Archive for compassion

A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by jtoddring

Empathy is natural in human beings, as Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out – and with strong backing by recent scientific findings. Some human beings have more and some less; and some are sociopaths – roughly 1% (and usually, the ones who gravitate to positions of wealth and power, unsurprisingly) – who have a near total absence of natural empathy, or, more accurately, a learned callousness, which is always bred from fear. Most people are somewhere in the middle between saintly and sociopathic, and leaning strongly toward a basic good-heartedness, and, as Chomsky put it, having “basically decent impulses.” And most animals are also highly empathic by nature.

That doesn’t mean that carnivores won’t eat you for dinner if they’re hungry – if you’re not considered part of their kin – but they are naturally empathic. And as Kropotkin pointed out – the great Russian scientist who was at least the peer and equal of Darwin, and probably a more important evolutionary biologist – mutual aid and peaceful coexistence are more the norm in nature than are competition and aggression.

(Kropotkin’s great work, Mutual Aid, should, by the way, be read by everyone over the age of twelve, along with Bookchin’s, The Ecology of Freedom, in order to correct a pathological and highly disastrous, and wide-spread misunderstanding, of nature, human nature, and history. This point cannot be stressed enough.)

In any case, most animals clearly have empathy, and we can learn a great deal from them, and draw out our own natural empathy to further degrees by that experience of animal companionship.

Misanthropy is a disease of the mind, although it is widespread now, and, unfortunately, rising. Speciesism and anthropocentrism represent the opposite extreme, and are equally delusional. We should respect ourselves, and we should respect other animals and living creatures as well. We are all kin in the end.

To have empathy is to be truly alive, and to truly live. We should cherish this natural human trait, and nourish it in ourselves and others. To have empathy does not mean that we are weak – in fact, it is our greatest strength. Alone and isolated, we have limited powers – and alone in nature, few would survive at all – but joined together in solidarity and community, we are extraordinarily powerful, and there is little that we cannot do. And animals can help us to see and value that trait of natural empathy all the more, if we allow it.

As Einstein said, “widening the circle of compassion,” along with the search for truth, is, or should be, the central human project. This is what it means to live a meaningful life.

JTR,

October 2, 2015

The Lion’s Roar: Cutting through illusion to the heart of the matter

Posted in analysis, books, common ground, consciousness, cosmology, empowerment, epistemology, freedom, inspiration, must-read, ontology, peace, philosophy, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, quotes, religion, religious philosophy, social theory, spirituality, truth with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2013 by jtoddring
“There is no difference between theism and non-theism, basically speaking. Declaring an involvement with any kind of ‘ism’ turns out to be a matter of self and other. In fact, the whole question of self and other can then become very important. But if you really pursue any spiritual path, you will discover, surprisingly, that self and other are one thing. Self is other, other is self.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Speaking of Silence

It is extremely rare to hear anyone speak of spirituality or philosophy who actually gets to the heart of the matter, and does not merely flit about the surface. Chogyam Trungpa and a handful of others are the exception to the rule. In a sea of noise and dross, confusion and illusion, such voices of basic sanity are profoundly refreshing to hear.

The atheists and the theists are both off the mark – the former probably more so than the latter, admittedly. But that is alright. They will figure it out sooner or later. Reality will dawn on all, eventually.

“The number of minds in the universe is one.” – Erwin Schrodinger

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

More from Trungpa Rinpoche:

GREAT COMPASSION IS PAINFULLY REASONABLE

“With great compassion, because you have developed clarity, you do not have doubts and you are not unreasonable. You realize that the best way to be skillful is to be reasonable. When you are fully reasonable, actually reasonable—and to a certain extent, painfully reasonable—you begin to experience the genuineness of situations and act accordingly, in a way that is appropriate to the situation.”

—The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume Two, by Chögyam Trungpa http://www.shambhala.com/the-bodhisattva-path-of-wisdom-and-compassion.html

The second central truth to all authentic spiritual paths, is that, since self and other are intimately related, interconnected, interdependent, and in truth, one, therefore, love, kindness and compassion are not just nice, pleasant, virtuous or noble, but simply a matter also of enlightened self-interest.

If we are awake, then we will live with compassion. That is the central teaching of all the great religions. It is also the central premise of the Enlightenment – the central underlying value which underpins and is the foundation of the core Enlightenment values of liberty, equality, solidarity and democracy. This is the foundation for an enlightened life, and also, an enlightened society.

J. Todd Ring,
November 13, 2013

For further reading, see Ken Wilber, No Boundary; Alan Watts, The Book; Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy; Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe; Renee Weber, Dialogues With Scientists and Sages; Holgar Kalweit, Dreamtime and Inner Space; Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self; The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra, The Prajnaparamita Sutra, The Uttaratantra; The Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu; The Gospel of Thomas, Marvin Meyers Transl; Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Harvard Divinity School Address; and the writings of Chogyam Trungpa – as a good start.

Love, sympathy and mutual aid are natural – we have to be taught to be greedy little narcissists

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by jtoddring
 
Photo: During a California wildfire rescue workers ran out of crates to place rescued animals, forcing them to put a fawn and a bobcat kitten in an office together. When they got back they found that fawn and the bobcat cuddling and the pair became inseparable.
 
During a California wildfire rescue workers ran out of crates to place rescued animals, forcing them to put a fawn and a bobcat kitten in an office together. When they got back they found that fawn and the bobcat cuddling and the pair became inseparable.
 
Yes, compassion, love and solidarity are natural.
 
Or as the great Russian evolutionary biologist, Peter Kropotkin called it: mutual aid – the title of his magnum opus, which should be required reading for all high school students, not to mention all well-informed adults. That, and The Ecology of Freedom, by Murray Bookchin, and Escape From Freedom, by Erich Fromm.
 
J. Todd Ring,
October 8, 2013

Word to the bland, blasé and banal – apathy is living death

Posted in activism, consciousness, empowerment, philosophy, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, Thoreau, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by jtoddring


A song came on the radio today that I have loved all my life – except this time, it was a cover, and it spoke something to me that I would like to share. It was a jazz cover of “Ode to Billy Joe.” That might be fine, and might work well, but the singer was trying to make the song sexy, and it struck me as bizarre as well as unfitting. Ode to Billy Joe is about a man who commits suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and the woman who clearly loved him, and grieves for him still. It is a very sad and moving song. The jazz artist covering it had no emotion in her voice, other than the delight in her admittedly fine voice, and an air of sultry sexiness in her vocals. I have nothing against sultry, sexy music, especially when done well, by a vocalist with a melodic or soulful or sensuous voice – such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday or even Janis Joplin. But you don’t turn a funeral dirge into a sensuous romp. You don’t try to make a funeral dirge sexy, and Ode to Billy Joe is a funeral dirge, a lament. It seemed bizarre, and it was mildly annoying to hear. It’s like trying to make Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into a hip hop tune. Some things just don’t go together – like ice cream and beer, or ketchup and cheesecake… Bert Bacharach singing Rage Against the Machine’s Take the Power Back, O.J. Simpson in a tutu… or funereal laments with light and fluffy sensuous vocals. But this is not what really annoyed me about the song. What was really striking was its self-contradiction. It is a heart-breaking song, and it was sung with a disturbing indifference.

“Because you are neither hot nor cold, but only luke warm,
I spit you out of my mouth.”
– St. John of Patmos

Listening to the cover artist croon in light, swaying tones, more interested in the sound of her voice than the lyrics and the story they told, she sang, “And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas….”Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense – pass the biscuits, please.” And it struck me – this is why this cover bothers me: the cover artist is showing no feeling for the tragedy that this song speaks of – and the cover artist is as blasé and indifferent as the family members at the table in the song.

And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don’t seem right”

It made me shudder, in fact, to hear the indifference in the artist’s voice, the lack of feeling and concern; and the contrast in the song – between the family’s largely uncaring reaction to this tragedy, and the heart-break of the young woman who loved Billy Joe and that of the song itself – was drawn out in a clarity that I have never before heard or appreciated. It is a stark and poignant, painful contrast, between love and compassion on the one hand, and unfeeling indifference on the other. Juxtaposed, it makes the song all that much more moving. And to hear the contrast heightened by a cover of the song that was sung with glorious indifference and banal, blasé self-involvement, made me realize that there is a great deal of this in the world: unfeeling apathy and uncaring indifference – as if there is nothing worth getting concerned about other than football, sit-coms and shopping, or what the weather might be like for the barbeque this weekend, and whether or not we have enough relish. Relish becomes significant only when it is a verb, and when we actively engage in the celebration of life and virtue in this world, and not when it is a hot dog topping.

“The world is a dangerous place.
Not because of those who do terrible things.
But because of those who let them do it.”
– Einstein

Apathy is living death. Indifference is cowardice. Let us be real, and truly live. To live is to feel. It is to have a heart, and to let that heart be tender. If we treat the world or others, social issues or environmental issues or human suffering with indifference or apathy, it says a lot about the state of our hearts. It says we are cloistered and closed into a prison cell of our own making. If we wish to truly live, or if we wish to embrace the fullness of our humanity, then we shall have to open our heart to both the joy and pain of life, and allow ourselves to both think and feel – deeply and authentically, with courage and inner strength which allows us to do just that.

When we allow ourselves to both feel and think more freely and deeply, with openness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness, then our lives will be rich, and not before – and then too, will the world be reborn and justice shall rain down in blessings for all. A renaissance of humanity, as with a renaissance or rebirth in our personal lives, requires the courage to think and to feel. If we are not up for that, then we are among the living dead.

Allowing ourselves to think and to feel doesn’t mean that we all have to be extroverts, or start swinging from chandeliers or barking at the moon, or making a big show of emotion or bawling before Opra on a global broadcast. If we are naturally quiet or reserved, that is fine – it is openness of the heart and mind that matter, and not openness of mouth. Everyone has their own distinct style or way, and all of us have depth of mind and heart – it is just a matter of what degree we are open to our own depths. To shun them is to barely live. To open to our depth of heart is to find life’s treasure, and our own true riches and power. With these we will live more fully, and with these, we can heal the world.

Let us be real. Life is too short and too precious for us to live in any other way. Let us think, let us feel, let us truly live: and we and all of humanity, and all living beings, will be the richer for it.

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”
– Henry David Thoreau

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
– Emma Goldman

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
– Helen Keller

JTR,
September 12, 2011

Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billie Joe Lyrics

Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe (Original Stereo) – YouTube

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