It's an effort
The Dalai Lama acknowledges that
the effort to move from our habitual self-centered focus to responding
to the suffering of others is a major effort and entails what
might seem at first to be discomfort. But, he says:
Underlying the uncomfortable feeling
is a very high level of alertness and determination because you
are voluntarily and deliberately accepting another's suffering
for a higher purpose. There is a feeling of connectedness and
commitment, a willingness to reach out to others, a feeling of
freshness rather than dullness.
The Dalai Lama compares generating compassion
to a rigorous training program. An athlete in training
tolerates a lot of pain and exhaustion but does
not experience it as suffering. Rather than suffering,
the athlete is likely to feel elation and pride
and identify the experience as a positive one.
But the same person experiencing pain and exhaustion
outside of their training program might bemoan
Have you ever been involved in athletics, training
vigorously? Can you relate to this observation?
If not athletics, think of an endeavor that you
were so engaged with that you gladly tolerated
experiences that otherwise might have caused suffering.
From this experience would you agree with the Dalai
Lama that mental attitude makes a significant difference?
The best defense against despair is sincere effort.
Again we return to the importance of motivation.
least I've done my best!
The degree to which they will actually
be able to cultivate compassion depends on so many variables,
who can tell? But if they make their best efforts to be kinder,
to cultivate compassion and make the world a better place, then
at the end of the day they can say, "At least I've done
Even if the rope breaks nine times, we
must splice it together a tenth time
The Dalai Lama cautions against despair.
Despair is never a solution. It is,
rather, the ultimate failure. As the Tibetan expression teaches,
if we do persevere and do not despair, even if ultimately we
do fail, at least there will be no feelings of regret. And when
we combine this insight with a clear appreciation of our potential
to benefit others, we find that we can begin to restore our hope
Are you worried that entering into the suffering
of others will bring suffering on yourself? If
so, can you distinguish between experiencing
your own suffering and sharing the
suffering of others?
One of the qualities of our own suffering that is difficult for
us is its involuntary nature; things happen and we rarely can
foresee the things that cause us pain. Engaging with someone
else's suffering, on the other hand, is something we do freely.
Because such a choice reflects our inner strength, we are less
likely to be paralyzed by the suffering of others than by our
own. Recognizing our aspiration
and our active role in this process, we are more able to continually
splice the rope together when it breaks.
It's worthwhile returning again and again to one's
doubt or uncertainty. Can you believe in your
heart that the more you truly desire to benefit
others, the greater the strength and confidence
you develop and the greater the peace and happiness
you experience? If this still seems unlikely,
it is worth asking yourself: how else are you to
do so? With violence and aggression? With wealth
and material pleasures?
Reflect: Is it truly so that by sharing in others'
suffering, by recognizing yourself clearly
in all others, by helping them to be happy you
bring contentment to yourself?