Saturday, 8 January 2011

A Reflection on Compassion and Non-Violence

Sunday will be the 8th day of the experimental No Impact Week and it is suggested we have an 'Eco-Sabbath'  by keeping all our electrical gadgets switched off.  I plan to visit my parents tomorrow, so that will be easy for part of the day, but I shall probably switch my computer on in the evening to skype my hubby, who is in Lausanne at the moment.

I think it is good to have a day a week to allow ourselves to unwind and reflect and be spiritual, in the sense of connecting with our deeper self, with other people and with the natural world around us.  I think I would still call myself a Christian, although I haven't been to church in a while, but these days my spirituality doesn't involve rules or doctrine, in fact that sort of thing strikes me as likely to stifle spirituality.

A couple of years ago I came across a Buddhist who writes books that made a lot of sense to me, and indeed one of his books is called 'Living Buddha, Living Christ' showed me an expression of Christianity that was very close to what I had come to believe at the same time as presenting Buddhism as very similar.  Both Jesus Christ and the Buddha seem to have wanted to show people a better way of living and these very similar ways have been adopted and adapted over the years into something rather different from what they were meant to be.

The Buddhist writer, a Zen Master called Thich Nhat Hanh, who worked out his own ideas of 'engaged Buddhism' during the Vietnam War and was exiled as a result, has also written a book called, 'For a Future To Be Possible', which I'm reading at the moment.  The first part of this little book looks at 'the Five Mindfulness Trainings', which are an essential part of Buddhism and Thich Nhat Hanh interprets them for modern life.

The first of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals.  I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking and in my way of life.

If you feel this sets a rather high standard, don't be daunted.  Later in this book Thich Nhat Hanh says that it is important to set the standard high so that we aim high.  The higher we aim, the more we shall achieve, but it doesn't matter if we don't hit the target entirely.  The thing is that we do our best at any given time.

In considering what this mindfulness training means for us Thich Nhat Hanh says that
"it is important for us to stay in touch with the suffering in the world . . . in order to keep compassion alive in us.  But we must be careful not to take in too much.  Any remedy must be taken in the proper dosage.  We need to stay in touch with suffering only to the extent that we will not forget, so that compassion will flow within us and be a source of energy for our actions.  If we use anger at injustice we may do something harmful, something that later we may live to regret. According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe.  With compassion, your energy is born from insight; it is not blind energy."

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 21 and 22 we are told that Jesus said, "“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement."

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, 
"It is not just by not killing with your body that you observe the First Mindfulness Training.  If in your thinking you allow the killing to go on, you also break this training. We must be determined not to condone killing, even in our minds.  According to the Buddha, the mind is the base of all actions.  It is more dangerous to kill in the mind. . ."

"When we protest against a war, for example, we may assume that we are a peaceful person, a representative of peace, but this isn't necessarily true.  If we look deeply, we will observe that he roots of war are in the unmindful ways we have been living. . . "

"To practice non-violence, first of all we have to practice it within ourselves.  In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of non-violence. Depending on our state of being, our response to things will be more or less non-violent. . ."

"By cultivating peace within, we bring about peace in society.  It depends on us.  To practice peace in ourselves is to minimise the numbers of wars between this and that feeling, or this and that perception, and we can then have real peace with others as well, including the members of our own family. . ."
"We have to look deeply every to practice this training well.  Every time we buy or consume something, we may be condoning some form of killing. While practising the protection of humans, animals, plants and minerals, we know that we are protecting ourselves. . ."

"Feeling compassion is not enough, we must learn to express it.  That is why love must go together with understanding.  Understanding and insight show us how to act. Our real enemy is forgetfulness.  If we nourish mindfulness every day and water the seeds of peace in ourselves and those around us, we become alive, and we can help ourselves and others realize peace and compassion. . ."

"The practice of the First Mindfulness Training is a celebration of reverence for life. When we appreciate and honour the beauty of life, we will do everything in our power to protect all life."


  1. I hope you enjoy your Eco Sabbath.

  2. Thanks for your post, the US has gone totally bonkers with 'stuff' since our Tucson shooter episode and your more recent review of Thich Nhat Hanh's materials has helped to calm me immensly. I actually found your blog through your former site which I found in a search for "Living Faith", trying to prepare a message for consideration for a set of Methodist events.

    Thanks for being who you are!
    Feel the Blessings

  3. Thank you, Gai, I did.

    Hello Dillon and thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found my post helpful. The shooting is very sad, I'm sure a lot of people must have been shaken by it.


All relevant comments to this post are welcome, so feel free to have your say.