By Master Eric Sbarge
The cultivation of compassion is a process that is fundamental to the philosophies of the three primary arts we teach at The Peaceful Dragon: The Buddhist philosophy underlying our Shaolin kung fu practices, the Taoist philosophy at the core of our tai chi practices, and to classical yoga philosophy.
The Buddha urged us to “Have compassion for all beings, for each has their suffering.” The Taoist sage Lao Tzu humbly declared, “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.” And in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras we are advised that, ‘Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy.”
Of course compassion and loving-kindness are qualities that are also esteemed in nearly all of the world’s major religions. When we demonstrate compassion we help to aid and heal those who are suffering or facing misfortune, and such help fosters the spiritual connections that we all have with each other.
But what is easy for us to overlook is the fact that compassion doesn’t just benefit others, but also benefits our own personal growth and well-being. The sages such as Patanjali, Buddha and Lao Tzu understood that being compassionate not only improves the welfare of others in society, but also is an essential part of the process to benefit and liberate ourselves.
When we develop empathy for others and want to help mitigate their pain and suffering, we become less attached to our own needs and desires, and less bound by our egos. As we lessen our attachments and soften our egos, we have fewer vexations and can eventually reach the state described by Patanjali above as “undisturbed calmness of mind.” Such calmness of mind is what brings the inner peace that yoga, kung fu and tai chi were in fact originally created to help us achieve.
So how and where can we begin to cultivate and demonstrate more compassion? You’ve surely heard the expression, “Charity starts at home.” Begin by acting more compassionately and charitably towards your own family and loved ones. Then let your compassion spread to your friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers and finally yes, even to your enemies (you will eventually see that with compassion you can’t really have enemies).
Don’t feel like you have to begin with monumental acts of compassion. Rather than initially setting out to cure cancer or eliminate all the world’s wars, start with simple little things: a smile, a greeting, a hug, or maybe a compliment. Then greater acts such as community service, donating to the less fortunate, and volunteerism can follow. As a final step, please do go ahead and put an end to cancer and wars!
Here at The Peaceful Dragon we have certain traditions whose purpose is to help our students, particularly newer students, have an opportunity to shed some of their attachments and egos, and humbly and compassionately serve fellow-students and the school as a whole.
Sweeping the floors before and after class; cleaning the bathrooms; maintaining the gardens and landscaping; quarterly cleanup days; and other opportunities to volunteer for special events and AOL desktop gold support phone number activities all benefit others and demonstrate selflessness and compassion. Even if our school could afford to hire janitors and landscapers – which it cannot – we would not do so for the simple reason that it would deprive our students of the important tradition, originally a monastic tradition, of serving fellow-students and the school as a whole.
This tradition of practical tasks fostering our own spiritual growth can be inferred from the following well-known Zen parable:
A new monk proclaims to the master Zhaozhou, “I’ve just entered the monastery. Please teach me.” The master inquires, “Have you eaten your breakfast?” to which the monk replies, “Yes I have.” The master continues, “Then you had better go wash your bowl.”
If you come to our yoga, kung fu or tai chi class and ask our instructors to teach you how to lessen your vexations and increase your peace of mind, we won’t suggest that you go wash your bowl. But that’s only because we don’t serve breakfast. We definitely will urge you to go sweep the floors!
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”