March 31, 2017

This is how we Heal the World.

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” ~ Albert Schweitzer 


More than three decades back, I was posted for work in a remote village.

During my stay, I met a milkmaid who provided me with milk on a daily basis. One day, out of plain curiosity, I tried digging into her personal life. I learned that her name was Godavari and that her cow was growing dry. She was faced with a world of uncertainty, unsure of how she would continue to run her house.

I don’t know what prompted me, but I decided to loan her some money so that she could purchase a new cow and pay me back the money whenever she felt she could.

When I proffered the money, Godavari stuttered with fright, her honest face crumpling in despair. I assured her that I would walk with her through her climb out of distress. Godavari scratched her head, did quick mental math, and decided to give it a try. I could see the beatific hope in her face.

That picture is one sliver of my memory that remains green and verdant till this day. It refuses to fade.

It is moments like these that keep renewing our trust in poor but honest and heroic women.

Godavari bought a cow for around Rs. 4,000 which continued to produce daily dividends; more than three pints of milk later, the cow gave birth to a calf. Godavari prospered in a miraculous way, and her daughters are all well-settled now. Despite my protests, she wanted to pay back at least a part of my loan, which I finally accepted.

Stories like Godavari’s inspire and remind us that our small acts of compassion can make a big transformation in the lives of the poor. These acts do not just nourish our spiritual and moral texture; they teach others the power and impact of compassion.

It is acts like these that keep sparking rainbows of celestial joy within us.

All the major religions place great importance on compassion. Whether it’s the parable of the Good Samaritan in Christianity, Judaism’s “13 Attributes of Mercy” or the Buddhist teachings of metta and karuna, empathy for the suffering of others is seen as a special virtue that has the power to change the world.

This idea is often articulated by the Dalai Lama, who argues that individual experiences of compassion radiate outward and increase harmony for all.

“Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.“ ~ Susan Sontag

Compassion is how we can heal our planet. Whenever we wholeheartedly attend to the person we’re with, or the tree in our front yard, or a squirrel perched on a branch, this living energy becomes an intimate part of who we are.

“Because Angels could not propagate, nor make more Angels, God enlarges his love in making man, that so he might enjoy all natures at once, and have the nature of Angels, and the nature of earthly creatures in one person.” ~ John Donne

Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But if we view compassion this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.

The great interfaith scholar Karen Armstrong argues that compassion is hardwired into our brains, yet is constantly pushed back by our more primitive instincts for selfishness and survival. When our materialistic and ego-centric culture poisons our minds, the cleansing power of compassion moves us beyond our own selfish desires and back into human community.

It is true that it is becoming increasingly challenging to preach and practice compassion. When bestselling books and movies all seem to focus on self-indulgence and encourage whining over the petty problems of life, how can we grow into compassionate, selfless human beings? How can those who are truly compassionate avoid being hurt, used, and abused by those who only seek and never give back in return?

The answer has as many petals as an unfolding lotus flower, and within each petal is a simple truth: Compassion has to be practiced with a spirit of altruism; we should expect nothing in return.

“The true aim of the cultivation of compassion is to develop the courage to think of others and to do something for them.” ~ Dalai Lama

Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every human being, treating everybody without exception with absolute justice, equity, and respect.

But compassion without kindness is only half a loaf. We must make it our task to perform one act of kindness every day, no matter how small. It can be as simple as picking up a scrap of paper in your neighbor’s yard or yielding to a car in traffic, or as complex as making a lonely person feel loved.

By making kindness a part of your daily life, it becomes such a normal response that you don’t have to strain to summon it forth from the dregs of your soul anymore. While we can throw around words like compassion and love, they’re still very difficult concepts to internalize.

Selfless love needs to be a key component in our compassionate actions—a love for the distraught, a passion for envisioning a new future fashioned from love—a radical love that exists at the crux of social change.

The first step in enacting this social change and building a better world is to build a better you. The solution starts with us, and if everyone joins in, the world will become a lovely place to live in.

Don’t we all want a purpose, a worthwhile way to spend our time on this earth? We have no second chance at this life. Now is the time. A bright face, a little appreciation and sympathy, a ready hand, and a kind encouraging voice—these all send fellow travelers on their way refreshed, strengthened, and comforted. According to Dr. Richard Moss, “The greatest gift you can give to another is the purity of your attention.”

And the marvelous thing about it is that once an unhappy person feels that somebody cares about him, he is often able to begin caring more about others.

Love liberates love—it is as direct and miraculous as that.

Being compassionate toward others requires being compassionate toward oneself, too. We cannot give from an empty bucket.

Compassion is about respecting the variety of perspectives in the world, but its roots are in the interconnectedness of all beings. Being aware of how other people approach their joy and sorrow—the same emotions we all experience—allows us to be more empathetic and mindful of the things we do and the people with whom we interact.

“We must meet not merely as tourists but as pilgrims who set out to find God, not in buildings of stone but in human hearts. Man must meet man, nation meet na­tion, as brothers and sisters, as children of God. In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this sacred communion, we must also be­gin to work together to build the common future of the human race…It must be built on a common love that embraces all and has its roots in God, who is love.” ~ Pope John Paul II

Our faith in God and human beings too is shown precisely in the small acts of kindness, brotherhood or sisterhood, and familiarity in our day-to-day lives. Faith in God and human beings does not require us to display heroic acts of courage and fidelity. On the contrary, it is the day-to-day commitments to our near and dear that make up the fabric of our lives.

“The true aim of the cultivation of compassion is to develop the courage to think of others and to do something for them.” ~ Dalai Lama

It’s much easier to be selfish. So let’s remember that what the world needs the most right now is love. There is so much strife and struggle; love alone can provide a light of sanity and weave order out of chaos.



Author: Moin Qazi

Image: Instagram/@elephantjournal

Editor: Callie Rushton

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Moin Qazi