Tag Archives: carolyn

Parsing Carolyn on Compassion: On Loving Your Enemies

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This post got a lot of us thinking.  I re-post it here, with the hope that you will spend time with the many comments.  They  constitute a dialogue of unusual insight and caring, in which many of us do our best to come to terms with a teaching that is virtually universal among religions and philosophies, yet seemingly impractical and rarely honored in reality.  There are also some very useful references.  Enjoy! 

My wife Carolyn was a Professor of Psychology and Therapist for many years.  I tell people I am her principal client, and this is more true than I care to believe.  This morning she was thinking of the awful things that have happened recently in our world, and she penned the following lines that I think call for reflection.  She wrote:

“Maybe the horrors in our world are instigated and carried out by the very people who most need compassion and love–but they scare us so much that they trigger more fear and even hate, disgust, depression and despair.  These all need compassion, even if we cannot completely understand.  Surely our own acts that stem from fear, or lack, or a sense of scarcity, need compassionate and tender consideration?  If I am to commit fully to love, then I am also fully committed to extend love to all–even those who commit the most horrendous atrocities. This love seems so out of reach.  Yet once in a while I know its healing power.”

Here is a coda by Rumi:

With the Beloved’s water of life, no illness remains.

In the Beloved’s rose garden of union, no thorn remains.

They say there is a window from one heart to another.

How can there be a window where no wall remains?


My good blogger friend Hariod Braun offered this insight:

“I understand; though I shall have to allow disgust to play through first; that and many thoughts for the children, both dead and alive – I think they come first in the queue. [re: Peshawar]”

I of course agree–both with Hariod and with Carolyn.  With Hariod, I cannot help feeling anguish at the slaughter of innocent children and the ultimate sacrifice of dedicated teachers. Having lost a child, Carolyn and I both know the wrenching grief that the parents of Peshawar feel as they bury their children.  The vicious assassins of the Taliban fill my heart with anger, disgust and confusion. How can a grown man feel justified in the massacre of scores of children?   What kind of a monster could do this?

Yet with Carolyn, while acknowledge these feeling of revulsion, I find that they throw this most radical teaching of the world’s religions into bold relief.  It might be illuminating at this point to juxtapose these teachings:

Christianity, the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Judaism, Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9.4:  Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut his hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand.

Islam, Qur’an, 41.34-35: the good deed and the evil deed are not alike.  Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.

Islam, Qur’an 60.7: It may be that God will ordain love between you and those whom you hold as enemies.  For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving, Most merciful.

Buddhism, Dhammapada, 1.3-5: “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those who harbor such thoughts hatred is not appeased.  “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those ho do not harbor such thoughts hatred is appeased.  Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease.  This is an eternal law.

Hinduism, Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115: A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct.  One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death.  A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?

Taoism, Tao Te Ching, 49: The sage has not fixed ideas. He regards the people’s ideas as his own.  I treat those who are good with goodness, and I also treat those who are not good with goodness.  Thus goodness is attained.

There are so many theoretical quibbles among cultural belief systems–one life or many, one God or many, transubstantiation, the Filioque–which have few practical implications.  The most fundamental theme, however, is this seemingly impractical one of loving one’s enemies and doing good to those who hurt us.  This principle seems not only impractical, but downright wrong.  We need, people say, to reset the balance of Justice by punishing the evildoers, and it is astounding how often the almost universal teaching of love and compassion is honored in the breach.

The trick, I think, is to feel the feelings of disgust, sorrow, and revulsion, and to condemn and curtail the atrocities–man’s inhumanity to man–while still believing in the power and the decency of compassion; while still believing in the divine spark in every creature; while still acknowledging the unfathomable depths of every person’ soul.  As many of the quotes above imply, this is a terribly difficult thing to do both in the face of our raw feelings and in the need to actively intervene to stop cruelty–sometimes even in a war.  My most inspiring modern example of loving active resistance is Martin Luther King, Jr. whose letter from the Birmingham Jail is a magnificent rendering of Christian (and universal) values.  The most eloquent classical expression (that I know of) of the importance of compassion even in the midst of war is that of Lao Tzu in verse 31 of the Tao Te Ching:

Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.

Therefore followers of Tao never use them. […]

Good weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man’s tools.

He uses them only when he has no choice.

Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,

And victory no cause for rejoicing.

If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;

If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself. […]

This means that war is conducted like a funeral.

When many people are being killed,

they should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.

that is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.

Now please go back to the top and peruse the replies for a rich dialogue

Carolyn on Compassion

IMG_0306

My wife Carolyn was a Professor of Psychology and Therapist for many years.  I tell people I am her principal client, and this is more true than I care to believe.  This morning she was thinking of the awful things that have happened recently in our world, and she penned the following lines that I think call for reflection.  She wrote:

“Maybe the horrors in our world are instigated and carried out by the very people who most need compassion and love–but they scare us so much that they trigger more fear and even hate, disgust, depression and despair.  These all need compassion, even if we cannot completely understand.  Surely our own acts that stem from fear, or lack, or a sense of scarcity, need compassionate and tender consideration?  If I am to commit fully to love, then I am also fully committed to extend love to all–even those who commit the most horrendous atrocities. This love seems so out of reach.  Yet once in a while I know its healing power.”

Here is a coda by Rumi:

With the Beloved’s water of life, no illness remains.

In the Beloved’s rose garden of union, no thorn remains.

They say there is a window from one heart to another.

How can there be a window where no wall remains?