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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2011 59 enlightenment. Your quest cannot begin until you have allowed the pain that surrounds us on all sides to invade your heart and mind. In our modern world, we are deluged with images of pain—every night they are beamed into our homes on the even- ing news. Sometimes we just want to switch it off, but we should see this as a spiritual opportunity—this is the pain of the world entering our privileged enclave and breaking our hearts open. awareness of pain is an important part of the way that we de- velop a compassionate mind and heart. We need to recognize our own pain and to allow the pain of others to affect us—to enter into our lives and disturb our thoughts. the greeks knew this. the athenians were a warlike people but they had a uniquely tragic vision. In the fifth century before christ, they annually performed tragedies in honor of dionysus, the god of transformation, as part of a religious festival. every citizen had to attend. the plays usually took one of the ancient myths and recast it to mirror the predica- ments that athens was then experiencing. the plays became a civic meditation on the plight of the city, of the polis, and periodically the leader of the chorus would turn to the audience and say, “now weep.” and people would weep, because they felt that weeping together created a bond between human beings. they realized that they were not alone in their sorrow. It was jian ai—their sympa- thies were extended toward people whom they would normally not have given any room in their mind to. It’s when we begin to equate our pain to the pain of others, particularly to the pain of the enemy, that we have the poten- tial to override the selfishness, the prejudice, and the rage so prevalent in our world, and to see the divine spark that lies in every single one of us. We have a choice. We can emphasize those aspects in our religious traditions that speak of exclusion, dislike, disdain, contempt, and hatred, or we can emphasize the teachings that speak of compassion and making place for the other in order to make a better world. very often when religious leaders come together, they talk about some abstruse point of doctrine that everybody must be- lieve, or condemn a specific sexual practice, or have a lengthy and often acrimonious debate over who can be ordained as a priest or bishop. I’m not saying that these are not important issues, but why don’t we hear more from religious leaders about compassion? With their teachings on the golden rule, it seems to me that re- ligions should be playing a major role in one of the chief tasks of our times, which is to build a global community in which people of all persuasions can live together in peace, harmony, and respect. If we don’t achieve that, it’s unlikely in this age of global terror that we’ll have a viable world to hand on to the next generation. It is vital to restore compassion and the golden rule to the center of religious and moral life. When I won the ted prize in 2008, I asked ted to help me create, launch, and propagate a charter for compassion that would be composed by leading thinkers and activists in a range of major faiths. hundreds of thousands of people contributed their ideas to a draft charter online, and with the aid of a council representing six of the ma- jor world religions, together we crafted the charter. It’s short, sharp, and essentially a call to action. nonetheless, the work of compassion has to begin with ourselves. We cannot seriously ask our church leaders, our political leaders, or indeed our enemies to behave more tolerantly and compassionately if we ourselves give way to unexamined prejudice. the great sages who de- veloped the ethos of compassion were convinced it was possible. the great confucian sage Sunzi said that every single man and woman in the street has the power to become a sage—a compas- sionate, fully mature human being. It can be done; it must be done. Join us to work for a more compassionate world. ♦ the Buddha taught an unbiased love that reaches the farthest corners of the world, not omitting a single creature from your radius of concern. SeatedBUddhaInMedItatIon(alaBaSter)BYBUrMeSeSchool,aMarapUra,BUrMa/photo©lUcatettonI/theBrIdgeManartlIBrarY