Boston. Baghdad. New York. Kabul. Tel Aviv. Gaza… Syria… Burma… Rwanda… Tibet… the sorrow of violent tragedies that I have learned in my generation seems to have crossed all the borders. The reality is that there are no borders, even if we try to build the walls and fences that separate us. Hurt, like love, travels thousands of miles. This is not to suggest that it comes from that far away, it can easily come from our own neighborhood, house, and ultimately from within us. The interrelatedness of our own actions is what matters on the scales of negative and positive actions. Unlike the lady of justice, there is no blindfold, and both violence and love are in our face. How we respond is what will be added to the scale of human fate. Hope, as our wish, cannot remain a noun. It must be a verb. In times of tragedies, hope is our compassionate response.
The Dalai Lama holds that human nature is fundamentally compassionate. As such, it is not limited to any religion or philosophy of goodwill, although it finds its place among the highest virtues in all of them. One of the common Zen pictograms (kanji) for compassion (jihi), known as Karuna in Buddhism, is a combination of the characters for loving affection (utsukushimi) and sadness (kanashimi). Sadness as empathetic emotion comes naturally from our witnessing suffering. Today we do not need to sit under the sacred tree to acknowledge the Buddha’s truths of suffering that appears to be a constant of the human existence. We see it in our homes, streets, schools, hospitals, movie theaters, public squares and even temples and houses of worship. We are raped, gunned down, maimed and burned alive. Perhaps we cannot stop all suffering, but what we can do is decrease the causes of it and heal what we can, standing up to hate and violence, looking at it with our open heart and reaching out with loving kindness for our human fellows, for all sentient beings. Yes, only our light can drive out our darkness.
I read in the New York Times about Carlos Arredondo, a man in a cowboy hat who had been handing out American flags close to the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon. When the first explosion went off he ran to help others. Thanks to Carlos and the doctors at the Boston Medical Center, another man’s life has been saved – Jeff Bauman, 27 years young man, who lost both of his legs to the tragedy. What we learned later that Carlos lost his 20-year old son Alexander to war in Iraq years ago. Yet, the sorrow of suffering did not numb Carlos, and what he did that morning in Boston was an act of immeasurable compassion.
Compassion literally means co-suffering. Like hope it has the qualities of a strong verb. Like the Good Samaritan, through compassion we help reduce the suffering of the other. We, as the human family, do it every day in various corners of the world, and that what many of those at the finish line of the marathon did in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013. They helped the wounded. I bow to them for their compassion, as I pray for the wounded and the dead.
True compassion is beyond empathy and it is always engaged. It dwells in our human heart and comes from a place of our interconnectedness. There should be Carlos Arredondo in all of us. Even if we have never experienced personally the tragedy that Carlos or Jeff have, we can still share it in our common humanity. We grieve with those who lost their loved ones. We gather together, light candles and try to understand. We sit in stillness to recharge our humanness. We wake up and realize how precious is each human life, and we vow to change our selves and our policies, creating a safer and more compassionate environment for all.
Image Credits: Enver Rahmanov. Image is in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.