see in Leigh. It is not enough for her to simply lend a helping hand to Michael. Her innate compassion is embodied in such a way she is capable of what the Dalai Lama describes above, she feels the same level of intimacy towards him as she feels towards her family. Because of this, Michael becomes part of her family, where he and she are transformed by the positive effects compassion can have upon us. Of course for an act of compassion to be truly worthwhile, it needs to be totally voluntary without any motivation for any other kind of external gain or reward. At one point both Leigh and Michael are forced to examine Leigh's real motivations for reaching out to help Michael. Fortunately, any less than sincere motivations are transcended and compassion in it's truest form is revealed. Because the compassion extended is sincere, both Leigh and Michael are helped along.

How can this be? How is that the person who is compassionate towards another is helped just as much as the one who is the beneficiary of a compassionate act? The Dalai Lama has some clear answers for us. He reveals why compassion (and love) are essential to us all. Some of his reasons for this are as follows:

Why Compassion and Love Are Not Mere Luxuries.

"The more we are compassionate, the more we provide for our own happiness."

"As the source both of inner external peace, they are fundamental to the
continued survival of our species.

On the one hand they constitute non-violence in action.

On the other hand they are the source of all spiritual qualities: of forgiveness, tolerance, and all the virtues.

Moreover they are the very thing that gives meaning to our activities and
makes them constructive.

There is nothing amazing about being highly educated; there is nothing
amazing about being rich. Only when the individual has a warm heart do
these attributes become worthwhile."

When you consider then, how essential compassion is to our lives, you wonder of course why more of us are not motivated to act in the generous manner that Leigh does. Each of us can only ask that for ourselves. And, it could be that The Blind Side acts then as a high ideal for most. Yet, by being exposed to such ideals not only as a possibility, but a reality (The Blind Side is based on a true story), that alone can motivate all of us to reach further in helping to create a more compassionate world. Because if in truth love has no "blind side", but is related to the capacity to be conscious (something the Dalai
Lama talks about), then being conscious of the sufferings of others, and joyfully wanting to reach out and make a loving difference in their lives, can only serve all involved. What better endeavor at this holiday season, or during any season, of our lives. Let's all begin to act in a more compassionate way now.

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