“When you are caught up in a destructive emotion, you have lost one of your greatest assets; your independence.” (page 1)
Some days, it is difficult to accept the teaching that compassion and clarity is our true nature, while affliction and suffering (dukkha) are in fact the add ons. On one of those days, I found How to be Compassionate by the Dalai Lama. The most important lesson this book has to teach is the impracticality and futility of anger. Yet, His Holiness is nonjudgmental in terms of his arguments for letting go of afflictive emotions.
“Actions stemming solely from anger of of no use at all; realizing this can strengthen your determination to resist them.” (page 57)
He lays the blame on our attachment to the idea that we are completely independent, individuated beings. From the Dalai Lama’s perspective this is the core illusion from which all dukkha arises. The solution therefore lies in recognizing and cultivating our awareness of the fact that we are in fact interconnected with all beings. He advocates working on this daily and beginning children’s education in this reality by preschool.
“Giving anger the weapons of words and actions is like giving an unruly child a pile of straw and a box of matches.” (page 55)
As a part of this awareness, His Holiness urges us to consider that emotions we consider to be positive can be equally as capable of causing dukkha as negative ones. He outlines what he calls the eight worldly concerns: like/dislike, gain/loss, praise/blame, fame/disgrace and reminds us that even these labels represent attachment to positive and negative thinking, they are the bases for all lust and aversion and explains why most people will only feel compassion for those they are close to and who they love.
“Ordinary love and compassion are intertwined with attachment because their motivations are selfish: you care about certain people because they help you or your friends.” (page 100)
How to Be Compassionate is such a lovingly expressed book. It contains not only teachings, but suggestions for practice. These suggestions are restated in compact form at the end in a section called “Review of the Exercises”. It is a book that I know I will keep for a long time and refer back to frequently. Hopefully in time I can better absorb the core concepts and apply them when truly challenged. After all:
“Afflictive Emotions Are Based on a Mistake” (page 69)
Now buy the Book!