We listen to Swami Vivekananda (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda”) exhort the Graduate Philosophy Society of Harvard University on 25th March 1896: “Love everyone as your own self, because the whole universe is one.” What does this loving mean?
Thich Nhat Hanh, in “How to Love” teaches us that “True love includes a sense of responsibility and accepting the other person as she is, with all her strengths and weaknesses. If you only like the best things in a person, that is not love. You have to accept her weaknesses and bring your patience, understanding, and energy to help her….”
The psychologist Erich Fromm writes in “The Art of Loving” that “the main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism.” Thomas Merton explains this in “No Man is an Island”: “The beginning of love is….the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
In a letter to his son (14 years young), written on 10th November 1958 (“Steinbeck: A Life in Letters”), the author and Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck writes: “There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect….The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”
If we want the world to heal and bloom, we would do well to ponder something in Swami Vivekananda’s lines deeply — he says love “everyone”….
In an OnBeing conversation on 26th February 2013, with Krista Tippett, Father Gregory Boyle (whose life has been a message of hope for many many young people) makes the astonishing observation that
I’ve learned everything of value, really, in the last 25 years, from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent and wisdom….
Seneca begins a Letter (“Moral letters to Lucilius” translated by Richard M. Gummere) that was probably written a year or two before he passed on in 65 AD: “You complain that you have met with an ungrateful person.” As he elaborates on this, he writes that “the wise man….enjoys the giving more than the recipient enjoys the receiving.” And why is this so? Seneca answers: “There is not a man who, when he has benefited his neighbour, has not benefited himself….”
In an essay published in the July 1896 edition of “Prabuddha Bharata”, we read Swami Vivekananda: “No beggar ever owed a single cent to us, we owe everything to him, because he has allowed us to exercise our power of pity and charity on him.”
In a 18th December 2018 Lions Roar compilation titled “Joyful Giving”, the Zen Teacher who founded (and runs) one of the largest centers in the USA that helps abused children, Jan Chozen Bays, writes:
We are not self-made. We are made of the raw ingredients of sunlight, soil, and water, shaped into the flesh of plants and animals, shaped into our life. Our life is one big gift, given by countless beings.
She goes on to observe that “When we truly see this”, our life becomes an answer to the question “How can I repay the many beings who are continually giving to me?”, and we realize that generosity, in our lives, must become like breathing.
On 4th March 1950, Albert Einstein wrote to a gentleman (translation quoted in “Finding Peace in Life and Death: A Synopsis of Reality Versus the Human Mind” by Patrick Baxter) who had requested him to help comfort his daughter – after her sister had passed away. In the letter, we read Einstein on the relationship between compassion and liberation.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “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 affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Einstein goes on: “Our task must me to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all….the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of….liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
About two thousand years before this letter, in the Vivekachudamani (Verse 82, translated by Swami Ranganathananda in “The Message of the Vivekachudamani”), we read the sage Adi Sankara tell us that if we have “a craving for liberation”, one of the “the nectar-like virtues” we must cultivate is “compassion“.
The Buddhist Teacher, Joan Halifax takes this a bit deeper than liberation in a talk delivered at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference on 1st March 2015. She says the “images of aggression, violence, of suffering” that we “are flooded” with clearly tell us that “Compassion is a….radical necessity.”
In an essay titled “Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness” published in the 1st November 2020 issue of “Harvard Business Review: Working Knowledge”, Boris Groysberg (Professor at Harvard Business School) and Susan Seligson advise Business Leaders that we are confronted with times where “the manager’s toolkit must expand in ways we haven’t seen before.” The most important addition to the toolkit, they say, is “kindness”. They write: “Even if gestures of….compassion were not woven into business as usual before the pandemic, they are essential now and going forward.”
The poem “Compassion”, (published in the collection of Miller Williams’ poems, “The Ways We Touch: Poems”) has these profound lines:
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
In a section of the “Mahabharata” (translated by Bibek Debroy) titled “Markandeya Samasya Parva”, we read an illuminating conversation between a meat seller and a Brahmin (who, owing to his conceit, is asked by a lady to learn from the meat seller). Speaking about dharma, the meat seller says: “The virtuous are those who are compassionate towards everything.”
In “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul”, a moving book inspired by correspondence between Albert Einstein and a grieving Rabbi, Naomi Levy introduces us to the Hebrew word “husa” — “a word that appears repeatedly in Jewish prayers.”
“What is husa? What does it mean?”, the Rabbi Naomi asks. She answers: “It’s not pity, not mercy….Husa is the special kind of love that an artist has for his or her own creation, even when it’s imperfect. That’s the key to husa. It’s a compassion for something that’s flawed. Husa involves the absence of judgement. That’s why Jews turn to God and ask for husa in their prayers: “The soul is Yours, the body is Your creation, husa, have compassion for Your work.””
And what the person in such prayer hears is “a voice of compassion that says: Try again, it’s okay, pick yourself up.”
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place, to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word…. ….to make us warm in the coldest season.
Corinna Luyken ends her soul-warming illustration-book, “my heart” with these words:
My heart is a shadow,
a light, and a guide.
Closed or open….
get to decide.
In the section of the “Mahabharata” (translated by Bibek Debroy) titled Markandeya Samasya Parva, we read a person (who makes his living selling deer and buffalo meat) explain what dharma is to a previously conceited Brahmana, Koushika. Among the traits essential to a good life, this person says, is an attitude of “constant compassion towards all beings.”
A few days before Sarada Ma passed on, a lady came to visit her. Seeing the Mother ailing, the lady was distressed and wept. The Mother’s words (“Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play”) to the lady were Her last recorded words.
“Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.”
There is no proviso here — No one is a stranger. The whole world is your own. Every person, every being, every thing — is our own, Every person, every being, every thing is family.
i have not come across any higher Teaching than this — both as a guide to living, and as a means of communion with the Divine.
Chapter 6 of the “Maha Upanishad” (a text that was composed probably as early as 300 BC) has a conversation between a young person, Nigadha, and a sage, Ribhu — an incredibly deep conversation (translated by A. G. Krishna Warrier) that covers the nature of reality, the ultimate truths, and how to live. In Verses 71 and 72, we read the following: “Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger…..the entire world constitutes but a family…”
One of the haikus of the 18th century Japanese Buddhist Issa reads (in “The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku” translated by Sam Hamill):
“In cherry blossom
shadows, no one,
a stranger now”
Towards the end of a sermon titled“On Being a Good Neighbor“, that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and revised many times between 1962-63, we find him saying: “As you leave this place of worship my friends go out with the conviction that all men are brothers, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Each person, every sentient being is family; every thing is family….the boundary of our home is the edge of the Cosmos. Let us live by this.
In “How a Shepherd Boy Became a Saint”, Swami Chetananda writes about Swami Adbhutananda, affectionately called Latu Maharaj. This illiterate, gentle, man spent part of his life with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Ma, and became an illumined saint whose life communicates to us that the ultimate wisdom is attained not by intellect, reason, education or cleverness — but by simplicity, love, and (paraphrasing Karen Armstrong from “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”) the courage to set the self aside.
We would do well to heed Swami Adbhutananda’s advice:
Let people do whatever they like; you should live according to your….ideal….See your own faults. Always look for the good qualities in others. If fault-finding becomes your habit, you will always see faults in them….It contracts the mind and pollutes the heart.
In “The Discourse Summaries”, a compilation of Dhamma Talks by the Vipassana teacher S. N. Goenka, we hear him say:
Everyone is responsible for his or her own suffering, no-one else. When one experiences this truth, the madness of finding fault with others goes away.
In “The No-Fault Classroom: Tools to Resolve Conflict & Foster Relationship Intelligence”, Sue Hart & Victoria Hudson draw from the principles of Non-Violent Communication:
The well-being of Earthlings depends upon their ability to go to the No-Fault zone when they have a problem to solve or conflict to resolve.
They tell us that, if we choose, we “have the power to co-create No-Fault classrooms, schools and communities.”
They tell us that “Earthlings have the power to create what they can envision and are willing to work for.”