What is fundamental to our human nature? This question has many answers. Thupten Jinpa, author of A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, contends that compassion is at the heart of who we are.
Join me for an informal, monthly study of Fearless Heart this fall beginning Tues., Sept. 12 after my Yoga for Healing class at Villager Yoga, which ends at 7pm.
We’ll share a light, potluck dinner and the first time we’ll get organized. We’ll take our time with this thoughtful book digesting it slowly the second Tues. of Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Each chapter contains exercises for cultivating compassion with meditations for setting a daily intention and dedication, directing well wishes to others with loving kindness, and recognizing our common humanity.
Thupten Jinpa’s story is remarkable and his journey from Tibetan refugee to Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama, to doctoral student at Cambridge, to husband, father, and professor in Canada is fascinating. Mostly, we’ll enjoy being together and exploring compassion. Contact me if you’re interested.
Thupten Jinpa’s argument is a counterweight to the self-interest paradigm, that all that we do essentially comes out of what we will get out of it. That Mother Teresa must have gotten something out of working in the slums of Calcutta, some personal reward. That the Dalai Lama must receive something in return for the sacrifice of fleeing Tibet and living in exile in India. And Jinpa, who has served as the Dalai Lama’s primary translator since 1985, acknowledges that both of these legendary figures no doubt received as much as they gave, a paradox bound up with the nature of caring. The giving and the getting get confused.
Western society tends to view humanity through the lens of competition and self-interest, seeing compassion as naïve, even weak. Jinpa offers another view drawing both from Buddhism and science. The Tibetan tradition considers compassion to be inborn and its expression through caring natural. Empathy, understanding others’ feelings, undergirds all major faith traditions. It informs the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In one version in Buddhist sources, it reads “take your own body as an example/And do not cause harm on others.”
Science is exploring how our compassionate nature changes our brains. The Dalai Lama challenged the scientific community to turn from studying pathology in the brain to look at how compassion and empathy change the brain. In 1979, scientist Jon Cabat-Zinn adapted Buddhist-based meditation for the secular context of Massachusetts General Hospital teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction alleviating symptoms associated with illness. My teachers, Kimberly and Jim Carson of Oregon Health and Science University, developed a mindful yoga protocol proven effective for symptom relief for those suffering from cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.
Compassion derives from the Latin root meaning “to suffer with”. In Hebrew and Arabic the word’s etymology connects to the word “womb”, suggesting a mother’s love for her child. Jinpa says compassion happens in three steps: 1) perceive the suffering or need, 2) emotionally link with the suffering or need, and 3) respond instinctively by wanting to relieve the pain. The devastation of Hurricane Harvey arrests our attention and makes us want to do something to help.Compassion is innate but not like the color of our eyes, for example, but our ability to learn something new, like a language. And we can cultivate compassion, developing our caring muscle so to speak. It takes practice. Jinpa is dedicated to reshaping how we think about compassion from something we should do to something we innately want to do.