The dogma of compassion

Not many would deny that compassion is a virtue. Some would even say it is the opposite of dogma. On a fundamental level, that is true. Yet it is possible for compassion to become dogmatic when it is defined too narrowly, and begins to take on a form of brutal piety.

I had this bizarre exchange with a friend recently. Here’s how it went. The details have been altered slightly but the form is essentially the same.

Friend: Hi, how’re you?

Me: Not too good. I’ve just had some bad news… [I was about to explain that someone I was close to had died, so I was feeling particularly fragile.]

Friend: Hey, you know, my bunions are giving me trouble again. I could barely do my shopping at the supermarket. I was hobbling as I pushed the cart. Even the old ladies were giving me funny looks. [The said bunions had been the topic of many a dreary conversation for several months.]

Me: I’m sorry, but I can’t really talk about your feet today.

Friend (defensive and irate): Don’t you care about my health!? Where’s your compassion?

Me: Urrr…?

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Do what you’re doing when you’re doing it

Large scale natural (and man-made) disasters, like the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, often drive people to come up with ‘explanations’ for why these events happen. Like the response to the tsunami disaster that struck the countries in the Indian Ocean in 2004, I’ve come across a few claims that the ’cause’ of the suffering in Japan today is the ‘result’ of a collective national karma for its past. Depending on which you read, accounts range from their misdeeds during WWII, to their failure to take care of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! All of which I personally find pretty outrageous, and the reason why I’m not linking to them — in the age of the Internet, they’re easy enough to find if you’re inclined to look.

I don’t claim to know whether or not it is a collective karma at work. It may well be so, I can’t say. What I’m more intrigued by is the audacity of any one person to claim to know such a thing. I don’t feel particularly well versed in any of the theologies that support the concept of karma, but from my own fledgling and intermittent Buddhist studies, I’ve picked up a sense that the notion of karma, at least in the Buddhist tradition, is far more complex, layered and ineffable to be so crudely applied.

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The mad woman leaves the attic

My Sun-Mercury-Saturn in Gemini and Moon in Capricorn frequently struggle to understand insanity. I don’t mean clinical insanity (though maybe it’s not exempt!), but the calculated insanity imposed upon moderate people — crazy-makers, rather than crazy people per se. Just look at all the loonies shouting and crying out against Obama’s ‘death panels’ and ‘socialism’. The more reasonable he tries to be, the more hysterical they become. My theory is that this is one public manifestation of the current Saturn (reason) and Uranus (unpredictability) opposition. Much has been said about how Uranus (maverick) will break the shackles of Saturn (tradition), but I think the other view is highly plausible as well. Oppositions seek out balance after all, and it is the balance between the two that we must find. However, that’s not quite the subject of today’s post.

A Mad Woman (Eugene Delacroix 1822)

A Mad Woman (Eugene Delacroix 1822)

The more I get through life, the more I wonder whether the crazies will always capture the space simply because they shout louder and the adrenalin carries them further than the reasoned moderates who simply get tired and want to hide under a rock.

I mean, isn’t my turn to Buddhism, to astrology, to psychotherapy an attempt to maintain some sanity in a crazy world? But I sometimes suspect my secret fear is going mad myself. In other words, while I watch others perform their madness, I am not entirely certain of my own sanity. It doesn’t help that Mercury/Geminis are frequently too open to suggestion — Is it X or is it Y? Or maybe Z? Or all three!

I had an ex who had two psycho ex-es (yeah, you think I’d have picked up the signals earlier). You know, the sort of woman who would make a scene in public, scream and shout and throw carrots at the supermarket. No, I’m not exaggerating. At the point of splitting up, I wondered what was so desirable about them that he tried to stay with them (for a while at least) and what was so undesirable about poor level-headed, no-drama me? Then I realised, that’s precisely what he’s doing, albeit unconsciously, making me question my sanity, and many a time I did feel as if I was going mad. However, I’m glad to report that I left way before the carrot-flinging stage. I abhor public scenes.

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I/Thou/We/They

The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness
— Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon), Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988)

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On the verge of … verging

The title of this post came from a comment by my astro-blogging friend, Neeti Ray. I was trying to describe the weird sense of limbo I’m feeling that I can’t shake, like being on the verge of something that hasn’t yet manifested, and she wrote: ‘On, the verge of, verging’. Perfect! My original title was going to be ‘How to be in two places at once’.

As Venus opposes Pluto this weekend, continuing to put pressure on my own natal Venus-Pluto square, my thoughts turn to how one might process, or, indeed, metabolise, pain. With her customary bluntness, Lucy describes Venus’ recent ingress into Cancer as being akin to putting a ‘Band Aid on a gunshot wound’. It made me think again about the nature of Plutonian pain. And then there is what Elizabeth Spring describes as the ‘core pain’ of Neptune (no doubt accentuated by its conjunction to Chiron). If Plutonian pain is like a gunshot wound, I’d say Neptunian pain is like a bruising — you don’t notice it at first, until you accidentally press on it, or bump into the furniture again!

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‘Active laziness’

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1992) is an interpretation for the modern world by Sogyal Rinpoche a collection of texts commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Sogyal Rinpoche interprets some of the ideas from the ancient texts for the modern world, and argues that the lack of respect for death in the modern world prevents us from living life to its fullest potential. This is not, however, license for hedonism, to do what you like, ‘cos we’re all dying anyway’. It is, in fact, a call for more responsible living, rather than less. Death is a fact of life, and death is encountered in every facet of life, not just the physical — we may experience the death of an idea, the death of a relationship, a feeling, a way of life, and so on. In other words, death speaks to impermanence. The death of our physical bodies is just one aspect of that process.

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Buddha-field

Vimalakirti I thought I’ll take a break from my Hades Moon for a bit.

My Buddhist group is currently studying The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture (alternatively known as the
Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra). We covered Chapter One* last week called ‘The Purification of the Buddha-field’, which led to a discussion of what that ‘buddha-field’ might be.

Originally, I thought it might be something akin to an aura, but looking at the formal definitions, which describe it as a ‘field of influence’ (of a buddha or bodhisattva) that transcends time and space, I realised it is something far more abstract. Robert Thurman describes it as being akin to a ‘buddha-verse’, as in ‘uni-verse’, which makes the concept a bit easier to grasp.

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