Photo: Buddhist Mantra Wheel, Crestone, Colorado.
Text at the base of the Mantra Wheel: “Do not commit any wrong, perfectly practice virtue, completely tame your own mind, this is the Buddha’s Dharma.”
Although I have read “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche, “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and a variety of works by Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, I am not a practicing Buddhist. I began reading about Buddhism partly to satisfy my inquisitive mind but mostly from a space of personal disillusionment with the hypocrisy I witnessed within the Christian church. Since my youth, I have always been curious about the religions and philosophies that fell outside of our more narrow-minded Western ideology. There was something inherent in the Eastern philosophies that rang my bell, especially within the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism. The practice within Buddhism that spoke most clearly to my core was the act of compassion.
Though not a Buddhist himself, Albert Einstein understood the importance of our connection with and the need to exhibit compassion for the people and things of this earth: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” How can one argue with such an intelligent man?
For me the premise of compassion should be the foundation of all religions, of all philosophies and belief systems. When compassion is absent, we become nothing more than selfish, egotistical beings who would blindly sacrifice our world and those in it simply to fulfill our own desires. I suppose our Western belief in survival of the fittest and the drive to obtain the almighty dollar no matter what the cost, has placed a bit of a chasm between our individual selves and our ability to relate to the “universal whole”. I also believe that our Western philosophies and religions have played a large role in “othering” the people and things that do not fall into the accepted “norm” making it difficult to display compassion for those who fall outside one’s own belief system.
The Hindu Ghandi said it best when he stated: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” I do not believe “all” members of the Christian church are lacking in compassion and acceptance of those outside their belief system. I still have faith there are Christians who are like the Christ that they follow. The Christ who showed deep love, compassion and acceptance towards those who fell outside the accepted norm of his day. The one who embraced the leper, the thief and the prostitute. The same Christ who dared those who were without sin to cast the first stone. The same man who challenged Christians to not only display kindness towards others but to embrace one’s enemies. Perhaps he was tapping into teachings of a religion that existed for thousands of years before the advent of Christianity. Perhaps Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism et. al. are bound more closely than we can imagine beneath all the modern-day politicized rhetoric. Bound together by one foundation, one common denominator, the Holy Grail to cure all societal ills; Compassion.
“Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water.” – Thich Nhat Hanh