Why does compassion have to be boundless?

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, and the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who became the victim of a mindless radio show hoax call, it’s time again to look at how we all share responsibility for these events.

In the Guardian on Monday, President Obama was criticised for the stark contrast between his outpouring of grief for the children and staff who lost their lives in this tragic incident, compared to the countless innocents who’s family’s lives have been wrecked by the “drone wars”.

With respect to the indiscriminate killing of innocents by drone attacks, Democrat Joe Klein claimed on MSNBC that “the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”

It would be pretty hard to stomach if this really is the bottom line of Obama’s policy. Compassion that starts on your front door step and radiates only inwards is not compassion at all. You might think it is, but it’s not. This kind of compassion relies on family members meeting each other’s desires. As soon as that condition fails, then things soon turn ugly. It happens all of the time – particularly at christmas – particularly after a few drinks! Even Tyrants would say they love their families, but the domestic abuse statistics clearly show otherwise.

It is easy to devalue others without thinking about it – and when we live in a world without true compassion, then it’s not hard to see why we suffer.

The mindless prank phone call that lead to Jacintha’s suicide is just another example of how people can devalue others in order to protect themselves – in this case, to protect their self image. The radio presenters were so intent on projecting themselves as great entertainers that they thought nothing of humiliating the dedicated nurse on the other end of the phone. Would they have carried this out if the victim was a much loved sibling, perhaps a sibling they knew to be a dedicated and sensitive carer? I doubt it.

Likewise, TV and the Internet are full of examples of people being humiliated at the expense of a cheap laugh. Talent shows which entertain through exploiting and humiliating people who genuinely believe they have talent can be particularly cruel. The producers who argue that it’s every persons’ right to enjoy the limelight are darkly cynical, in my view.

Equality remains a myth while enshrined only in legislature. Compassion remains a mirage while reserved only for those who meet our desires.

Shantideva writes:

Those desiring speedily to be a refuge for themselves and others should make the interchange of self and other, and thus embrace a sacred mystery.

What is this sacred mystery? It is the reality of emptiness, of interbeing, and interdependency. Only when we strive to understand the suffering of all living beings can we begin to act with real compassion. Only when we begin to act with real compassion will a true peace arise in the world. Have a peaceful, and compassionate Christmas.


3 Responses to Why does compassion have to be boundless?

  1. David December 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    Excellent post. There are no easy answers, are there? I am bothered by the use of these drones. I’ve been disturbed by the way the killing of Osama bin Laden has been held up as the banner of some great achievement. Murder is never great.

    I assume you are referencing Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian article, “Joe Klein’s sociopathic defense of drone killings of children.” Frankly, I find it a bit hypercritical for Scarborough, a Republican who supported the Iraq War and all of George W. Bush’s other misguided policies, to get on his high horse about drones. I would cut Joe Klein some slack long before I would Scarborough. Klein is an insightful commentator who wrote a great book on Woody Guthrie. I am confident that at heart he has compassion for innocent children. The bottom line that Joe Klein speaks of is that hard reality of no easy answers.

    • steve December 20, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Thanks David. There are certainly no easy answers. The article was http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/17/us-killings-tragedies-pakistan-bug-splats

      All violence seems to stem either from a protection of the self (physical, ego, or suicide in the hope of a better future in the afterlife) or from the total loss of respect for life (suicide leading to oblivion). The world is choc full of it. Since I began practising, I have come to realise the courage of people like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr who stood up to violence, chest bare, and heart exposed. We are surrounded by belief systems (religious, economic and plain secular) that encourage violence in one form or another as they all lead people to protect an idea of permanence.

      I was going to cite “Silent Night” as a way we should contemplate Christmas, until I got the the shepherds quaking in the second verse. On further reflection, I think Nat King Cole understood what the world needs more than anything – and whether people argue this is about Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad or any other holy figure, the core message of the song would serve humanity well at this time.

  2. Bodhi Rolf February 16, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

    Hi Steve
    Great post, so many injustices, misunderstandings, wrong thinking, ignorance, delusion, war and violence in the world, so much human suffering, and I know this was so in the Buddha’s time also…
    In my embrace of Buddhism as a simple day to day way of thought, word and action I have come to a personal vision that when the Buddha saw so much suffering in the world, he/she sought a healing medicine, a medicine with no expiration date that was universally effective and healing to all who awaken to it, and can be applied to all who have been or ever will be.
    The remedy was and is the Bodhi Dharma, the jewel of boundless compassion, wisdom and enlightenment which the Buddha awakened and which shown fourth brighter than a trillion suns, dispelling negative Karma, defeating ignorance and delusion, and which provided not so much and answer to suffering, as a supreme and liberating understanding of the causes that turn the universal Karmic Wheel.
    As a rather home grown, grass roots, self-styled Buddhist(won’t the bodhi seed sprout wherever it falls upon fertile soil?)I feel it is our my most important cause, for myself and all beings, just to sit and breathe and be one with my Buddha/Enlightenment nature, and in that boundless limitless state, is where understanding, change and transformation is always possible.

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