Dharma Topic: Cultivating Compassion and Protecting Life

Dharma Topic: Cultivating Compassion and Protecting Life

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 14, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, Scott Schang will
guide the community in a recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings
and will facilitate a discussion of the first training:

Aware of the suffering caused by
the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and
learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and
minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not
to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my
way of life.

Scott wishes to especially focus on the cultivation of
compassion and the protection of life, the behaviors which are
encouraged in the training. He writes:

The first mindfulness training
urges us not to kill in any fashion. The English word “kill” is
believed to come from the Old English “cwellen,” which also gave us the
modern English word “quell.” In considering how the first training
urges us not to kill or to condone killing in our thoughts, this
relationship between “kill” and “quell” seems important. We rarely
consider killing or condoning acts of killing, but we do often seek to
quell, “to overpower, to subdue, to put down” as the dictionary defines
that term. We say we love and have compassion for others, but we then
find ourselves seeking to excise parts of our loved ones or suppress
traits we find unpleasant. This process is also reflected in how we
treat ourselves.

How easy is it for you to abide
by the encouragement to cultivate compassion and protect life–all
life–not just in your actions by also in your thoughts? Do you kill or
quell others in your thoughts? Does this rob the other person of some
aspect of life, of wholeness? Do you seek to kill or quell aspects of
yourself, and how does that work for you? What does the alternative of
protecting life mean in practice?

Scott has chosen the Albert Schweitzer reading below to prepare us for this discussion.

You are invited to join with us for our meditation, recitation, and discussion.

You are also invited to join with us on January 6th, at 9:00 am, in
Oakton, Virginia, when the Still Water MPC will join with other local
mindfulness communities to formally transmit the Five Mindfulness
Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of
Interbeing. If you would like to receive in January the Five
Mindfulness Trainings and the Three Refuge vows through the Still Water
MPC, please let us know as soon as possible. Everyone in the community
is warmly invited to attend to renew their commitments and to 
support those who will be receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings and
Scott Schang, who will be receiving the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner

Senior Teacher


THE VOICE OF THE TEMPTER, AND DEEP SATISFACTION

[A] threat to our capacity and our will to empathy is nagging doubt.
What is the use of it?, you think. Your most strenuous efforts to
prevent suffering, to ease suffering, to preserve life, are nothing
compared to the anguish remaining in the world around you, the wounds
you are powerless to heal. Certainly, it is dreadful to be reminded of
the extent of our helplessness.

It is worse still to realize how much suffering we ourselves cause
others without being able to prevent it. You are walking along a path
in the woods. The sunshine makes lovely patterns through the trees. The
birds are singing, and thousands of insects buzz happily in the air.
But as you walk along the path, you are involuntarily the cause of
death. Here you trod on an ant and tortured it; there you squashed a
beetle; and over there your unknowing step left a worm writhing in
agony. Into the glorious melody of life you weave a discordant strain
of suffering and death. You are guilty, though it is no fault of your
own…Then comes the voice of the tempter: Why torture yourself?
It is no good. Give up, stop caring. Be unconcerned and unfeeling like
everybody else.

Still another temptation arises – compassion really involves you in
suffering. Anyone who experiences the woes of this world within his
heart can never again feel the surface happiness that human nature
desires…And the tempter says again: You can’t live like this.
You must be able to detach yourself from what is depressing around you.
Don’t be so sensitive. Teach yourself the necessary indifference, put
on an armor, be thoughtless like everybody else if you want to live a
sensible life. In the end we are ashamed to know of the great
experience of empathy and compassion. We keep it secret from one
another and pretend it is foolish, a weakness we outgrow when we begin
to be “reasonable” people.

These three great temptations unobtrusively wreck the presupposition of
all goodness. Guard against them. Counter the first temptation by
saying that for you to share experience and to lend a helping hand is
an absolute inward necessity. Your utmost attempts will be but a drop
in the ocean compared with what needs to be done, but only this
attitude will give meaning and value to your life…The small
amount you are able to do is actually much if it only relieves pain,
suffering, and fear from any living being, be it human or any other
creature. The preservation of life is the true joy.

As for…the fear that compassion will involve you in suffering,
counter it with the realization that the sharing of sorrow expands your
capacity to share joy as well. When you callously ignore the suffering
of others, you lose the capacity to share their happiness, too. And
however little joy we may see in this world, the sharing of it,
together with the good we ourselves create, produces the only happiness
which makes life tolerable.

And finally, you have no right to say: I will be this, or I will be
that, because I think one way will make me happier than another. No,
you must be what you ought to be, a true, knowing man, a man who
identifies himself with the world, a man who experiences the world
within himself. Whether you are happier by the ordinary standards of
happiness or not doesn’t matter. The secret hour does not require of us
that we should be happy – to obey the call is the only thing that
satisfies deeply.

(Sermon, February 23, 1919; quoted in Albert Schweitzer: Essential Writings)

Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 14, 2006


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