Live a compassionate life

Recently, I came across the Charter for Compassion, initiated by Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs, and the charter was launched on 12 November 2009 in sixty different locations throughout the world; it was enshrined in synagogues, mosques, temples and churches as well as in such secular institutions as the Karachi Press Club and the Sydney Opera House. The charter spoke to me in a deep and special way, and I feel I would like to share it with everyone here:

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self-interest, to improverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others – even our enemies – is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred, or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the sufferings of all human beings – even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

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Karen Armstrong shared that compassion was inseparable from humanity; instead of being motivated by self-interest, a truly humane person was consistently oriented to others.  HH the Dalai Lama said ” whether a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being.”

Regardless of which religion we belong to, all faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana or Tao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule: “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you” - or in its positive form: “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group: you must have concern for everybody – even your enemies.

Jesus Christ taught us in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard how it was said; you must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your fathers in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good and his rain fall on honest men alike. For if you love those who love you, how can you claim your credit? Even the tax-collectors and the pagans do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? You must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Compassion was the test of true spirituality, as mentioned in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.”

In our modern society, we are often target-driven, geared for efficiency rather than compassion. Do we treat colleagues and workers as cogs in the wheel, forcing them to maximize output at the expense of their physical mental and spiritual health? Does the need to create a ‘competitive edge’ endorse and aggravate the ‘me-first’ drive that makes us heartless in other areas of life?

Compassion is our natural way of being. How often have we allowed our unconsciousness prevail over living a life of loving-kindness? Charity is the ultimate test of faith. You can not worship God unless you honour your fellow humans, whoever they may be.

Live a compassionate life…now.

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