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TOPIC: compassion is dead

compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 11:45 #98322

I am trying to think of how compassion actually displays itself, since it is often talked about not only in buddhist circles but also in a wide gamut of " social justice warrior " things as well as other things like plain atheism. In short morality and compassion are supposed to be everywhere.

So I wonder how in the world is it that I've experienced so little of it. Despite how I am a person who would be the candidate for it, seeing how my life has been crippled to a fucking ridiculous capacity simply by having a bone condition and the depression that comes with enduring such things during your formative years. Further considering that I don't have any type of serious character vice that would negate sympathy, I wonder how this would happen, extremely.

In years of being around meditative communities, in the process of devoting thousands of hours to my practice and self improvement, aside from having received time from some teachers (some of whom in retrospect don't seem concerned with what I was actually going through) and a couple other minor displays of concern, I have basically been left to lose my mind and die in the streets.

And furthermore I see people who come to these meditation groups who do not even practice meditation seriously and are only looking for an opportunity for others to allow them to be their little selves. And they're embraced without hesitation into the community and people will actually care to consider them. And these people are basically only dealing with a minor amount of stress in their lives. They are treated with much more consideration than someone like myself, who has a real problem, and is really dedicated 110% to overcoming it.

So this leaves me wondering what compassion actually is, if it is anything other than a farce.
Last Edit: 08 Apr 2015 11:45 by Femtosecond.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 12:22 #98324

Sounds like things are sucky. Hope things get better. Hang in there.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 14:16 #98326

Compassion is not a farce, but for a lot of people--and I used to be one of them, and see how sometimes I still am--compassion is all tied up in ulterior motives. People tend to be attracted to others who mirror something back to them that they want. Some folks, for example, are attracted to drama, and get involved with others who will provide it. That's why notorious types might seem attractive. Or they may like a challenge, so they go for someone who has a habit of being critical and rejecting. Then they busily set out to win this person over to prove how fantastic they are. Cue the Eurythmics.

Finally, people may have compassion, but may still not be able to provide you or someone else with whatever you desire. They may care, but they can only do so much, because they are overwhelmed with their own lives, or whatever. In general, though, I think you answer your own question when you point out that " I see people who come to these meditation groups who do not even practice meditation seriously and are only looking for an opportunity for others to allow them to be their little selves." If that's all they want, that's something that all kinds of groups easily provide.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 15:51 #98327

So they can do that anywhere, but they do it in these circles - and these circles don't say anything about it. So this is effectively what we are talking about when we talk about compassion. At least it is what I do - talk about what actually happens instead of what is idealized to have happened.

And I have no idea what you mean by "whatever I desire". Any tiny whim? Is that what I am saying? What does this mean. Am I some kind of unreasonable person?

This "overwhelmed with their own lives" thing holds no water with me. My life - it has been shit. It is still not that great. It is still pretty bad by most standards. But I would say now, every single day I have is the easiest thing I have ever done in my entire life. And what I would consider compassionate towards me involves an output of meager effort insofar as respecting my efforts.

I am still confused about what compassion entails and welcome any thoughts. As far as I can tell its basically dead.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 17:44 #98329

Taking you at your word that you truly welcome any thoughts, I offer mine.

In the most profound sense, compassion isn't so much something we do (or fail to do). It is a pre-eminent aspect of our nature, the aspect of our connectedness to other beings. So it is there to be discovered, understood, and expressed in the best way possible.

I would suggest that what seems a lack of compassion is more a distorted understanding and expression of feeling our connectedness to others: because the connectedness doesn't always feel blissful and kindly. Registering the angst of others can feel really horrific and we have been massively socialized to avoid or retaliate against what feels bad, as if the misfortunes of others threaten us in some way.

Being confronted for our failures of sympathy for the sufferings of others, of course, simply compounds the problem.

There's something profoundly true and useful-- as well as challenging-- with the idea that "charity (compassion) begins at home." It absolutely does not depend on what others say or do. If I can hold myself, with all my own failures and limitations as well as efforts in "the true heart of sadness" that Trungpa spoke of, then I own the totality of the compassion that is our nature. There is nothing lacking, nothing anyone has the power to withhold.

The door opens toward the inside, and it is not locked.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 19:18 #98330

Except it certainly does matter what transpires outside of oneself. If anyone were to think there's the faintest shade of hope for someone in a situation like me they're just playing the lottery. Like where you say, in my case, the only reason I am here today is because I happen to have a robust determination and optimism. And that is through incredible difficulty, of which I'm sure could have been much easier with due support.

So it definitely does matter what transpires outside of oneself.

I don't think it simply compounds the problem, and I don't feel that bad bringing this topic up.

If compassion is about interconnectedness, then in my opinion the only real compassion you can speak of is compassion deeply connected to leadership. So as far as I can tell that is the real topic.

No one ever says anything about that when they talk about compassion, as far as I can tell. So in my experience, it's dead.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 19:49 #98332

I'm not asserting that I, or anyone else, live in a purely subjective world, nor am I saying that we 'should' do so, and thereby 'solve the problem of a lack of compassion from others.'

But I do not perceive myself to be suffering from a lack of compassion. I am sure there are people who do not understand me in the way I understand myself; likely there are people who dislike me. Certainly there have been some who have actively or passively been unkind. But I am not suffering from those past acts or omissions, nor am I suffering from a need to judge either them or myself. It's stuff that happened; in some cases, I got a rude instruction in what to look out for, and the scope of human nature. I can make use of that instruction.

It doesn't seem at all useful to prove to myself that those people were bad, or "should not be" as they are. I'm not willing to argue with reality in that way. Nor am I willing to believe that such experiences prove that because pain has happened, joy cannot.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 20:13 #98334

I hope this helps, it certainly is intended to - to build on Kate’s very insightful point. Lets push that door that Kate talks of, what do we see past it? A human life, a moment of compassion itself, billions of cells, conscious entities all interconnected physically, chemically, energetically and more subtly, for this moment that is a life, where the conditions are such that they coalesce in the body/mind and cooperate to achieve what is asked of it and more – seemingly automatic processes that happen despite what clinging or aversion is on the ‘entities’ agenda. If this interconnectedness, this compassion is not recognised within us, how could we feel it or perceive it in others? It’s all the same thing, just at different scales – it doesn’t just exist/operate at the interpersonal level.

Have you ever contemplated/meditated on the body, drenching ‘it’ (you actually) in gratitude and compassion for each cell, groups of cells, its shear beauty of form and function, just as it is? Who else better could know exactly what you and the aggregates that make up ‘you’ have served, suffered, achieved than you? Recognising compassion as fundamentally manifested in you, as you, might make it easier to feel it being expressed in others (and toward others) even when their words seem to say differently (they are all fighting their own wars too that have nothing to do with anyone else usually).
Last Edit: 08 Apr 2015 20:21 by Rod.
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compassion is dead 08 Apr 2015 22:12 #98335

I don't really know what you desire, so I guess I didn't express myself very clearly. I thought your original post suggested that people have let you down, in particular people at meditation centers or in dharma circles. It's a complaint I hear often about people in Christian churches, liberal or conservative. I've even felt that way myself, that such folks ought to live up to what they claim they believe.

I'm going to support what Rod here has said about showing compassion for this miraculous coming together of cells that is you. I have felt lots of physical pain and I know it helps me to express gentleness towards myself. Along with pain comes depression, and I try to give myself a break when that happens (like now, for example). But I also will say personally that I'm glad you are on this forum, and that I've met and talked with you in person at Buddhist Geeks, and that I really do think it's amazing and even heroic for you to keep on practicing as you do. And I wish you well (metta) and want good things for you. I have learned more compassion from suffering than I might have otherwise. And that is true for those who allow suffering to be the doorway to insight.

Everyone experiences suffering, sorrow, vulnerability, and loss. I used to be especially irritated by people with sunny dispositions and thought, I could show you a thing or two! The Reagan presidency, all 8 years of it, drove me nuts for precisely that reason. But the more you learn about another human being, the more you realize that this human condition is indeed universal.

Lately I've mistakenly blurted stuff out that I sincerely believed and felt, only to have it backfire when it just annoyed the intended recipient. So if I've totally missed the boat with you, please forgive me. And may your pain lead you to further insight, awakening, and liberation.
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compassion is dead 09 Apr 2015 00:05 #98336

I don't mean to be annoyed, I'm just trying to navigate through it.

Thats a pretty interesting thought about the compassion for the amalgam of cells and matter.
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compassion is dead 09 Apr 2015 02:59 #98337

Try it as a 'self metta' practice - with dedicated practice (as you are familiar with) it will return many fold what other people will never be able to give you, because it connects with compassion that is in you already.

I fully understand that you seem to be just fed up with it all.

Best wishes to you and as Shargrol said, hang in there - it all passes.
Last Edit: 09 Apr 2015 04:08 by Rod.
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compassion is dead 09 Apr 2015 06:31 #98338

Compassion is a tricky thing, initially it isn't straight forward at all. In a way, it >IS< a lot like winning the lottery. The average person that wins the lottery actually keeps there money for something like two years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars just get thrown away. Why can't people live a stable and affluent life after they win a lot of money? There is a great discussion of it here, with a lot of other information about meditation:

www.soundstrue.com/store/weeklywisdom/?p...ry=IATE&episode=1027

Even though everyone hates to hear it, compassion and respect need to go in both directions for it to stick around. If you try to have compassion for just others, it will drain you and frustrate you. If you try to have compassion for just your self, you will become jealous and judgmental. It's the way compassion seems to work, you don't get to live in it unless you can welcome it and give it away. It's a paradox of sorts, but actually really simple, not confusing at all. Living in compassion is just like any other skill, you don't instantly "know it", you have to learn it over time. You have to have the intention to learn it over time. I know I hated those ideas when I was really struggling with life, but that is exactly how it turned out to be, in my experience.

Rod is right, there is a lot of compassion inside everyone. Metta practice is pretty important.

May I be calm and at ease.
May I be healthy, rested, and whole.
May I be safe and free from danger.
May I act with wisdom and avoid unnecessary problems.
May I awaken to the reality of this moment.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be happy.

There needs to be a place in the heart where these words are true for ourselves. Where we really feel our original intentions to take care of ourselves. As the dialog in the link above describes, there are lots of reasons we don't have a big place in our heart to really feel this for ourselves. It takes time. And then once it begins to find a place into our heart, then it has to be extended to everyone else... otherwise it won't actually develop into compassion, it will just be a different flavor of self interest. You begin to see everyone is trying to take care of themselves.

If I had any advice, I would say to listen to the recording above until it makes sense what the body-mind does. Ending suffering is about rewiring the mind and body that causes suffering. Both mind and body need to be looked at.
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compassion is dead 10 Apr 2015 15:02 #98344

Separate from compassion is skillful means. People might be compassionate but don't know how to do the right thing. A person might be hurting but not giving any hints about what another person shsould do to alleviate that hurt.

I have been married a long time. There have been times when my wife expected me to intuit what she needed. If I loved and felt true compassion toward her, I would know without being told. Letting me know what she needs would be a cheapening of that love and compassion..Note, these instances were rare. We have a very good, stable marriage.
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compassion is dead 11 Apr 2015 23:36 #98349

As far as I can tell no one has any right to claim compassion if they do not do something with this understanding of interconnectedness. Just because it is a process of millions of cells//whatever does not mean that they are choosing the right thing to do on their own. That is interesting as an idea of how you relate to your experience,really very much so, but this doesn't justify complacency. True compassion requires reason and intention, and everyone needs to be involved in it, which, in my case, I have been widely open to, just that others are extremely happy not to notice. Despite undertaking discipline within these traditions.

Compassion is not just 'whatever way the wind blows'.

As for not knowing what to do, maybe this is a problem, in close relationships when people need to start taking account of themselves so that it can be known what to do. But there are other situations that aren't so enigmatic, which are the ones I'm referring to, which comes down to a simple sense of leadership and civic duty.

To me this appears to be very absent and so easily thwarted that most people appear to be short sighted spoiled children who have no idea how unbelievably easy their life is and no appreciation for the faculties of other people but just a disgusting fear instead.
Last Edit: 12 Apr 2015 00:11 by Femtosecond.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 08:04 #98350

F, I sent you a private message.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 10:20 #98353

There seems to be a disconnect here between two ideas of "compassion."

Some of us are addressing how we might practice compassion, from a subjective point of view, as if the only practice we can command is our own.

The other view being represented is one of judgement of the practice of others, finding it deficient and blameworthy.

As someone who holds the first view, I can't see much hope in the second-- but if it produces helpful results, I'll be interested in hearing about them. So far, the result seems to be justifying bitterness, and it's hard to believe that's helpful.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 11:59 #98354

Kate Gowen wrote:
There seems to be a disconnect here between two ideas of "compassion."

Some of us are addressing how we might practice compassion, from a subjective point of view, as if the only practice we can command is our own.

The other view being represented is one of judgement of the practice of others, finding it deficient and blameworthy.

As someone who holds the first view, I can't see much hope in the second-- but if it produces helpful results, I'll be interested in hearing about them. So far, the result seems to be justifying bitterness, and it's hard to believe that's helpful.

This.

I apologize if I sound unduly harsh here, and I'll be the first to admit that I may be entirely wrong. My impression/experience of compassion is that it is a two-way street -- one has to give to get, to open that channel, so to speak. It's obvious from your words that you are judging harshly those who do not rate on your hierarchy of suffering (which seems to be everyone).

I'm saying this because I've been there. Outside of the philosophizing re:compassion, I'd say that depression is the main sticking point here. My experience of moderate/severe depression (read: suicicial thoughts daily, but probably very low likelihood of actually damaging myself) is that it is an *extremely* contracted and ego-centric state. When I was there, compassion was next-to-impossible -- and as such, I wasn't getting much, if any, from anywhere else. So I guess my take on this is that before even beginning to discuss compassion, it's the depression that needs to be targeted in as many ways as possible. Once it becomes possible to be more compassionate to others (and the self), it becomes more possible for others to become more compassionate to you.

Your comments on the composition of sanghas are well taken -- and in my experience it's been true of every sangha I've been a part of. That's just how humans are. Probably best not to expect anything there.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 12:50 #98357

Well, it isn't really a view I hold. When I interact with people, I'm not some grinch on all these criteria. But if we step back and look at how things really are, this is what is happening. People with real suffering are being left to rot even when they are doing everything within their power to come out of it, and are even interested in becoming a sort of journeyman about this stuff. Meanwhile so and so is being groomed and blah blah because, well, she chipped her nail polish.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 13:03 #98359

Femtosecond wrote:
Well, it isn't really a view I hold. When I interact with people, I'm not some grinch on all these criteria. But if we step back and look at how things really are, this is what is happening. People with real suffering are being left to rot even when they are doing everything within their power to come out of it, and are even interested in becoming a sort of journeyman about this stuff. Meanwhile so and so is being groomed and blah blah because, well, she chipped her nail polish.

I know exactly what you mean. That was perfect, what you said.

For me it was exactly about the view I held. In short, my expectations. Seeing the world as you depict it was infuriating because it did not conform to my expectations about how the world should be -- in particular, the perceived shallowness of my fellow human beings. But our view is largely habitual -- in the long view, it can be changed. If I had to name the biggest themes of my practice over the last 20 years, "adjusting expectations of the world" would be at or near the top of the list.

As such, it's so important to be vigilant with our view. Are we being realistic, and are we being honest? In our frustration, we can repeat things mantra-like until we take them as absolutes, even if they don't stand up to the slightest bit of macro-level scrutiny (e.g. all compassion being dead). In our frustration and pain, we can parse the world out into a hierarchical structure where the only things we can hear are coming from either a) people we consider (most often wrongly) to be absolute saints; or b) people suffering as much or more than we are. In which case we are highly unlikely to find the former and equally highly unlikely to receive good advice from the latter.

I wish you the absolute best. I am pulling for you.
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compassion is dead 12 Apr 2015 15:01 #98360

This seems like a big topic to me that could span a lifetime, across generations and even across species. Some of the animals (mammals and birds) I've spent some time with appear to suffer a lot when they're rejected or excluded.

It became a major project for me in late childhood to find out why I was so much an outsider and what it would take to become an insider. 50 years later that still gets traction with me maybe daily. My adult kids seem to regard it as Issue #1 (in fact I hear them talking about it right now). An uncle told me when I was a teenager that it was the Family Curse.

Working as an aide in a psych center gave me a pretty vivid look at how people can be ostracized and dehumanized. Also working in group homes with "high-functioning adults with developmental disabilities" was a biggie. These were folks with more than enough insight to register how they were seen and what they were being excluded from.

Later working as an outreach-counselor in an inner city police department and court system, I got more than the usual white guy's acquaintance with people living in the ghettoized neighborhoods of the city where I live. Want to think about people with the right to feel angry, how about young black men. Interestingly though, a lot of black people in the city did not appear to be bitter, and often they did not seem to have a fixed image of themselves as being this or that category of person, and didn't view their place in the world in stereo-typed terms. This blew my mind at first because I wanted to come from an enlightened stance of seeing "them" in terms of oppression theory and so on, but it turned out to be my own projection.

This topic seems endless in all directions for me sometimes. There are so many ways I could and need to study and work with it, sit with it, for me and for others. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Just one more thread, the current multi-disciplinary idea that growing up with out the safety, intimacy, affection and acceptance that we need alters maybe all of our physical, cognitive, emotional and psychological systems and interpersonal experience (trauma theory etc).

From what I've been reading, there are some complex mechanisms around developmental trauma that can result in involuntarily rigid views, a lot of this is believed to be physical, the kinds of brain development that happen when cortisol is running amok, also explained psychologically like the imperative to chart a safe course through a dangerously unpredictable world by seeing it in predictable terms.

Something that rings true about this for myself, is how religiously I have held and continue to hold views about myself and things in general. I really have clung to them for survival and have had iron-clad rationales for it, confirmed by any new information I processed through that lense. It's been really surprising to me lately to experiment with how much it's just tightly held views and opinions that narrow down the focus and experience from what's actually bigger about ourselves and immediately right there if I wasn't turning away from it.

I read this about Huang Po this morning "Every sentient being already has the pure, imageless Mind, but most don't realize it because they cling to thoughts and opinions and believe in the independent existence of external objects and beings." May all be free.
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