Shortly after we were married, we went to India and spent our honeymoon in ashrams and monasteries, and then in McCleod Ganj, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile in northern India, along with other Tibetan refugees who have escaped Chinese rule in Tibet. Once there we went to the Office of Securities to request a meeting with the Dalai Lama.
The following day we were scheduled for an interview. While we were waiting, Ed was standing on the veranda of the Dalai Lama’s palace, which is really a very large bungalow. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the vast Himalayan mountain range stretching in front of me. Then I saw a monk at the further end of the veranda trying to get my attention and beckoning me to come. I called for Deb, thinking we were being taken in to see the Dalai Lama, but as we approached the monk we realized that the beckoning monk was the Dalai Lama!”
In traditional Buddhist custom, we immediately began to prostrate but he took our hands and lifted us up, saying, “No, we are all equal here.”
For Deb this was a powerful reminder of our real oneness. For Ed he felt he was with the most compassionate being he had ever met. “The Dalai Lama made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world, as if nothing mattered more than the three of us being together. He radiated kindness and true presence.”
We both saw the meaning of real compassion in him, someone who was so ordinary, so simple, and his feelings for others so genuine. We spent about 45 minutes talking with him. Looking into his eyes, we could saw all of the suffering of the world as well as oceans of compassion. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is known as Chenrezig, which means the Embodiment of Compassion, but as he says himself, “My religion is kindness.”
Compassion is probably the most important quality any of us could live by as it allows us to live with sanity and love. It is the wish that all beings be free from suffering. And that includes ourselves.
Every time we see suffering, every time we feel suffering in either ourselves or another, every time we make a mistake or say something stupid and are just about to put ourselves down, every time we encounter the confusion and difficulty of being human, every time we see someone else struggling, upset or irritated, we can transform it into acceptance, loving kindness and compassion, for that is also who we are. Just a few breaths of compassion will bring armfuls of understanding and caring into any situation. We can be compassionate because it is the foundation of who we are. It’s like a band-aide made in the heart.
Any of us are capable of losing our cool, losing connectedness to our hearts, losing perspective, getting caught up in hot emotions and causing harm. That is why compassion for ourselves is as important as compassion for others. Self-compassion enables us to transform fear, anger or resentment into forgiveness, acceptance and friendliness. By knowing our own pain and conflict, so we can more easily offer compassion to others.
Compassion is the willingness to witness and be present with whatever we see around us, not to turn away or pretend it’s not there: the hungry, the victims of abuse, the injustice, the senseless fighting, the homeless, the fear of the enemy. It’s easy to feel hopeless, to want to walk away from it all, but compassion means we are not indifferent and uncaring. In recognizing our essential interconnectedness we can’t separate ourselves from anyone else. We are all here together and the least we can do is offer a helping hand.