"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." ~ Dalai Lama
"Who does not want happiness for others and for ourselves? If so, see me after class."
Those are the words that I share with my students at the University of Nevada in the first week of class. The answer is obvious; and yet, how many of us know how to practice compassion?
In his book, The Compassionate Life, Marc Ian Barasch shares:
"I've come to admire the metaphoric elegance of a tree: donating free oxygen, running on solar energy, sheltering all creatures, making a quiet, tenacious display of life's generativity. People have always gathered beneath trees to parley and to palaver, to picnic and to play. Every faith has a Great Tree rooted in its narrative. I imagine each sapling we plant as a resurrection of hope, an emissary to the future. A tree seems an apt emblem of the interdependent, ecology-base global order so many are working to bring to fruition."
Marc provides illustration after illustration inviting us to live the compassionate life, from generous spirits who practice compassionate living every day of their lives to those who would donate an organ to a perfect stranger, we see how life can be lived in transforming fulfillment.
I was a Certified Public Accountant for 25 years before taking a turn in the road, now teaching philosophy, and doing community engagement work. While I was a CPA, I encountered many very well-to-do clients who were, to put it kindly, "miserly givers." Invariably, I observed lives of quiet desperation and non-redemptive suffering. When asking one wealthy client about their philanthropic intent, I was told: "I don't do philanthropy." With divorce and a child suicide in the resume, I could only feel compassion for the ignorance of his plight.
I have often thought, wouldn't it be lovely to send all of these clients a copy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and advise them just to watch the last scene of Old Scrooge opening up his window, requesting the purchase of a big turkey for Tiny Tim's family, and following through with an offer of health and well-being for Tiny Tim and the entire family?
There is a joy inherent in human existence. Our happiness is rooted in that joy. If we could but open the windows of our hearts and minds to take in the powerful spirit that comes with a compassionate and giving soul, we would never close that window again.
If we could see that it is our nature to be selfless, compassionate givers, more so than to be selfish, miserly takers, we would do everything in our power to commence the journey down the path of kindness. On that path, we would learn from many good souls along the way. We would see the height and breadth of those great trees all along the path, providing refuge to all who would take shelter.
In Buddhism, "The Three Jewels" signify three great refuges, three great trees:
1) the first being the awakening to our own compassionate Buddha, divine nature,
2) the realization that there are universal practices of compassion that can help guide our way, consisting in greater generosity, greater patience, greater diligence, greater discipline, more spiritual practice, leading to greater insight, and
3) the appreciation that there are fellow travelers on the path of kindness, and that we would do well to associate ourselves with such fellow travelers.
I invite you to fully engage the path of kindness. I invite you to take shelter from the storm that is this world, under the great Tree of Compassion, a tree that not only shelters but provides the oxygen needed to skip down the path. One of my fellow travelers, Wayne Teasdale, taught me that Contemplative Practice leads to Contemplative Action. May you be blessed by the joy, the peace, the love that comes from such practice. And, may you become a blessing to many, breathing in other's suffering, breathing out lovingkindness.