Monday, February 6, 2012

Step 1: Learn About Compassion

      The first step on my journey along the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is to Learn About Compassion.  I actually started this step way back in December, when I first decided to take this challenge.  I began by "reading" (ie listening to the audiobook) Compassionate Life twice since it is full of a WEALTH of information about compassion from a large number of different religions throughout history.

       Really, I started the first step many years ago, when I began to embrace the idea that anger is pointless and that the only real key to world peace was empathy (and with that feeding the hungry - tangent).

       So, even though I'm posting this in February, I consider the weight of Step One to have been completed in January.  But, because part of this journey includes journaling it, I'm going to try to get up this post, plus two more about my First Step before moving on to the Second Step.

      Compassion, Karen Armstrong contends, is the common thread running through all of the world's major religions.  It is a thread that is often lost or covered up by rhetoric or extreme fundamentalism, but if you dig into history, you can find it.

       I loved the chapter of her book on the First Step because I love religious and cultural history, and this chapter was full of it.  I found much of it extremely enlightening.  There was so much discussion of the roots of religions I hitherto knew little of like Confucianism and Jainism.  She also delved into depths of religions I thought I was familiar with like Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, uncovering amazing tidbits I had never known and I'm so happy to have found out.  Her history of Yoga very much changed my perspective on the practice and inspired me to attend a lecture on the spiritual aspects of Yoga (which was wonderful, by the way - can't wait to put it into practice).

      The section on Christianity was especially interesting to me, having been a disenchanted Christian in my youth.  Basically none of what she said about Christianity was new to me, but the way it was laid out here, though simplified, cut through all the BS that drove me away from Christianity in the first place.  The author focuses on the loving, compassionate message of Jesus, which, in my reading of the Bible*, really was his whole message.  It is the later interpreters looking to serve their own interests and prejudices that inserted all that other junk.

      Jesus truly exemplified the Compassionate ideal, the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do to you/Do not do to someone else what you would not like done to you.  In Matthew 5:39-40 Jesus said, "You have heard how it was said 'Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.'  But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance.  On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well."

      That's a pretty far cry from the gay-bashing, doctor-shooting rhetoric that some Christians spout.  (SOME, definitely not all).  Not only in Christianity, but in most major religions, there are those loud, shouting people who twist and pervert the message to meet their own ends.  So, just for the record, I'll say it one more time: JESUS NEVER SAID 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE,' quite the opposite, actually.  He also never said, "hit gay people with tire irons."

      Paul, in Philippians 2:2-4, even presented Jesus as a Bodhisattva, which is a Buddhist who has achieved enlightenment but instead of passing into Nirvana, chooses to stay with humanity and help lead others to enlightenment.  I think that's a pretty darned good take on it.  Paul says:  "Everybody is to be self-effacing.  Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people's interests instead."

      And that is the goal of Compassion.  I can barely even wrap my brain around the changes we'd be looking at if people thought of each other first.  Sure, there'd still be stress and strife and misunderstanding, but man, what a different place it would be.  If we all just gave each other the benefit of the doubt.  You know, like Jesus said.  And Buddha.  And Confucius.  And Muhammad.  And Kant.  And Aristotle.  And Mother Theresa.  And a whole bunch of other brilliant leaders.

      Learning about Compassion, and the thread it winds through the history of religion and philosophy, has been a real eye opener.  Not just in its potential to change the world, but also each individual life. 

      Because if I can let go of my little pet hatreds, if I can give up the self focused drives that cause me to judge others and guilt myself, if I can truly step outside myself and focus on others - fully, all the time - what a peaceful, serene state that would be.  I know I'm not adequately capturing this point, but trust me, it's a big one.  Read the First Step chapter of the book, and you'll see what I mean.  The potential for personal happiness is boundless.

      It's like the sage Douglas Adams said, "And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything."

*And I have read the Bible, by the way.  The whole thing.  Yes, it was years ago, but I did read the whole Bible, just in case any of you hate mongers want to get all up-in-arms that the Pagan is talking about the Bible.  If you want to say mean things to me because I said Jesus was a peace loving guy, you're missing the point anyway.


  1. Sometimes I think what would this world be like if everyone did just live by the golden rule and live with compassion- that would be a world I want to live in

  2. Can I just tell you that you are by far the most interesting blogger that I know? I really do enjoy reading your thoughts and beliefs (whether I agree or not). I just love the diversity.

    And guess what else? I've NEVER read the whole entire bible. I should. But I probably won't. =/