the practical buddhist : essentials

we aren’t anything unless we are compassionate

I used to have a boss who was known for a using a certain phrase. Whenever she’d announce a sudden change in plans, she’d say:

“And since we aren’t anything unless we’re flexible…” and then she’d announce the change.

In my life as a Practical Buddhist, I’ve come to know that my chief trait as a practitioner is compassion. I think that we’re all imbued with a few traits that our practice tends to elevate. Like grapes being elevated to wine, these traits are lifted into a greater significance.

Compassion is the Root of All Goodness

Compassion, the movement of the heart when confronted with the suffering of others, is a tell-tale sign that we are oriented toward alleviating the suffering of others. When I see social injustice, corrupt politicians running for office who are willing to say anything to gain the advantage, I am moved with  compassion for those that will suffer as a result. When I hear a child cry, no matter where I am, I look around for the source of the sound and immediately I’m in a search and rescue mode.

Compassion, as I describe it in my book, The Practical Buddhist: Buddhism Without the Robes & Ritual, is a gift:

Compassion is the gift of an honest heart full of love and acceptance.

When one is closed-off, biased, or non-accepting of the whole, he/she cannot engage in compassionate kindness.

Compassionate kindness is shown in speech, attitude, action, and intention as we survey the Eight-fold Path. When you encounter someone who practices compassionate kindness, you are moved by them. There is something different about them though you may not be able to pinpoint what it is.

I’d characterize His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Richard Dawkins, and my youngest son as examples of those in touch with compassionate kindness.  Practicing compassionate kindness is a choice anyone can make, but not everyone does.

I don’t witness compassionate kindness very often. More often kindness is conditional. But compassionate kindness is the fruit of an open heart. It’s the by-product of inclusive acceptance of all.

Show me someone who is closed or narrrow-minded and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t engage in compassionate kindness.

Compassionate kindness is the fullest expression of one living as a Practical Buddhist. It’s the result of learning to master the present moment via meditation and the coming back to the present moment via mindfulness.

Compassion Without Kindness is False

As a Practical Buddhist living the United States of America, I am disgusted and appalled at the positions of the conservative GOP party’s candidates who are running for President. I have to think that deep within they have some rudimentary form of compassion in their cold, steel hearts. But at each opportunity to exercise their sense of compassion with kindness, they fail miserably.

Republican politicians aren’t the only professions that fail to link compassion with kindness, though they are the standard bearers. I’ve worked with people in the business community who didn’t seem to have a shred of compassion within unless acting on it benefits them in some way. They remain immune to any thoughts of kindness toward others. In my experience, power does corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thoughts on Linking Compassion with Kindness 

How do you practice compassionate kindness?

Short Answer

In every moment possible.

Explanation

Compassionate kindness is a two-fold activity.  As I mentioned earlier, compassion is the internal commitment while kindness is the external expression of the commitment to compassion.

Many people of faith practice compassionate kindness as well; it’s not as though Buddhists have the market cornered. It’s a great way to live, but it takes practice.

Personal Experience

I’ve always been able to notice when others are in pain, are suffering, or are unhappy. Some call this being an empath; I think I’m just an emotionally oriented person.  Regardless, it’s a part of who I am and how I’m wired. I see this same quality in my children, especially in my sons Benjamin and Justin.

I think it’s the reason, in part anyway, why I’m drawn to those in emotional, financial, or social need. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.

If I choose to ignore this part of me, I cease to be compassionate and cannot express kindness. However, if I engage in the other person’s need and act upon it, the way to the expression of kindness is opened.