|+ home > features > readings > Generosity and Gratitude, Part 6|
Generosity and Gratitude
From River of Awareness:
Seeking the Wisdom of Love
by Stephen Sims
Part 6: A Call to Compassion
The enemy of joy is not suffering. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his listeners that happiness belongs to the poor in spirit, to the gentle, to those who mourn, to those who hunger and thirst for what is right, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, and to those who are persecuted in the cause of right. Unhappiness reflects our inability to hold personal hardships and the burdens of others in our heart. Through an intimate embrace of our poverty, we become attuned to the tears and toils of all humanity. If we attempt to flee from the impoverished aspects of life and from personal pain we will lack empathy for the suffering of others.
For two years I kept company with the homeless in the inner city of Montreal. At that time I was negotiating the terrain of mid-life; these men enabled me to be present to my own woundedness and negotiate my own shadow self. Certainly, to be with those whose afflictions are greater than your own heals ingratitude. I have always felt inspired by the word of the prophet Isaiah as he writes of the Lord’s call to compassion, with its promise of light and healing:
Tonglen is a Buddhist meditative practice, a practice of mindfulness that enables on to take on the mental and physical suffering of others, and to bestow on them one’s own well-being. In a sense, it is a spiritual exchange of peace for pain, imagining the other person as exactly the same as you. When we hold another’s hardship deep in our hearts, we send out a “prayer” for happiness and healing, light and love. The Tonglen practice aims to cultivate a spiritual capacity to give our own happiness away in exchange for the suffering of others. Tonglen is opposite to the more typical reaction of a well-meaning friend, who said to me at the time of my river accident, “Man, I’m glad I’m not you!”
Another Buddhist term is Bodhisattva, which refers to an individual who voluntarily participates in suffering, and thereby endeavors to bring joy to a sorrowful world. Beyond sympathy, it is the practical determination to do whatever we can to help alleviate the suffering of others. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying exhorts us to such compassion
(1) Sogyal Rimposhce, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 199-200.
Author Stephen Sims is the founder of IASIS, an awareness education project that endeavors to awaken positive potential through nurturing physical wellness, emotional wisdom, and spiritual balance. Steve's life work has revolved around community service related to drug rehabilitation, care for the elderly, prison visitation, outreach to the homeless, and wilderness tripping. This is Steve's first book, with a variety of thematic reflections that make reference to his wide range of life experience.
River of Awareness is available on Amazon.com