The Art of Compassion in Natural Life
Founder & Chairperson, Natural Health and Environmental Research, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
Abstract: Human nature is essentially loving and gentle. Compassion is fundamentally a human quality; so its development is not restricted to those who practice religion. Direct compassion for the suffering of living beings is not an easy task to undertake as it presumes they want help or that it is being offered in a form which is useful to them. While it is true that each living being tries to find happiness and to avoid suffering, yet it is also true that each living being reaps just what they have sown, and must be allowed to tread the path given to them by their own accumulated karmic seeds. Our karma inches forward slowly like a great river, gathering like little rafts, new good and new bad seeds from each life. We reap what we have sown. Our primary aim, as spiritual people, should always be to ensure that we create and gamer new good seeds and to deal with, work through and destroy bad seeds. And we should also strive to create no new bad in our lives. That is our basic ethical basis: ‘do good, avoid evil and purify the mind’.
Key-words: Nature, Compassion, Humanity, Life, Natural, Well being.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive
Human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature. It has long been assumed that selfishness, greed, and competitiveness lie at the core of human behavior, the products of our evolution. It takes little imagination to see how these assumptions have guided most realms of human affairs, from policy making to media portrayals of social life. But clearly, recent scientific findings forcefully challenge this view of human nature. We see that compassion is deeply rooted in our brains, our bodies, and in the most basic ways we communicate. What’s more, a sense of compassion fosters compassionate behavior and helps shape the lessons we teach our children. According to evolutionary theory, if compassion is truly vital to human survival, it would manifest itself through nonverbal signals. Such signals would serve many adaptive functions. Most importantly, a distinct signal of compassion would soothe others in distress, allow people to identify the good-natured individuals with whom they’d want long-term relationships, and help forge bonds between strangers and friends.
In the experiment done by Dacher Keltner, he put two strangers in a room where they were separated by a barrier. They could not see one another, but they could reach each other through a hole. One person touched the other on the forearm several times, each time trying to convey one of twelve emotions, including love, gratitude, and compassion. After each touch, the person touched had to describe the emotion they thought the toucher was communicating (Dacher Keltner, 2004). Decades of clinical research has focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering. That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often also has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: compassion. Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it. It is not surprising that compassion is a natural tendency since it is essential for human survival.
As has been brought to light by Keltner, the term “survival of the fittest,” often attributed to Charles Darwin, was actually coined by Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinists who wished to justify class and race superiority. A lesser known fact is that Darwin’s work is best described with the phrase “survival of the kindest.” Indeed in The Descent of Man and Selection In Relation to Sex, Darwin argued for “the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive.” In another passage, he comments that “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Compassion may indeed be a naturally evolved and adaptive trait. Without it, the survival and flourishing of our species would have been unlikely. One more sign that suggests that compassion is an adaptively evolved trait is that it makes us more attractive to potential mates. A study examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggests that both men and women agree that “kindness” is one of the most highly desirable traits.
Why does compassion lead to health benefits in particular?
A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning. Another way in which a compassionate lifestyle may improve longevity is that it may serve as a buffer against stress. One of the reasons that compassion may protect against stress is the very fact that it is so pleasurable. Motivation, however, seems to play an important role in predicting whether a compassionate lifestyle exerts a beneficial impact on health. Another reason compassion may boost our well-being is that it can help broaden our perspective beyond ourselves.
Research shows that depression and anxiety are linked to a state of self-focus, a preoccupation with “me, myself, and I.” Finally, one additional way in which compassion may boost our well-being is by increasing a sense of connection to others. Another study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. On the flip side, strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health, as well as a higher propensity for antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation. Adopting a compassionate lifestyle or cultivating compassion may help boost social connection and improve physical and psychological health.
Why are the lives of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Desmond Tutu so inspiring?
Research by APS (Association for Psychological Science) fellow Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia suggests that seeing someone helping another person creates a state of “elevation.” Have you ever been moved to tears by seeing someone’s loving and compassionate behavior? Social scientists James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard demonstrated that helping is contagious: acts of generosity and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness. People keep the generous behavior going for hours. Our acts of compassion uplift others and make them happy. We may not know it, but by uplifting others we are also helping ourselves; research by Fowler and Christakis has shown that happiness spreads and that if the people around us are happy, we, in turn become happier. In collaboration with Thupten Jinpa, personal translator to the Dalai Lama, as well as several Stanford psychologists, CCARE (The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) has developed a secular compassion training program known as the Compassion Cultivation Training Program. Preliminary research spearheaded by Stanford’s Philippe Goldin suggests that it is helpful in reducing ailments such as social anxiety and that it elevates different compassion measures. Given the importance of compassion in our world today, and a growing body of evidence about the benefits of compassion for health and well-being, this field is bound to generate more interest and hopefully impact our community at large.
How karma operates in our lives and of how we can become more compassionate?
We have karma which ripens as internal karma and some which ripens as external karma. The opportunities which come to us in life are like doors which open or close for us. This is the ripening of external karma. Our response to these opportunities is critical and is predetermined to some extent by our own internal karma. It is true that great artists, engineers, writers and scientists often say that their interest was focused right from early childhood, just as if they were already soaked in the subject from birth. For most other people there is a subtle unawareness about their innate talents, interests and abilities. Most of us are oblivious of our natural talents and only become conscious of them dimly through the schooling process, during which we gradually become attracted to certain subjects over others. We also live in a world of human relationships, and it is often these which case most frustration and unhappiness.
Many people tend to think that getting the externals of our life right brings lasting joy and happiness, like money, good job, good relationships, etc. But there are those people who have terrible misfortune, failure and tragedy in their external life and yet who remain inwardly quite calm and contented. Such people kind of prove this karmic rule. We should therefore respect their right to liberty, even to the extent of allowing them to suffer, even if that suffering is very intense from an external viewpoint. If they do not ask for help, then what use is there in giving it? Each lifetime is another struggle with the same basic forces and problems as the last or the next. The actual theme changes little. Each lifetime we face the same basic mistakes and problems as the last, the same wins and the same losses, but woven into a slightly different fabric. We even meet the same people over and over again — those closest to us, the ones we have loved so many times and who many times come back to us, as we do to them. Our karma inches forward slowly like a great river, gathering like little rafts, new good and new bad seeds from each life.
We reap what we have sown. Our primary aim, as spiritual people, should always be to ensure that we create and garner new good seeds and to deal with, work through and destroy bad seeds. And we should also strive to create no new bad in our lives. That is our basic ethical basis: ‘do good, avoid evil and purify the mind’. If we reach the point of death better off than we were at birth, a sounder, kinder person who can look back on their life with true pleasure and know that one has done more good than harm and that one has created happiness for many, then we can truly die in peace. For such a situation moves us forward along our karmic path towards greater spiritual insights, greater love and greater wisdom in the future. In this sense we create our own future, for good or ill. Quietly tolerating the vices and imperfections of others is a massive virtue. We reach all people through this technique of right livelihood than through any other means. Our joy, our composure, our friendliness, our self-contentment become radiantly obvious to the spiritually aware, and intuitively attractive and comforting to the troubled and the unhappy.
A prayer tibetans use to cultivate the feeling, the basis for universal compassion as we transfer our feelings for our known mother of this life to all living beings and to regard them all just as precious to us as she is. It also extends beyond human life to embrace all living beings including worms, fish and insects and even plants.
“May the infinite mother beings attain perfect peace and happiness and be released from their pain, fear, sorrow and delusion; may they always abide in perfect equanimity of mind and in joy beyond all sorrow.”
This short prayer contains all the essentials of Buddhism as it asserts universal compassion, it is ethically sound, it sees all beings sour mothers and it emphasizes the 4 perfections of love, compassion, joy and equanimity. It is therefore a practice for oneself and it creates happiness for others too.
So what can we do? We urgently need to change the way we think.
Confucius probably founded the Golden Rule, in a period of the world’s history similar to our own, when societies were being torn apart: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” 500 years later Jesus taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. And all the great religions share the same rule, expressed variously but always meaning much the same thing. We must understand and be aware of our dark side and cultivate empathic imagination. We are not prisoners of our genes, we have choice and freewill, and the natural human condition is to be kind.
Compassion is important throughout our lives, from birth to death. We need to break down those divisions by thoughtful analysis and by abandoning any self -interest in our relationships and actions. We must also cultivate equanimity, because even though our personal circumstances, cultures, upbringings may be different, we fundamentally all have the same yearnings, rights, desire to be happy and not suffer. And we must feel these things at heart level. Only then can we cultivate compassion towards others, and meditation is vital to this process. We are not mere individuals, but we are all part of a deeply interconnected, social mind, with huge potential significance for our future. The Science of Empathy, the Spirit of Compassion. And we need both!
Hippocrates said, “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” Quality of life is always more important than mere length of life. Many people living today have never known what good health ‘feels’ like. They survive with an abundance of toxins and an existence less than healthy (Rashmi Chandran, 2011).
A Healthier Future
To create your principles of practice, ask yourself, “What gives my life joy and meaning?” This will help you identify your values and define your priorities. Commit to live and work within these principles and use them to guide your decision making. Before making decisions, pause and ask yourself, “How well will this align with my values and priorities?” You can also think of your “principles of practice” as a compass that can help you get back on track if you find that everyday stressors are steering you off course. Having a clear vision is essential to the next step in caring for yourself — learning to say “no.” is what one needs to do to keep himself emotionally and physically healthy.
Living a balanced life does require that you take the time for self-reflection, identify what’s most important to you and adopt a healthier lifestyle. This isn’t something that’s been taught in most medical schools, and it’s not something that can wait until changes occur in the health care system. In India, the equivalent of “peace” is “shanti” which means the highest state of inner tranquility. A Buddhist scripture describes the state of inner peace as follows: “Tranquility of mind comes from having successfully transcended greed, hatred and ignorance.” Each human being exists within the context of interrelationships that include other human beings, all living beings and the natural world. In other words, each person is sustained by the interdependent web of life.
By awakening to this principle we are able to expand instinctive self-love into an altruistic love for others; we are able to nurture the spirit of tolerance and empathy for others. The state of mind of one who ceaselessly strives to transcend this fundamental egocentrism is that of inner peace and tranquility. The heart of such a person is lit with the wisdom of dependent origination, and overflows with the spirit of compassion. Happiness is the union with God. Our Life is so beautiful and each one of us has the responsibility to make it colorful and magical. Look around. We can see the beautiful nature with beautiful people, animals, birds, trees, sky, sun, moon earth, what else to say? This beautiful earth is all for us. Enjoy living here and help others to enjoy. Live your life and let others live too.
“Being natural in mind and soul gives us natural health with healthy body”
Dacher Keltner (Spring 2004). The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness. Greater Good Science Center, Berkeley, CA.
Rashmi Chandran (2011). Natural Life – The Path towards Happiness and Prosperity. In: Vakdevatha (A Bilingual magazine publishing from Nigdi, Pune, India). Pp. 69-70.
Dr. Rashmi Chandran 2013. A HAND BOOK ON NATURAL HEALTH IN TODAY’S LIFESTYLE SCENARIO. International E – Publication, International Science Congress Association. (ISBN: 978-93-83520-20-6).