Sunday, February 19, 2017


I am writing about this because of the current social crisis in the U.S. after our presidential election. President Donald Trump has become the brunt of hatred by those who claim some of his policies lack compassion. How someone can spout hatred at an individual from a position of compassion eludes me. What is compassion really? English dictionaries tend to define compassion from the standpoint of Judeo-Christian charity. Words like "sympathy" and "empathy" are seen as synonyms. The Asian perspective on compassion, based in Buddhism, is somewhat different. I refer to this compassion when I write about it.

Buddhist teaching is based in a concept of generalized human suffering. Rich people suffer as much as the poor if they do not liberate themselves from the hunger of material need. In other words, Buddhist compassion is a much more sophisticated view of what it means to relate to any form of human suffering. I suspect Jung and Freud were both strongly influenced by this Buddhist concept.

You see, just handing a dollar to a drug addict at a traffic light may well satisfy a Judeo-Christian sense of compassion. However, it can be poisonous in Buddhist terms. The Buddhist would see this as potentially enabling the drug addict to increase his suffering by providing money to fuel his addiction, which is at the root of his suffering. The ignorant Western mind might confuse the image of Buddhist monks extending their begging bowls with the addict knocking on a car window. These are very different actual events.

The original itinerant Buddhist monks renounced material possessions in support of their quest for liberation and enlightenment. Offerings were given by those lay people who admired that quest, but who were themselves not able to make that commitment. Their sacrifice, in many cases, to nourish the monks at their own expense was seen as participation in the Buddhist ideology. In that sense, the monks felt they were extending compassion to their benefactors by begging and reminding their benefactors of the Buddhist ideals they, the monks, represented.

There is logic in this form of giving, unlike the mindless giving of affluent Westerners to a myriad of dubious causes from food relief campaigns to politicians. Few affluent benefactors in the The West seriously consider the greater implications of the charities they support. They increase suffering in many impoverished parts of the world by bloating the indigent with surplus GMO grain, for example. This is leading to a rise in diabetes and obesity in the developing world. A Buddhist-oriented charity might fund organic gardening methods, community planning, sex education and birth control. This approach is supportive of the liberation of the poor from charity, as well as poverty.

The much misunderstood Buddhist concept of karma is inextricably linked with logic and compassion. I relate karma in my Western mind with accountability. The Japanese, with whom I spent some time studying, speak of cause and effect. The Western concept of charity is nearly polar opposite to the notion of karmic accountability. It is also a convenient rationalization for personal greed within capitalism as it coexists with relative poverty among the majority of human beings. 

Judeo-Christian charity is based in "sympathy" which is more often a kinder semantic substitute for "pity". In Buddhist ideology, this kind of charity is seen as narcissistic arrogance, because each individual is seen as master or slave of his existence. Those who master their lives take up the quest of liberation from insatiable hunger. Those who are enslaved are those who give way to egoism and constant hunger for fulfillment by material success or popular adulation. 

Each capable individual is accountable for his choices and actions. The Buddhist view does not include the Western myth of fairness. Buddhist ideology does not accept that there is fairness in its Universe. The Universe may demand balance, but it is up to the individual's choice to think and act for his/her own sake in this regard. Those who choose not to should be afforded respectful avoidance. Those who are truly incompetent by birth deserve respectful assistance. Doting on the capable who choose to be incompetent is disrespectful, or infantilizing in clinical parlance. 

The current "social justice" activists among feminists and militant anti-fascists are like any cult which worships any mythology. From a Buddhist perspective, this explains the tortured, enraged and violent nature of so many of the participants in these groups. Like the addict at the stop light, they are knocking at the window of a metaphorical limo containing a non-existent population of untroubled and privileged people, whether they are perceived as White men or corporate oligarchs. 

They are operating from the Judeo-Christian perspective of compassion and feel deprived of charity from those who are not suffering because they are "privileged". The resulting tantrums are simply a way of absolving themselves of any accountability for their own state of suffering. They are making the choice to externalize their own inability to practice true compassion for themselves by working harder, thinking harder and peacefully creating change in society by creating change within themselves.

As Dalai Lama has suggested, the world does not need more Buddhists but it does need more compassion. Unfortunately, Western capitalism as it exists and its inevitable materialism stand in the way of the kind of compassion which can liberate lives from suffering. The top-down economic theories which are used to rationalize greed in The West are simply illogical from the position of Buddhist compassion. Wealth as a hedge against accountability at any cost is diametrically opposed to the concept of liberation from karma which leads to enlightenment. 

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