Tag Archives: #compassion

What is a genuine human connection?

In the ten-day Vipassana retreat, Goenka Ji tells us a story about Kisa Gotami. Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An older man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could bring the child back to life if she could find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a home that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally, the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arahat

I had heard this story on previous retreats, but this time it struck a chord with me. What made me emotional was how painful it must have been for Kisa Gotami to realize that her son has died and there is nothing she can do about it. The gut-wrenching realization is almost like a physical ache in your heart.

When things do not go our way, and we want it to happen badly – it is painful to face reality and move on. In the human predicament, situations come and go, what is common is our desire/aversion towards specific outcomes and the joy/pain when that happens. When we recognize that the pain or pleasure is common across everybody – that is a sign of genuine compassion.  

In the story of Kisa Gotami – yes, it is excruciating to have your only son die – there is no denying that. It is even more painful to accept that and move on. You had so many dreams, future built on your son and when he died all that comes crashing – the reality as you imagined it is not going to happen and that is devastating to the human mind. For her to realize that her son has died and she cannot do anything about it – is what I connected with.

Everybody on the planet goes through these life situations. When we see a fellow human being overcome her challenges and face reality – there is a shared understanding of what it takes to accept it. And if we connect at that level, then we are connecting with the human predicament and the ability to transcend it – which is genuine compassion. As long as we identify with the human form, we will have to overcome such situations, and in some ways, that is what we need. Imagine reading a novel where everything goes well, and nothing happens – who would read such a book. The very reason things do not work forever in our lives because it is our destiny to transcend them.

Imagine if we truly understood what connected us as humans – will we still fight over our skin colour or what part of the land we were born? Can you feel the shared connection?

Why The Impartiality?

Two little kids decide to have some fun and go and roll in the mud – pretending to be pirates saving their ship amid a storm. When they go back home their faces covered with grime and their clothes dripping mud.

The mom tells one child, ‘How could you behave like this? These are brand new clothes, and we have guests coming in today. How can you be so insensible? You never listen to me and always do what you want.

To the other child, mom says, ‘Well, looks like you have had some fun. You do not do this often so I guess it’s ok this one time. But next time make sure you tell me, and we can get you into another pair of clothes.

You are probably wondering why the different reaction, right? Which one would you prefer – most of you see are thinking the second one. Now, what if I tell you that you are the person who displays the same impartiality. The first child is you and the second child is your friend or others.

Yes, that is correct. We are mean to ourselves but kind to others. If we missed a workout – we would berate ourselves. If our friend misses the workout, it’s ok. Why the bias? Why not treat yourself with the same compassion that you give your friend? We need to be self-compassionate which means we need to be loving and kind towards ourselves.

Sadly, we grow up learning how to build a relationship with others, but nobody talks about or teaches building a relationship with oneself. We never learn how to speak to ourselves, how to forgive ourselves and behave with ourselves. For us to be genuinely compassionate and kind to others, it has to start from us.

When things are going fine, some of us do celebrate, which is good, but we need self-compassion the most when we fail or have proven inadequate in some fashion. It is these situations where we need to exercise kindness and not judgement. After all, we are all in the human predicament – we are not supposed to be perfect, that is the joy of human life.

At the same time, it is essential to be mindful about not coddling oneself too much under cover of ‘Self-compassion’. Sometimes to get better, you have to swallow a bitter pill – and this is also self-compassion if done with kindness.

It is ok to be selfish and take care of oneself. When was the last time you decided to spend a day with yourself doing activities that you like? Journaling, watching a movie, sleeping in, reading a book, cooking – whatever you fancy. For most of us, we would be at a loss to identify activities that we can do for a day just by ourselves. And we spend the entire life with ourselves who we do not know very well.

It is time to get to know you, love you – look at the stranger in the mirror and have a loving conversation, first of many to come.

Positive Intent

Have you ever woken up in the morning deciding to make someone’s else life hell? If yes, then it is better that you don’t get out of bed. Jokes aside, earnestly when have we wished to hurt another person. If you are like an average person then your thoughts will be focused more on you – I am already running late, I need to do a zillion things, traffic is going to be worse. Etc etc.

Then why do we assume somebody else would want to wish us to harm intentionally?

For example, you are driving to work, and somebody cuts you off – how often do we jump to the conclusion that he did it on purpose. When in reality the other driver might not even be thinking about you – all he wants to do is get to work like you.

Or, at work, if somebody forgets to do what you asked them to do – the immediate response is a judgment on his ability when in reality the server might be down, and he could not access the work he had done to bring it to you.

You go to a party, and the hostess takes one look at you and does a 180-degree turn. You think she does not like you, but it is possible she realized she just left her purse in the toilet.

Now, in most cases, we will never know what the other party intended but what is in control is our reaction to the situation. This is where you choose to feed the dog and not the wolf within you.

Dalai Lama, said, “Love and Compassion Are Necessities Not Luxuries, Without Them, Humanity Cannot Survive.” Look at the world around us, the circumstance in which we live – we need more of the positive energy, and we can do our bit towards it.

It doesn’t have to stop with us. If you have a friend or a companion, who jumps to negative in everything try and plant a good possibility in their minds. And of course, if somebody has decided to live in a world where everybody assumes harmful intent towards them then wish them well and make sure you protect your well-being when you interact with them.

All significant journeys start with one baby step. The first step here is to become aware of the fact that you are not assuming the positive intent. Most of the times our minds conditioned to see the worst in the people – that mental model needs to be modified. And for it to evolve first we need to know in which situations do we use that mental model – shine a light on it – and the very act of shining the light on it will at the very least decrease the intensity of our response or adverse reaction.

Another way to incorporate into our lives would be when you are preparing for an awkward conversation with a loved one or a colleague – make a conscious decision to assume that they have the best intentions. This would take out 80% of the stress from our lives due to such situations.

And the best way to learn something is to teach it – so if you can spread your light to another person, the light will only get bigger.