Sunday, January 29, 2012
Humility and Compassion
Mankind, on the whole, is terribly impressed with itself and with the disasters it brings upon itself.
We believe in our own agency—we believe in our ability to do, and even worse, we also believe we have an ability to undo.
By and large, expressed from what one might call a Judeo-Christian Buddhist point of view, what we believe we lack, that would fix everything, is compassion.
There is this general belief out there—well meant, I think, sincere and even heartfelt—that this is what we need to acquire. People need to be more compassionate, act more compassionately, understand from a compassionate point of view, etc. The Dali Lama preaches compassion in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun. Mother Teresa preached it.
Get in line. It's the easy answer; anyone can sign on and sound good. Hurrah! Look! There is a way for us to fix things...!
It is far more difficult to say anything true, anything that might skip over the soundbites and get to the root of the matter. Yet the root of the matter does not lie in any ability to lift ourselves up through our own agency, our compassionate deeds—it lies in seeing how far down we have fallen.
Mankind does not understand compassion. This is where the problem begins. Compassion operates on a horizontal scale. It is the bars of the crucifix, the tree limb on which Christ was hung. It can only operate horizontally, because it implies a congruent emotional state—one that exerts its force across this level, not up towards God. Think it over: how could we be compassionate towards God?
It's good that compassion operates horizontally: it's a necessary force, and everything in the world would definitely be worse without it. The difficulty comes because it can't operate horizontally, not in the least, unless it is in proper relationship with a vertical force. And it is exactly this lack that prevents real compassion from emerging, except and unless men are under terrible duress—such as war, when remarkable things become possible because a powerful shock has been applied. In such conditions, a man sees what he is—he sees how tiny he is—and a new influence from a higher level arrives, an influence that has a different kind of force, a force representing something higher than man.
That vertical force bestows humility. If a man does not acquire humility first; if he does not submit, if he does not see his place and acknowledge what he is, his compassion cannot be fixed in place. It's merely propped up on the powerful tree trunk of his ego and wobbles up and down. It isn't informed with the energy that is necessary to be compassionate, because it emanates from— and goes out to— the horizontal level only. The higher influence it needs in order to stabilize it is not there.
This is why mechanical compassion, learned compassion, philosophized, theorized, educated, taught, or accidentally acquired compassion is forever spinning its wheels in this world of violence and disbelief. Only an intelligent, an inwardly formed, a conscious compassion can do any real work. And that never arises unless it is first inwardly formed by humility. Without humility, compassion remains a creature of the ego. A man cannot open his heart without humility; and compassion without an open heart, well, there is nothing real there.
Even Christ had to submit with humility when he said, in the garden of Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” The only reason his compassion for mankind was perfect was because he had perfected his humility.
The relationship between vertical and horizontal, and the need for the vertical to inform the horizontal, as represented on the cross, is largely forgotten in this belief of ours that we are powerful agents. We are not powerful agents: the whole point of humility is to realize this, to see it.
Humility isn't born in public. You don't see it on soapboxes. It doesn't issue proclamations. This is the most private and intimate matter of a man's soul and any sacred grace he may be touched by. It is a silent force; it can't be employed for anything except the act of kneeling in prayer. And it must completely penetrate a man and replace everything that he has in him if he has a real wish to discover anything that can actually act with integrity on this level. If he does, it will act through him, not of him.
Humility, like sorrow, is not a concept. It is a substance. Until a man or woman receives it as a substance in the body in the same way that one receives the body and blood of Christ in communion, he or she knows nothing of humility— except that the word exists, and has accepted definitions.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be compassionate.
It does mean we first need to work for a much deeper understanding of ourselves and see what we are before we make that effort. If the effort comes from a place that has not submitted, it is a vain effort, that is, one we try to make belong to ourselves.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.