The Seeds of Compassion
Compassion is not religious business; it is human business. It is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.
-- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
A gathering called Seeds of Compassion took place in 2008 during a five-day visit to Seattle by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and thousands of others. Its purpose was to "explore the relationships, programs, and tools that nurture and empower children, families, and communities to be compassionate members of society."
With any new subject, it is my tendency to set the table with what I recently called "definition, history, and context." Without using the word "compassion" or focusing intently on its meaning, much of my life and work had been driven by similar ideas. In preparation for my participation in Seeds of Compassion, on the Seeds of Compassion Wiki article "Ideas to Nurture Kindness and Compassion," I published my working definition of compassion:
To plant the seeds of your own compassion, look at the roots of the word, 'compassion'. As in the word 'community', 'com' is the web of all living things -- all plants, all animals, all people, and everything that lives. Think of the passion you have for your friends and family, the passion you have for your work, your creations, and your ideas. When you see yourself as one living thing in a community of life, and when your passion for your own life is the same as your passion for the life of all things, then you have compassion.
My working definition from early 2008 blends well with the Dalai Lama's observation today. Compassion is personal first; it is needed by each of us as individuals. Then compassion is for our communities as an extension of ourselves.
The first part of the Dalai Lama's observation is often what surprises people most -- "Compassion is not religious business; it is human business." There is no one, true religion, as the Dalai Lama himself, the leader of his own religion, readily acknowledges. Every religion claims to be the one, true way to the exclusion of others, which can hardly be the case. If you are a follower of and contributor to any one particular religion, I can only encourage you to seek broader, more realistic solutions to the world's many problems. Compassion addresses the universality of our human condition, shared global issues, and the necessary universality of ethics and civil society.
Compassion is the ethical heart of an open, culturally compatible, and growing commons which includes shared art and culture, science, and technology. The practical essence of compassion is the edge needed to persevere through bounds of inertia and momentum like prejudice, belief, and dated tradition. We are all in this together, now more than ever and tomorrow more than today. We must continue to shed false and prohibitive divisions and to make our way forward together.