In college I was introduced to one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever read; Karen Armstrong. My roommate at the time was reading her book, A History of God. Knowing that I loved the study of religion she was asking me all kinds of questions about the book. Since I wasn’t fully aware of what she was talking about I went out and bought it and began reading with her. We started a mini book club.
I would read for hours trying to devour everything Armstrong had to say. I sat with a dictionary as I read to ensure I grasped every nuance of the book. Since then I have read several other books she has written including, Holy War, The Spiral Staircase, Through the Narrow Gate, and I’m currently reading Buddha. Karen Armstrong is not only brilliant she is extremely balanced, remaining completely academic. I respect her ability to keep her own biases out of her works.
The reason I mention my love for Karen Armstrong is because this weekend I picked up her latest tome; Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. This book serves as a call to arms to create a more compassionate world. She makes the argument that society and religion in particular, have failed in spreading compassion towards others outside of one’s own group.
She delves further into this idea by pointing out that the common definition of compassion equates to pity. Compassion is not pity, it is derived from Greek and Latin and literally translates to “to endure [something] with another person.” This removes all connotations of one person being better than another when experiencing compassion.
This book was written and the ideas inside it were developed after Armstrong won the TED Prize for her Charter for Compassion. She has made it her mission to spread compassion throughout the world, one person at a time. The Charter for Compassion works in conjunction with Compassionate Action Network which works to create compassionate cities and communities around the world.
Since purchasing this book I have researched, quite intensely, the Charter for Compassion and I am hooked. The idea is simple and brilliant and is written as follows:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others -even our enemies- is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings -even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
The beauty of the Charter made me sign it instantly. This is part of my practice that I am striving for; I want to be more present and more compassionate. I have been meditating more and more lately on how to ensure our world becomes less hostile, less angry, less divided. And in answer to my thoughts and prayers I was guided back to Karen Armstrong.
I vividly remember meeting her several years back when she came to Orlando, FL and spoke at Rollins College. She was unassuming, brilliant, and captivating. I also remember watching her TED Prize speech and wondering when/if this charter was real. But I wasn’t ready to fully appreciate what she was asking me to contemplate. Now that I am ready, she has reappeared to teach me and others what we need to learn about compassion.
This former Catholic nun turned academic has taught me more about spirituality than all my years going to church and contemplating the nature of the divine. I will always regard her as a great teacher; though she has no concept of who I am. I am extremely grateful to her.
I was #96,679 to sign the Charter. What number will you be? Will you help the Charter break 100,000? Will you follow the simple outline the Charter lays out? Are you ready to help bring compassion back into the forefront of our lives? Visit http://charterforcompassion.org. Read what it’s all about, make your own decision. If you aren’t ready to sign the Charter, that’s ok. Your awareness of the Charter is what matters for the time being. As your awareness grows, so too will your understanding. That is all that I ask of you. Be aware of how you can create compassion in your daily life; compassion for yourself, your loved ones, your coworkers, and even random strangers on the street. Remember, compassion is not pity, it is enduring something with another person. Compassion is at the heart of, not only, Buddhist teachings, but all major religions. Won’t you find the compassion that is inside you and let it out for the betterment of the world?