At what distance do we stop caring?
I think this cartoon applies not just to animals in abattoirs, but to all manner of suffering in our world. At the moment it seems that a lot of us, a lot of the time, try to keep suffering at a distance so we don’t have to think about it. Perhaps we feel forced to deal with it otherwise. How else to explain why we turn a blind eye to the billions of animals being butchered daily behind iron doors, but most of us would label as a sociopath someone who beat an animal to death on the street in front of us? Why we tolerate the gun violence when it is happening in some other country, some other state, some other town, but freak out when it gets closer to home? Why we don’t want our unhoused neighbors to be too visible as they freeze on the streets?
Continuing on from this article.
I think due to our Buddha nature, our innate goodness, we do have a sense of responsibility that kicks in when suffering gets close enough. Maybe it is for that reason that we prefer to physically or emotionally shut it away. However, suffering is around us all the time, and it requires a lot of exhausting mental calisthenics to ignore that. All we need to do to see suffering is “open your eyes” as my teacher Geshe Kelsang says; but we have to want to open our eyes.
Look around. Every person you see has some suffering, something they’d like solved, do they not? It is everywhere but we don’t look around if we don’t feel we can deal with it. But although our self-protective self-cherishing doesn’t want to be bothered with it, “I have to protect myself from suffering!” – in reality we are not protecting ourselves from suffering, we are carrying on suffering by ignoring others’ suffering. It is not self-protective but self-defeating. By ignoring suffering and staying absorbed in our own problems, we never solve our own problems. We’ve tried that, we know. It doesn’t work.
Suffering is not solid
We also need to overcome the ignorance that believes suffering is so real and so solid and so just there, so what are we supposed to do about it?! Gradually over time we understand more and more how the causes of suffering lie within our minds, and then it becomes more and more obvious how we can help solve our own and others’ problems. It is not that we have immediately to go out and save the whole world – we can’t do that – but compassion is a good and necessary step to getting closer to helping everyone. Eventually our compassion becomes the universal compassion of a Buddha, which is immensely active – protecting, blessing, and inspiring. It can genuinely help everyone experience peace of mind every day.
If we understand how blessings work, we can see how our state of mind in itself will become a source of refuge for others. And opportunities to help others will also arise more and more as our intention expands, as Nagarjuna explains, quoted here.
You may, for example, already be a very compassionate person, and although you are not always necessarily doing something, still the people around you are picking up on it. They feel better around you. We feel better around people who care for us, who want us to be free from suffering. Whether they are doing something about it or not in some ways doesn’t matter – we just want to be in the same room as them. Then, when the opportunity arises, they can help us practically too.
A Bodhisattva is someone who is developing their compassionate Buddha nature to perfection; an enlightened being is someone who has accomplished that. This is a big, universal, deep mind. We can all take the compassion we have now and slowly extend it until it becomes that, at which point we can protect people everywhere as our mind is everywhere. We can become like the sun, or the great earth supporting all living beings. Compassion is a very powerful force, as the article I quoted earlier says too:
The desire is that people see that kindness isn’t soft or syrupy but it’s actually a really powerful force and that if we actually started to prioritize it, not in a sentimental way but in the same way we might go to the gym to keep fit, it can really make a huge difference to people’s lives.
Eight Steps to Happiness explains a beautiful and extensive meditation on compassion, hopefully you have some time to check it out. I also wrote this article on developing compassion here: Compassion: the new normal.
In brief, we can bring others into the orbit of our compassion simply by thinking they matter, by loving them, by seeing how they suffer, and by wishing them to be free. We can start with the people for whom we already have an open heart, and then extend our love and compassion as widely as we wish. We can finish our meditation with the big thought:
May everyone be free from suffering and its causes. How wonderful this would be!
Imagine that! Everything starts in the imagination. The world is not fixed. Suffering is not fixed. Life without suffering is possible, and this is where it starts.
Thank you for your inspiring articles.
I have a question that a friend of mine has asked me and I don´t know the answer.
She is a physiotherapist and when she treats someones painful area of the body, for example shoulder, sometimes she finishes her work feeling pain in the same area of the body that she has treated. She has said me that she puts all her intention to help others.
What is an explanation of that?
It is sometimes possible, if we have strong selfless compassion, to actually take others’ suffering onto ourselves — you can read about that practice in The New Eight Steps to Happiness. This is very purifying.
Thank you Luna.
I’ve read the chapter “Taking and giving” and I will try to explain her the benefits of her pure intention, even that she gets painful shoulder.
That sounds good.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a very well respected Chasidic scholar, was noted for saying once to his student, who miss-spoke himself
“you don’t love the fish! If you loved it, you wouldn’t have killed it and eaten it!”
So… Important this topic… And such a Great teaching… Again and again Luna. With my poor English, I’ll try to put in words, were my toughs went… Don’t worry if you feel you can only do one tiny good thing in one small corner of the Cosmos. Just be a Buddha Body with a Buddha Nature and the Buddha Seed in that one place 👌 💕
yes! and your use of English is profound!
Obrigado 💕 Thank you ❤
I agree with this however I think it’s important that we realise we kill animals in all sorts of ways and sometime people become judgemental or even righteous over some forms of killing than others. For instance people have been quite negative about meat eating and then drive in their car over getting a train or bus (saving time usually) and end up killing hundreds if sentient beings. Is one more justified than another? Buddhists are not Jain’s and although avoiding the suffering of others is our committment, we can not live our life without causing suffering. One car trip in the summer would probably kill more beings than I eat in years!
I think the point is not to deliberately or intentionally harm others. We each have to figure out how best to do that.
How wonderful! May we all become Buddhas and be able to bless the minds of living beings and keep them safe from suffering.