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By John Pendall
“By oneself is evil done; by oneself is oneself defiled. By oneself is evil undone; by oneself is oneself made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.” – The Dhammapada
Our compassion does not change those around us.
Compassion is us letting people be who they are. When we let them be who they are, they become different than they were when we intruded upon them. Selfishness and anger flow out, compassion does not flow. Compassion is still and spacious.
In the stillness of our compassion, another feels no need to push back against our current. When they feel no need to push back, they can rest in their true nature. When they can rest in their true nature, they can be compassionate.
Today there is no humor in these words, my dear Reader.
We have to talk about some serious issues. Issues of society and, even more so, issues that plague each and every one of us. While standing in solidarity with Paris, I’m reminded that this insanity and violence is not outside of us. Though it may be extreme, its root is fundamentally the same in each person.
Atrocity. Devastation. Madness. I would be swept away and dragged under by sorrow if I’d not been swept away by it years ago. Jaded now, I stare into the eyes of my jaded neighbor. A shake of the head and a, “That’s a shame,” seem to be all anyone can muster.
Desensitization and learned helplessness.
Just like those abhorrent experiments in which dogs had their feet shocked while they were in cages; eventually, they just lie down and take it even when the cage door is open. Abandoning their instincts for liberation, they just lay there even though liberation is but a few steps away.
There is a disparity here within the present.
Where I sit, the sun is shining on my hands; coffee is warming my stomach and kick-starting my brain. My Hua Tou accompanies me, and there is a sense of familiarity and calm. Yet this is not the entirely of the present moment. Right now, on the other side of the world, people are crying for loved ones they’ve lost. People are in hospital beds writhing pain in or numbed by medication. Somewhere, deranged and poisoned people sit watching the news and smiling at their success.
That is their present moment. Though it seems different than mine, we are all sharing it.
I could try to point the finger to violent video games and music. I could try to blame the media that has sensationalized violence. I could even criticize religion and a fanatical clinging to ideas that oppose reason. Yet all of that is just scratching the surface. It’s difficult for decent people to understand how someone could do these repulsive deeds. To understand, one only has to turn about and face oneself.
What do we have when we delete empathy and self-control from the mind? We have murderers, rapists, politicians and terrorists. Their brains are literally different than ours, but not so different as to consider them damaged. They are the worst parts of us taken to the extreme. They are filled with the same Three Poisons of attachment, aversion and ignorance that we are. When these poisons are allowed to run wild, fester and grow, they consume everything luminous and precious within. The poison becomes so abundant that it can’t help but spill out into the world; leaving fire, bloodshed, and tears in the wake of its tide.
When attachment festers it becomes greed and selfishness. If aversion rankles it becomes fear, anger, hatred, rage, and intolerance. Ignorance blossoms into obsession and delusion. Thus the heart is corrupted and the mind is devoured by malignancies unseen.
So how do we stop this?
How do we transcend the grotesque facts of our own nature? That’s a personal question that we can only answer for ourselves. Each time a person transforms their poisons into medicine, a candle is lit within the darkness. Once lit, others are drawn to the light. Maybe it can even help them see clearly enough to light their own candle.
The medicine is equal parts compassion and wisdom—compassion, even for the darkest aspects of ourselves. Looking at the selfishness and anger within us and seeing it for what it is: a lost and lonely child shivering in the cold. By showing this part of myself compassion, it can stand up and leave the barren landscape that it’s lost in.
Selfishness becomes generosity. Anger and hatred become compassion and empathy. Ignorance and delusion become wisdom and clarity. The same way that the poisons spill over into the world, the medicines spill over as well.
Non-violence is the medicine for violence. Love is the medicine for hatred.
These words have rung like a thundering bell across the millennia, but they haven’t changed a thing. Perhaps they are said too gently? This is our fault. The fundamental nature of those terrorists in Paris is no different than the nature within all of us.
I am responsible.
You are responsible.
So take responsibility! Stand up and say, “I will change!” If each of us did this, the world would not be in shambles. Become a soldier of non-violence, turning about and plucking the weeds from our minds. Recognizing the similarities between the atrocities “out there” and the poisons “in here.”
The world is but a reflection of ourselves.
This is the Bodhisattva way. When I hold myself accountable for the actions of others, I’m finally getting to the truth of our nature. This is wisdom—vowing to change for the benefit of all is compassion. As we become more and more desensitized to these acts of violence, it becomes even easier for people to commit them. For even as it becomes ordinary to us, it becomes ordinary to them.
We aren’t separate.
Even as we hear about someone blowing themselves up and think, “This is ordinary now,” the one who is strapped to those explosives is thinking, “This is ordinary now.”
So in this moment, the most compassionate thing I can do is point to the news and say, “Look. Look at yourself.”
I love you dearly, dear Reader. Interdependence is the sound of one hand clapping.
Editor: Dana Gornall