Barbara Walter’s Interview of the Dalai Lama

Nine years ago Barbara Walters interviewed the Dalai Lama. The interview is available on You Tube (9:17).

The interview covers an amazing amount of ground about Buddhism and His Holiness. It showcases his no-nonsense, disarming humility and his endearing giggle. The interview leaves the viewer with a clear sense of why he is admired and revered by hundreds of millions.

The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is believed to be the 14th incarnation of The Buddha (Gautama Buddha). He is often referred to as the “heavenly deity of compassion and wisdom.” Many Buddhists believe he is a god. When questioned by Walters, he denied being a deity, saying he is a teacher. He laughed and commented that he had an eye irritation and that shouldn’t happen if he is a god.

Walters described him as “the world’s foremost scholar in his very complex faith.” Buddhists do not believe in God the way Christians do, but they do believe some kind of heaven exists. Ancient Tibetan texts describe six distinct levels of heaven and six nightmarish levels of hell. When asked about the Buddhist vision of heaven, he described it as a very happy, very pleasant place, the best place to refine one’s practice of Buddhism.

For Buddhists, heaven is not a destination, but a place to visit temporarily. A place to go to continue to reincarnate until they become a buddha (enlightened one). Good compassionate people reincarnate as people, and bad people as animals. For example, a good dog may reincarnate as a person, and a bad person as a dog. From the Buddhist point of view, everyone is reborn (reincarnated) repeatedly.

As a three-year-old, he underwent testing before he was proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama. During the testing, he pointed to objects that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. He said as a child he had clear memories of a past life, but now he does not.

Walters explained that Buddhists believe the ultimate goal is nirvana or enlightenment, which is a state of all-knowing contentment. The Dalai Lama explained that once you eliminate all negative emotions, you automatically become enlightened and enter Nirvana. Walters asked him, are you enlightened? He answered no. He said he does not know what will happen tonight, and that he is having trouble with his memory. He added, if he was enlightened, he would not be forgetful. He said he sees himself as just another human being, nothing special, nothing more. It is this humility that endears him to so many.

Gyatso is the first Dalai Lama ever to travel outside of Tibet. He is an ambassador of Buddhism recognized world-wide as a symbol of compassionate, non-violent living. Before an audience of 65,000 people in New York’s Central Park, Richard Gere introduced him as “one of the great beings perhaps to ever walk on this planet. . . .”

Walters asked the Dalai Lama what the purpose of life is, and he replied that the purpose is to be happy and is accomplished by warm-heartedness. That compassion gives inner strength, and changes our attitudes and the way we see things. When asked if the world is closer to heaven or to hell, he replied closer to heaven.

Moved by the time with him, Walters concluded her time with him by requesting if she could kiss him on his cheek. He permitted it and giggled. Then he showed her a New Zealand kiss and touched noses with her.

The interview raised some key concerns about the efficacy of Buddhism as a path to enlightenment and nirvana. If the Dalai Lama has not attained enlightenment, then who has? Attaining enlightenment is the only real way to be liberated from the suffering of this world, and from repeatedly being reincarnated into that same world of suffering. Only a very small number of Buddhists have “made it,” even in the 2,500 years that Buddhism has existed as a religion. This stands in sharp contrast to Christianity and Islam, where a high percentage of adherents believe that they will be freed from suffering when they enter heaven (or paradise). The difference is that in these two theistic religions, God (or Allah) is believed to do what no human being can—provide a way of liberation from this very troublesome world and the great limitations that plague all human beings.

If the Dalai Lama is “just another human being, nothing special, nothing more,” and is not enlightened, then is he really qualified to speak with such authority as a teacher? While his humility is disarming, it is also unsettling.

All this reminds me of the painfully honest confession of Bruce Newman, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism. He noted,

When I look back on my twenty-three years of practice, I can’t but help but feel deeply disappointed by how little progress I’ve made in my meditation. In a sense, I’ve done most things right—I’ve played by the book, so to speak. Why then have the experiences of meditation, so tantalizing, been beyond my reach? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if nothing has happened; it’s just that progress has been painfully slow.[i]

While one may question the efficacy of sudden conversions in Christianity for many of its faltering followers, we also encounter many Christians who dramatically changed for the better overnight, or nearly so. This phenomenon is absent in Buddhism, where spiritual growth is “painfully slow.”


[i] Bruce Newman, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lions Prod., 2004), 71.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Money?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to money and wealth:

“One is the road that leads to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana;” if the Bhikshu, the disciple of Buddha, has learnt this, he will not yearn for honour [sic], he will strive after separation from the world. (Dhammapada 75)

Whatever place a faithful, virtuous, celebrated, and wealthy man chooses, there he is respected. (Dhammapada 303)

Clearly, these sayings of the Buddha reflect a somewhat conflicting point of view of regarding wealth. The first says you can either take the path to wealth, or the path to nirvana, appearing to make them mutually exclusive, but then in the second one the Buddha states that wherever a wealthy man resides (who is also faithful, virtuous and celebrated), he is respected.

Solomon was an extremely wealthy King, so what did Solomon have to say about wealth? Consider these proverbs:

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4, NIV)

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor. (Proverbs 10:15, NIV)

The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it. (Proverbs 10:22, NIV)

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:4, NIV)

Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. (Proverbs 13:11, NIV)

Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? (Proverbs 17:16, NIV)

And these passages from Ecclesiastes:

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NIV)

Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it. (Ecclesiastes 7:12, NIV)

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything. (Ecclesiastes 10:19, NIV)

Solomon makes the distinction between laziness and diligence: laziness bringing about poverty, and diligence bringing about wealth. He notes that wealth can fortify a city, whereas poverty causes ruin to cities and people, and that God can give the blessing of wealth without difficult and painful efforts to earn it (perhaps he experienced that himself). In a somber comment, he states that at the end of life, wealth is worthless in the face of death. He espouses working diligently, and making money slowly with perseverance. In Ecclesiastes, he states that wealth in itself does not bring satisfaction, but that it can be a shelter. In comparison to wealth, wisdom is ultimately that which preserves us, and in the final quote, he most surprisingly calls money the answer to everything.

The Buddha expressed that wealth needed to be renounced in order to achieve nirvana. Solomon said that there were blessings in working diligently and acquiring wealth along with wisdom, and that while it couldn’t really satisfy (if wealth was the individual’s sole purpose), it could provide protection for individuals and cities.

Reducing Parkinson’s Symptoms Via Meditation

It is well known that stress increases the symptoms of those with Parkinson’s disease. Since it has also been established that many kinds of meditation can noticeably reduce a person’s level of stress, it would not be surprising to find that meditation can reduce the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms.

Michael J. Fox has described Parkinson’s as being,

. . . like having a 4-year-old child climbing around on your lap all the time, pulling on your arms and legs. “You’re just trying to be patient and focus on what you need to do.”[i]

In September 2013, theparkinsonhub.com website posted an article entitled “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms”[ii] by Australian naturopath, John Coleman. It had been written in response to an earlier article, “Meditation in Parkinson’s.”[iii]

In both articles, it is proposed that meditation can have a positive effect on decreasing Parkinson’s symptoms, (i.e., tremors, pain, etc.) I have personally experienced a dramatic reduction in my symptoms by meditating specifically on whatever part of my body is shaking (e.g., left hand or my lips). Similar results have been observed when meditating on the sentence, “Be still and know that He is God”, a paraphrasing of Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God.”). When doing this, I imagine myself ordering my hand or lip to be still, and so to acknowledge God.

John Coleman noticed a significant reduction in his Parkinson’s symptoms from utilizing meditation. He writes,

In 1995, I developed symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease with severe tremor, festinating walk, unintelligible speech, mask-like facial expression, significant pain, constipation and urinary incontinence. During my three year journey to a symptom-free state, I utilised a number of self-help strategies and complementary remedies. Prime among my activities was daily meditation, and involvement in a weekly meditation group. I observed that, while meditating, many of my symptoms reduced in intensity and, over time, this intensity reduction lasted for some time after meditating. Other benefits I noticed were improved sleep patterns, clearer thought processes and, interestingly, improved relationships with work colleagues. If I missed my daily meditation for any reason, I found I was less able to make decisions, my tremor increased, and I felt generally less well.[iv]

The article continues with his clinical experience of the changes his patients found when they utilized meditation as part of their health regimen. During his career, he has treated over 2,000 people with Parkinson’s. He writes,

Specific benefits noted by my patients when meditating included reduced tremor, reduced pain, increased energy, feeling “more peaceful”, and improved communication with loved ones.[v]

If you are a Parkinson’s patient, see the article “Meditation in Parkinson’s”[vi] for a simple outline of how to begin meditating.


[i] Dr. Mehmet Oz, “Michael J. Fox’s Personal Battle,” Oprah.com, http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Michael-J-Foxs-Life-with-Parkinsons-Stem-Cells-Optimism-and-More, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[ii] John Coleman, ND, “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation–mitigating-parkinsons-symptoms.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[iii] Carol Fisher, “Meditation in Parkinson’s,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[iv] John Coleman, ND, “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation–mitigating-parkinsons-symptoms.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Carol Fisher, “Meditation in Parkinson’s,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

 

Compassion

Many Hindus believe that if you are suffering, it must be because you created some bad karma by doing some bad thing(s) in this or a prior life. They also believe that the only way to work off bad karma is to accept the resulting suffering. So, they often ignore those who are suffering, lest they interfere with their karmic conditioning.

In contrast, the Buddha taught that one should help the suffering. However, the primary motivation should be to help shed your own ego, and so progress toward your own enlightenment. Is this true compassion in action or rational self-interest?

Buddhists do not have a reputation of being major participants in the providing of humanitarian aid. One such Buddhist humanitarian group, the Dai no Shin Ji Buddhists, notes on its website: “Unfortunately Buddhist organizations do not often have a name for being able or operating Humanitarian projects or relief projects. It is sad but true.” A stated purpose of the group is to “provide training to Buddhist temples and humanitarian agencies to improve their skills and productivity.”

The Dalai Lama talks a lot about compassion. When he does, does it mean the same thing that it does to Westerners? Perhaps not. There are various reasons for the limited activity of Buddhists in humanitarian efforts. Each of these is inherent in Buddhist beliefs and practices.

First, if you believe this world is an illusion, then your goal is to escape it, via becoming enlightened. So, it is more noble to meditate intensively for weeks on end than it is to bring a meal to a shut-in. And if this world is an illusion, what is the point of working hard and earning a good living? It may not be a coincidence that most Buddhist countries are less developed economically. Because of this, they generally do not have the financial wherewithal to give generously to humanitarian relief efforts.

Second, if you believe that doing good deeds generates good karma, and that creating any kind of karma, whether good or bad, retards your advancement toward enlightenment, then it is better not to do good deeds. Instead, your focus will be on watch guarding your thoughts to avoid anything negative.

Third, if you believe that your thoughts and words can radically change the world, then you would tend to focus on just thinking good thoughts. That is much easier than providing tangible help to the suffering.

Fourth, when a Buddhist is being compassionate they are usually wishing that all conscious beings would progress toward enlightenment. They might also be coaching someone in how to make such progress. But usually there is little thought of meeting their material needs.

The Bible teaches that thinking good thoughts, without helping the hurting in real ways, has only limited value. James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17, NIV).

What did Jesus teach about the need to help the suffering? His most dramatic words on this are highlighted in his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-45:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (NIV)

These are heavy, dramatic words. And yet they strongly emphasize the importance of helping the suffering in substantive ways, and not just of empathizing with them and wishing them well.

In reality Christians are often lacking in compassionate thoughts or deeds. And yet throughout history the church has spearheaded efforts to tangibly help the needy, the injured and the sick and to establish and maintain educational institutions that teach practical skills as well as spiritual values. The history of Buddhism has a different flavor, as well as one might expect, given its emphasis on focusing within.

Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV) He was a model servant to others, as exemplified by His humbly washing the feet of His disciples (John 13:3-5). As the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats emphasizes, real compassion includes providing drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to those in rags and medical assistance to the sick. Without these, however deep one’s feelings of compassion are, they have little substance.

R. E. (“Ed”) Sherman’s Newest Book, Now Available!

Wisdom 365Wisdom 365: Daily Buddha and Daily Solomon
 

Need encouragement? Guidance? Insight? Inspiration? Motivation? Wise advice on how to live? How to find happiness? How to handle stress? How to relate to others? Advice on relationships? Coping when bad things happen? How to make a difference? Where can you turn?

Why not take advice from two of the wisest men in history, the Buddha and Solomon? This ground-breaking book provides a topically arranged collection of their terse, penetrating insights, presented side-by-side. 365 daily readings. Soak in their proverbs. Take a few minutes each day and you will embark on a life-changing journey.

Though they lived 400 years and 3,000 miles apart in two very different cultures, the Buddha and Solomon often spoke with nearly the same voice. Each reinforced and complemented what the other said. These sayings are like diamonds that sparkle in revealing ways when viewed from different angles.

There are basically four different civilizations that coexist on Planet Earth: Judaism/Christianity, Islam, secularism and Eastern religions (Hinduism & Buddhism). The need for better understanding and communication between these civilizations has never been greater. Wisdom 365 provides a solid link between two of them in a way that has never been done before and to an extent that few if any have envisioned. Followers of Eastern religion believe that their truths come from deep within, through meditation and exclusion of outside voices. Followers of Western religions and Islam believe that their truths come from above (God) through revelation.

What Wisdom 365 does is to simply lead you through ALL of the Buddha’s proverbs in short daily readings, while also connecting you with proverbs of Solomon that COVER THE SAME GROUND. The result is an unexpected linking of Eastern and Western truths. Take just 2-3 minutes a day to tap into and be inspired by daily insights from two of the wisest men who have ever lived. You will grow wiser and more able to navigate life and avoid its pitfalls.

The Buddha’s 423 proverbs appear together in the book, Dhammapada, published around 252 BCE, about 230 years after his death. We thought about producing a book of 365 daily readings where a similar (or contrasting) proverb of Solomon would appear side-by-side with each proverb of the Buddha. We wondered what would happen to the 423 if we grouped each pairing of the Buddha’s proverbs that were direct contrasts were shown together, and this brought the number of pages down to about 365. Such a pairing might look like this:

If you are a specific type of positive person, certain kinds of good things will happen to you. But if you are the opposite type of person, these (corresponding) bad things will happen to you.

After finishing the book, we were astonished to find that we had found a proverb of Solomon (or, in a few instances, one of his contemporaries) similar to each proverb of the Buddha, for 100% of the Buddha’s proverbs. This was far beyond what we originally thought would be the case.

In comparing the two collections of proverbs, it was strikingly obvious that the biggest difference was that the Buddha was silent about several topics that were prominent subject areas among Solomon’s approximately 1,300 proverbs. Those topics were highly predictable: God, family, women, children, government and commerce. At age 29, prince Buddha left his palace, wife and children to pursue a life of solitary meditation, self-denial, poverty and itinerant teaching.

Get started today discovering illuminating wisdom and practical advice for your life: Wisdom 365.

How to Meditate Better

“In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you?  Homeless inside yourself.” The Dalai Lama[1]

Some Eastern Buddhists have sizeable reservations about their Western counterparts. This is surprising to many, in light of all the favorable press Buddhism has received.  Haven’t countless people found calm in this hectic world through meditation? Buddhists desire world peace and compassion for all people, and they want to take an open stand for nonviolence. Buddhism is exotic and inviting. It shuns the violent, materialistic culture of the West. It offers the opportunity to tailor a unique path to becoming a better person, and, ultimately, to attaining enlightenment. Why would the Dalai Lama be hesitant about urging Westerners to become Buddhists?

Beginning with watered down Buddhism is easy. You choose the kind of meditation that feels good to you, and you select what you will meditate on. However, converting to Buddhism isn’t just about beginning. It’s about going deep into meditation and sustaining that depth . . . for a lifetime.

Many elements of Buddhism strongly attract people in the West. Elements of Buddhism very similar to Judeo-Christian teachings resonate with them. However, after delving more deeply, Westerners encounter some of Buddhism’s distinctly Eastern elements and often balk, selectively. They pick and choose what they will practice and what they will ignore. Yet this cafeteria-style approach to spirituality may not work well. Many Western Buddha-seekers end up homeless—alienated from the Western traditions in which they were raised, and yet unwilling to adopt the Eastern ways of Buddhism sufficiently.

Patrick French, the author of Tibet, Tibet, noted: “I was . . . cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytize. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice.”[2]

The Dalai Lama did elaborate on his precautions. He said, “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[3]

Difficulties? What difficulties? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation advocate who has specialized over the past three-plus decades in counseling people who have encountered problems after engaging in prolonged, intensive meditation, has noted some of these. They include depression, a feeling of being lost, trouble adapting to life in the city, finding it hard to be intimate with another person, weird health problems and panic attacks.[4] Westerners have much higher expectations for happiness in this world, so there is a much greater sense of loss when someone commits to retreat from this world for a real stretch of time.

Dr. Roche teaches a form of meditation he believes avoids these problems. Just keep it simple, brief and consistent. Perhaps Buddhism is like a pain killer to Westerners. Taking a few tablets can do a lot of good, but swallowing a handful of pills and you better get your stomach pumped.

Dr. Roche does not see any need to convert to Buddhism or Hinduism to meditate more effectively. Most other major religions have long traditions in meditative practices. There is much that Westerners can learn about meditation from Buddhism . . . in order to strengthen their practice of their own particular form of Western religion. So why not leave it at that? Actually converting to Buddhism is a much more serious and mentally traumatic thing for Westerners to do than is commonly appreciated.

You may doubt that the Dalai Lama said the things quoted above. After all, hasn’t he spent decades traveling the globe as the world’s most visible Buddhist? While this is certainly true, what is not often fully appreciated is that one of his chief objectives has been to serve as a rallying point for the cause of the liberation of Tibet. Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible aids him in furthering the cause of the autonomy and welfare of the Tibetan people, for whom he has served as “the temporal and the spiritual leader” for more than half a century.[5]

We all have much to learn. Imagine Jesus giving a warning to American Christians similar to the Dalai Lama’s precautions. He might say, “In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Christianity—if that means subordinate my teachings to the base parts of Western culture.” And he would be dead on.


[1] Patrick French, Tibet,Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, retrieved November 22, 2010.

[4] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” LorinRoche.com, retrieved September 18, 2010.

[5] “His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet,” DalaiLama.com, retrieved April 11, 2011.

How to Become More Compassionate

 

Never criticize someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.
—An Old American Indian Saying

This is one of my favorite sayings. It has been life changing. It has motivated me to become a serious student of comparative religion and to appreciate the perspectives of those with different political persuasions than my own. After all, isn’t it either religious or political intolerance that create chasms and conflict between people? It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a better way. Practice empathy. Mentally put yourself in the place of others and try to see things from their perspective.

In a recent book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, the Dalai Lama made some profound statements. He focuses on “the centrality of compassion as a universal spiritual value.”[1] He stated that his life has been a quest to find “a balance between single-pointed commitment to one’s own faith and genuine openness to the value of other faiths.”[2] He offered this practical approach: “If you believe in God, see others as God’s children. If you are a nontheist, see all beings as your mother…Make the vow today that you may become an instrument of peace, living according to the ethical teachings of compassion in your own religion.”[3]

There is much that is similar between the great religions of the world. Typically, these similarities center on how we are to behave toward one another. They carry across the great divide between eastern and western religions. If, then, there is so much agreement on some matters, it would seem that we can be more sure about these guidelines than we might be over matters about which major religions have divergent views.

What did some of the greatest ancient wise men have to say about how to be compassionate? Writing around 950 BC, Solomon advised this: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”[4] Solomon didn’t add, “if you feel like it.” He just told us to do it, whether we feel like it or not. Once you do, feelings of compassion will arise within you. This proverb may have had its roots in these words of Moses (1300 BC): “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself…”[5]

Over four centuries later, Buddha (525 BC) said, “Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth!”[6] He also noted, “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.”[7]

Five and a half centuries later, Jesus (30 AD) was quoted as saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”[8]

All this seems impossible, unless we approach it a bit at a time. How? By practicing the Golden Rule in every situation. Espoused by all religions, this rule is simply that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. Since our thoughts precede our actions, we should greet each situation where we initially have negative thoughts about another person by asking ourselves, “If I were them, how would I like to be treated?” and then treat our neighbor or enemy that way.

Jesus carried this practice well beyond what people might think to do:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.[9]

Each of these wise men appreciated how greatly our words and actions affect other people. Even when we don’t feel compassion, if we will act as if we did, feelings of empathy will surface. We can influence the world to become a more compassionate place, but we must begin within.


[1] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Toward A True Kinship of Faiths (New York: Random House, Three Rivers Press, 179).

[2] Ibid, 179.

[3] Ibid, 181.

[4] Proverbs 25:21 (NKJV).

[5] Leviticus 19:34 (NKJV).

[6] Dhammapada, 223.

[7] Ibid, 5.

[8] Luke 6: 27b-28. (NKJV).

[9] Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV).