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Canyon City, Oregon, 19 mei 2012

Why Compassion?

Hello... this morning, accidentally, through the search of links to "Compassion" I have found your website.
I, like many others, have never heard of your organization and would like to make the news about it more widely available.

In spite of extreme religiosity, the wider meaning of and attention to the concept and practice of compassion is very much missing. There is hardly any focus on it as a value related to community as a whole, beyond the particularity of religious groups.

This brief opinion about compassion is written by someone looking from the perspectives of 1) two of the largest world religions, 2) modern Western developmental psychology, 3) an altruistic instinct present in many species including humans, and 4) observations of a mental health therapist specializing in an individual as well as relational approach to therapy and counseling.

Two guiding questions in this text are: What makes human life most satisfying? And what is it that (possibly) leads to the optimal experience through and following death of a physical body?

I start with the powerful message of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, who said and taught “Love each other as I love you” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”. His biography documents many examples of behavior expressing a radical acceptance and care for those who suffered as a result of existing social norms and prejudices, as well as those who committed destructive acts against themselves and others, including himself. What he also placed great emphasis on was reliance on and maintenance of community.

The founder of another world's religion, Gotama from the Shakya clan in ancient India, known as the Buddha, also provided a set of tools toward the same goal, while refusing to address any metaphysical concerns. By rebelling towards existing abuse of power by established religious groups and their clergy, and taking a powerful stand against existing oppressive social norms he focused on providing a clear set of values which were to eliminate the unavoidable suffering endured by all aware creatures, including human beings. His emphasis, after determining the ultimate nature of reality, was on the training in development of compassion and reliance on community. In order to reduce and ultimately eliminate suffering, those who follow his path make a commitment to the teacher (Buddha), community of followers, and the teachings.

Both of those great teachers of wisdom were primarily guided by compassion as the path toward liberation from suffering and saw this as the highest value they could pass on to their followers.

My experience of professional practice of mental health counseling and therapy I have made the following observations: 1) In an individual therapy, the main source of suffering is the client's poor relationship with her/himself and the environment, including family and the community at large, 2) In relationship therapy (marital, family, etc.) the main difficulty also comes from a lack of skills in developing a constructive connection and cooperation with each other, 3) In both therapy and learning processes, development of skills in and radical emphasis on the value of compassion toward the self and others, is at the center of the healing process.

In a multitude of examples, starting with a primal mother - child interaction and our relationship with our physical and biological environment and world community, altruism is seen as being central to ones very survival. Scientists have for a long time observed community orientation and mutual care among non-human species. In this process they have also observed acts taking place that are potentially dangerous to the self, instinctive acts of self-sacrifice toward saving others for example in war-like situations or road accidents. In most occurrences there is no time to think. The ultimate acts of compassion toward others are often a result of behavior guided by one natural build-in instinct for survival.

The knowledge and guidance originating from wisdom, traditions, modern research, as well as life lessons learned, indicate the radical need for training in and practice of compassion towards the self and others, and it is not an either-or proposition. The skills in and willingness to step in to the proverbial "shoes of the other" are absolutely central in all efforts towards eliminating suffering.

There is a wonderful story about beings that inhibit a realm of Hungry Ghosts. These are beings that suffer an unbearable pain of hunger. While living many lives guided by greed they have grown arms too long to be able to reach their own mouth. They suffer until they notice that the arms too long to feed themselves are perfect for feeding each other.

Yolanda Rommel

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