photo by Gary Vanderlinden

While the monks of Drepung Loseling Phukhang Monastery were at our church this week, they had for sale malas (beads used for counting mantras or prostrations), flags reading Om Mani Padme Hum, wall hangings with various writings of the 14th Dalai Lama, and so on. This quote caught my attention, especially the part I’ve emphasized.

Let me explain what we mean by compassion. Usually, our concept of compassion or love refers to the feeling of closeness we have with our friends and loved ones. Sometimes compassion also carries a sense of pity. This is wrong–any love or compassion which entails looking down on the other is not genuine compassion. To be genuine, compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering just as much as you. On this basis, since you can see that others are suffering, you develop a genuine sense of concern for them.

As for the closeness we feel toward our friends, this is usually more like attachment than compassion. Genuine compassion should be unbiased. If we only feel close to our friends, and not to our enemies, or to the countless people who are unknown to us personally and toward whom we are indifferent, then our compassion is only partial or biased.

Genuine compassion is based on the recognition that others have the right to happiness just like yourself, and therefore even your enemy is a human being with the same wish for happiness as you, and the same right to happiness as you. A sense of concern developed on this basis is what we call compassion; it extends to everyone, irrespective of whether the person’s attitude toward you is hostile or friendly.

I have wanted a proper mala (all 108 beads) for some time, but as with all such purchases, have felt the tension between the wish to have one and the desire not to be acquisitive, especially about spiritual things. This week, offered the excuse that I was helping the monks build more dormitories for their monastery, I bought one from them. I will not be using it to count prostrations, the way the Tibetan Buddhists do, thank you very much, but on my walks I’ve been using it to meditate as I go, and trying to work up some respect, and thus genuine compassion, for people I tend to pity or dislike.

Previous post on the monks’ visit

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