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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2011 56 said tsu, “likening to the self.” You look into your own heart, discover what gives you pain, and then refuse under any cir- cumstances to inflict that pain on anybody else. do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you. confucius believed that if we did that consistently—all day, every day— then we would gradually leave ourselves behind, because com- passion requires you to dethrone yourself from the center of your world and to put another there. In one of my favorite golden rule stories from the Judaic tradition, the great rabbi hillel, an older contemporary of Jesus, was approached by a pagan who promised to convert to Judaism on the condition that hillel recite the whole of Jewish teaching while standing on one leg. hillel stood on one leg and said, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. that is the torah; everything else is only com- mentary. go and study it.” Many of the things that we think essential to Judaism, such as the unity of god, the creation of the world, the exodus from egypt, the 613 commandments, they’re all commentary on the golden rule. go study it, said rabbi hillel; make it your reality. Why do we find it so difficult to make compassion our real- ity? I did some reading on the neuroscience of compassion, and what I understood the science to say made a lot of sense to me, because I recognized it in myself. We’ve inherited a sort of reptil- ian brain from our distant ancestors, which still contains a lot of ferocious drives that helped our species survive. often these drives are called the four Fs: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and... re- production (laughter). these drives are automatic, and they are powerful. If a lion suddenly ran into this theater, we’d be right to immediately abandon our high-minded deliberations and run for our lives. these drives are about survival, and they are all about “me.” When people were freed from the desperate struggle for daily survival that dominated the species for thousands of years and had the leisure to reflect upon their experience, they began to explore ways to enhance the more positive emotions of the so-called mammalian brain and put the four Fs in their place, to keep them under control. We have a duty to protect each other from our destructive impulses, whether that involves killing somebody or uttering an unkind word that remains lodged like a piece of ice in the heart for years to come. these primitive drives can infiltrate anything, including reli- gion. So how did people learn to train their minds to control these destructive impulses and promote positive emotions? the people of India were always in the vanguard of religious change, and in the seventh century before christ, the Upanishads inspired a life- style that developed the more positive emotions. Yoga, a technique that the sages of the day were gradually devising, was a way of sys- tematically taking the ego out of your thinking, so that you no longer saw things just from the perspective of “me.” these sages found that when you’re no longer seeing the world through the filter of your own fears and desires, people and objects reveal un- expected qualities. But before you could even begin to sit in a yogic posture, you had to undergo a five-point program that was sort of an assault on the four Fs. nonviolence was point one. that didn’t just mean that you couldn’t kill; you had to express affability and friendliness to all, even the most annoying monkey in the compound. point two was feeding. Instead of just grabbing food and eating as much as you could, the aspiring yogi had to take whatever food was offered. he was not allowed to be avaricious. We’re not good at saying “enough”—our brains evolved for scarcity, and we’re not good at plenty. a lot of the economic problems we’re having now are because people can’t say “enough.” the aspiring yogi also forswore intoxicants and sex. he did this not because these are bad, but because confucius called it tsu, “likening to the self.” You look into your heart, discover what gives you pain, and refuse to inflict that pain on anybody else. conFUcIUS,MUSeUMoFSaIgon,hochIMInhcItY,vIetnaM/photo©lUcatettonI/theBrIdgeManartlIBrarY