Living A Compassionate Life

The first noble truth of Buddhism states that suffering is universal.

Everyone suffers – you, me, your next door neighbor, your impertinent teenager, your inconsiderate boss, your sometimes clueless client and even your arrogant VP.

It is a common bond that we all share. From the most privileged human beings to the most desperate and underprivileged ones, and everyone in between, suffers.

Everybody everywhere suffers. Physical, mental, emotional suffering is something we all understand.

Compassionate life

Image Credit: Milky Way by slworking

Buddhism emphasizes suffering (Dukkha) not to deter you from facing inevitable pain, but to accept that suffering is central to the human condition.

Buddha showed us a shortcut to opt out of suffering, by following the Fourth Noble Truth.

The Fourth Noble Truth advocates the path of non-suffering. It says that the way to liberation and enlightenment is through leading a compassionate life. A life of virtue, wisdom, and meditation. It sounds like a tall order doesn’t it?

But what would you rather choose? The path of suffering – moaning the temporary nature of happiness, wallowing in pervasive dissatisfaction – or accepting that suffering is part of life and trying to find lasting meaning through change within your control?

The focus of contemporary literature on happiness is grossly misplaced. In a recent Facebook post, I facetiously confessed about my dysfunctional relationship with happiness and my deep and abiding trust in joy.

Joy is my GPS. As long as I am feeling joy I am on the right path. I am living an authentic life based on my values.

Joy arises from many things, from creativity, from wisdom, from self control and above all from compassion.

I remember learning about the British invasion of India in middle school. Just as Gandhi was launching a new movement in North India, my mom was born in a small village in South India. How I felt for those compatriots who fought for their freedom! The unfairness of how we had been treated, the unnecessary violence and stories of meaningless deaths made my blood boil.

But the American quest for freedom, the emancipation of African Americans from slavery, goes to show that everyone commits the same mistakes – Indian, British, or American. The egregious mistake of forgetting that the others involved in their disputes are humans too.

When we fixate on our differences, when we forget our common bond, we begin to see others as monsters. We forget that they are made of flesh and blood just like the rest of us.

When we don’t take the time to connect with others, we end up treating them like dirt.

When you think someone is immoral, worthless and bad, then why wouldn’t you want to get rid of them? When you think someones is evil, and that it is good to be rid of evil, it is easy to justify bombings and even mass murders.

But, if you keep in mind our common bond of suffering, it makes you incapable of colluding in barbaric acts. It makes you empathize with everyone, it makes you compassionate.

One of the most revelatory books I read this year was “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It is a moving account of Frankl’s time in Hitler’s concentration camps.

You may very well question, how could one find meaning in a dehumanizing situation? How can one survive endless suffering perpetrated by fellow human beings? How can a person manage to not just survive but emerge with a new therapeutic approach, a better way to heal human beings?

Frankl shows us, that it is easy to find meaning in life when you find meaning in the smallest acts. Life is filled with purpose when you remember and embody love; when you act out of compassion rather than hatred.

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Everyone is born with the capacity for love and compassion. When we remember our suffering, we can recognize that everyone else experiences suffering too.

But when we start comparing opinions, beliefs and worldviews, we can start wars. When we treat others from a place of distrust and disrespect we can put blinders on to their suffering. We can forget that love and compassion are not luxuries, everyone deserves them.

It sounds like a cliche, but when everything is taken from you, love is all you remember. May be the poets and songwriters were right after all! Love is all you need.

It is not surprising that the Dalai Lama talks about love and compassion, after all as a Buddhist it’s part of his job description. But it did surprise me to find a psychiatrist refer to love as the ultimate goal.

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Anyone interested in changing their attitude and adopting a practice of positive thinking should read Frankl.

Reading these two books changed the way I view compassion, meaning, love and success. It’s opened up a greater awareness on the positive values in my life.

One of my long lost colleagues imparted wisdom I have taken to heart, “Projects come and go, but people will always remember how you treated them.” Meaning, don’t be a jerk just to get a point across. Treat others with compassion even when the going gets tough. Lead others through your kindness.

Large scale change seldom happens overnight. Yet, the pages of our history books are filled with stories of individuals who have led revolutions simply through their choices.

Mahatma Gandhi chose Satyagraha, the path of nonviolent resistance. Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Nelson Mandela dismantled the legacy of Apartheid. They showed how history could be rewritten through acts of compassion and kindness.

My goals are rather humble: to show more compassion than I feel and to build a more compassionate life through my actions. It’s a good starting point.

You too can make a difference, by taking small actions every day. You can show love and compassion for the human beings in your life.

You can show your impertinent teenager that you care about him and love him as much as his cute and cuddly sister. You can be patient with your irascible boss. You can give your clueless client exactly what they asked for and more. You can treat your arrogant VP with respect and not let their attitude affect your sense of self-worth.

I am convinced that suffering, however trivial awakens something within us. It makes us awaken from our self obsession and question, “Why?”.

Suffering is where your void becomes your value. What you have been denied, you can work to see fulfilled.

You can shift from placing blame to asking powerful questions. Instead of “Why me?” to “Why does it have to be this way?” and you can look for ways to lift others up.

Along the way you just might find deeper meaning and purpose in your life.

If this post strikes a chord, please do me a favor, share it. Thank you!


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