Compassion and Consciousness

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    Profile photo of Shannon Kelly
    Shannon Kelly

    On page 124 of Ethics For The New Millennium the Dalai Lama states that, “Compassion shares the characteristics of consciousness itself.” What does he mean by this?

    • This topic was modified 5 years, 9 months ago by Profile photo of elliott elliott.
    Profile photo of Thomas-James Trump
    Thomas-James Trump

    What the Dalai Lama means is that our consciousness is naturally programmed to be compassionate towards others. Like our consciousness, compassion gradually builds up over time and cannot be depleted like water. Being compassionate towards someone in pain, either physically or emotionally, not only builds up our compassion, it also expands consciousness by forcing us to be aware of other people’s suffering as well. Over time, our compassion and consciousness will become such that as soon as we see someone suffering, we will work to end all forms of suffering the individual has endured. Therefore, being compassionate is only a natural component of our consciousness that can expand its awareness of others.

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    Jaclyn Drummond

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama then goes on to say that because the characteristics of compassion and consciousness are synonymous by nature, now as humans our job is develop a stable and continuous state of each. It seems like a large part of his teachings revolve around mindfulness. And just like mindfulness, humans can be compassionate but rarely without thought and effort. There must be ways, exercises even, that help us strengthen that mindset and thus it becomes more and more stable. More and more part of the everyday, rather than a question for discussion. Imagine that while walking down the street on your way to work, a coffee shop, even the sidewalk to your mailbox, you started noticing the color of the neighbors cars, how many children’s’ bikes are laying around, even trying to guess the temperature of the breeze. That is mindfulness. If you take that same idea but walk on a street in a cold, lonely, and dark night hopefully you would notice the chill in the air, the darkness of the city and certainly the homeless people. That is the beginning of compassion. Pairing the ability to see things, details and take the time to absorb and care about them, and remember them would eventually translate into sympathy, maybe even empathy and from that compassion. When we can take the time to open our eyes and truly see, for this example, those cold, lonely homeless people we can identify with their pain. Clearly HH Dalai Lama is on to something great and perhaps even obvious, but regardless it appears to be true.

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    Jaclyn Drummond

    Thomas-James, I believe you have a very solid insight on this topic. I do however want to ask you if you believe that some people, no matter if “consciousness is naturally programmed to be compassionate” into all of us, but that some can push away feelings of empathy and compassion? If you are a compassionate person and you really try to help others in pain, yes that makes sense that you would become more and more compassionate. But for those that force compassion away from them, what is to be said about the nature of such things? Instead of becoming more aware of others pain do you think they become more self-centered in an attempt to distance themselves? Just a thought, thanks for your great post!

    Profile photo of Campbell

    Consciousness is the fabric of our reality. Compassion is the stitching that holds the web together. Compassion and consciousness are interrelated because compassion is the understanding of one consciousness to another. The Dalai Lama is referring to this interwoven process of how consciousness is connected and how each individual consciousness has a drive to be compassionate and connect to others like it.

    Profile photo of Ivanich

    I must disagree with Thomas-James Trump’s notion that compassion is an innate component of human consciousness. I do not believe that humans have any natural inclination to be compassionate toward anyone. Compassion is a social norm that is imposed on humans by the culture that they exist in. Furthermore, humans must choose to be compassionate by becoming conscious of the world around them. I am also very skeptical of the idea that compassion and consciousness can become so significantly linked that an individual can be compelled to aid a suffering person without conscious choice. There is always the choice to aid the suffering. I believe that this is the nature of consciousness as it relates to compassion.

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    Lexi Julien

    In Ethics For The New Millennium, the Dalai Lama argues that many of the characteristics that help promote ethical conduct, such as empathy and discernment, are inherent abilities for all human beings. He says that we are all born with the capability to love, to relate to others, to rationalize a situation. When the Dalai Lama says that “Compassion shares the characteristics of consciousness itself” (124), he means that compassion arises as naturally as our consciousness—it simply exists. He also goes on to say that, like consciousness, “The potential we have to develop [compassion] is therefore stable and continuous” (124). There is no limit to the amount of compassion one can have for others, and the more we sensitize ourselves to the wellbeing of those around us, the more compassion we will have. Compassion is also similar to consciousness in that one must be aware of themselves before they can expand their ability to feel compassion. We all possess a basic level of consciousness, but if we do not make the active choice to become aware of ourselves and our world, our consciousness will not grow and we will not tap into its full potential. Compassion works in the same way. If we do not recognize when we feel compassionate or we do not try to feel for others when they are faced with suffering, we will not be fully aware of the level of compassion that we are capable of. As the Dalai Lama says, “when we enhance our sensitivity toward others’ suffering through deliberately opening ourselves up to it…we can gradually extend our compassion to the point where the individual feels so moved by even the subtlest suffering of others that they come to have an overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those others” (124). To practice compassion, one must also practice awareness, and with awareness comes a heightened state of feeling for others and an expanded consciousness.

    Profile photo of Alyssa

    The Dalai Lama is talking about how consciousness is an instilled quality in humans; therefore we all have the capability to have compassion. Consciousness is the awareness of self and of others, being compassionate means that you are able to use this awareness to help yourself and others. In order to have compassion, you must have awareness and awareness is an innate trait in humans. There is never a point of too much awareness; it is something that grows over a full lifetime, therefore the possibilities for compassion are endless. I have struggled with the idea of compassion. I have gone most of my life just assuming I didn’t have compassion. The truth is, is that I am very aware of other peoples’ situations and I have compassion, I just don’t know how to express it. Being raised under tough-love conditions, I often think it is appropriate to tell someone to just shake off whatever is getting them down, but I always have to refrain because not everyone is able to process things like I do and they may not see the good intentions behind my words. Consciousness comes easily, but compassion is a difficult art to master and I have a long way to go before reaching the beginners stage.

    Profile photo of renata-massion

    Compassion is not an end-goal, it is a way of conscious living. The Dalai Lama states, “But this sense of equanimity toward all others is not seen as an end in itself. Rather, it is seen as a springboard to a love still greater.” (Pg. 123) The view of equanimity also transfers to cultivating compassion in everyday life. Compassion is not a tangible thing that one can run out of, the more one employs compassion the greater the capacity for compassion. The Dalai Lama says, “Based on the simple recognition that, just as I do, so do all others desire to be happy and not to suffer, it will serve as a constant reminder against selfishness and partiality. It will remind us that if we reserve ethical conduct for those whom we feel close to, the danger is that we will neglect our responsibilities toward those outside this circle. It will remind us that there is little to be gained from being kind and generous because we hope to win something in return. It will remind us that actions motivated by desire to create a good name for ourselves are still selfish, however much they may appear to be acts of kindness. It will also remind us that there is nothing exceptional about acts of charity toward those we already feel close to. And it will help us recognize that the bias we naturally feel toward our families and friends is actually a highly unreliable thing on which to base ethical conduct.” (Pg. 125) This explains that compassion is not something to be hoarded or reserved for those one deems most worthy, it is something to be afforded to all beings one comes in contact with because when compassion is shared, it also grows, and the capacity for compassion expands as well. Because repeated use of compassion heightens the capability for compassion, the act of compassion is something that should share its frequency with breathing and consciousness itself, it should become second nature to share compassion with all others. This compassion creates an inner peace and therefore when it is shared, so too is that peace with the world.

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    Caitlin Gray-Harley

    The Chain Reaction of Consciousness and Compassion

    When we show compassion towards someone, we are usually conscious of who they are and why we are compassionate towards them. Consciousness and compassion go hand-in-hand. Compassion towards someone comes from understanding what they are going through and how it feels to be in that certain disposition. We can’t show compassion for everyone in the world because we don’t understand what everyone is going through. However, for the people that we do understand, it is important to let them know. Compassion helps us feel like we’re not alone in the world; like we matter.

    Even though none of us are really alone, sometimes it’s hard to remember that; it’s hard to be conscious of that. It only takes one person to speak up and say, “hello”, or “it is so lovely to see you today”, to bring a sudden flow of consciousness into a room. If you stop and take a look around every once in a while to really notice someone and their role in your life, it could change you entire outlook on your own role and how you want to pursue it in the near future, or even right now. When you are aware, it changes the quality of everything and everyone. If you stop and take a look around, chances are that other people will too. I call this the chain reaction of consciousness and compassion.

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    While I agree with many of the people’s comments within this thread that compassion is undeniably linked with consciousness, I do not believe that you must be familiar with someone or their situation to demonstrate compassion. The Merria-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This means that you are aware that another person is experiencing suffering or hardship and you acknowledge it, but merely acknowledgement is not equivalent to action. To be truly compassionate one must demonstrate a concerted effort to minimize or end the individual’s suffering. While, yes, you might know the person or be able to relate to their struggle that does not necessarily dictate the boundaries of your compassion. I believe that to be considered a compassionate person you must illustrate your intention and caring for humans as a whole, shown through the aid of complete strangers as well as family members or friends. It is impossible to help every single person on the planet or demonstrate compassion for each individual you encounter, but it is certainly possible to develop and enhance a sense of consciousness towards those around you, familiar or not.

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    Lena Wiley

    Like consciousness, there are different levels of compassion that one can achieve, the greatest form being “nying je chenmo.” The Tibetan term, nying je chenmo literally means “great compassion,” but the Dalai Lama explains it as “(the ability to) Gradually extend out compassion to the point where the individual feels so moved by even the subtlest sufferings of others that they come to have an overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those others.”(Page 124) Consciousness, as I understand it, is the awareness one has of oneself; once you are aware of yourself, you can then become aware of other people around you. Just as someone can gradually extend out their consciousness to fully see and understand other people, the Dalai Lama argues that they can do the same with compassion. I think that by saying compassion shares the characteristics of conscience itself, he means that although Compassion and consciousness are different phenomena, they can be implicated in life in the same ways.

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    Zoe Kelly

    “Because our capacity for empathy is innate, and because the ability to reason is also an innate faculty, compassion shares the characteristics of consciousness itself.”

    -(The Dali-Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, page 123-124)

    Conscious is the gateway to gaining insight into your own state of being. In other words, it allows you to become in touch with your innermost motivation. Now for some, this might seem like an egotistical, narcissistic thing to cultivate; it is essentially the most self-centered quality in a person. But here, the Dali Lama compares it compassion, which, in its nature is the opposite of selfish. To understand this, it is important to re-analyze what it actually means to be “self-centered” in regards to consciousness.
    As the Dali Lama talks about in earlier chapters, humans come from dependent origination. No one can truly exist outside of the context of others.
    “We begin to see that the universe we inhabit can be understood in terms of a living organism where each cell works in balanced cooperation with every other cell to sustain the whole…It becomes apparent that our every action, every deed, word, and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for all others too.”
    (The Dali Lama, Ethics for the New Millenium, page 41)
    If this is true and we are all inter-connected, then compassion would be a natural result of heightened consciousness. As we realize the true nature of our being, we begin to realize how others wellbeing directly effects us. This leads to more compassionate and caring individuals.

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    Cassie Caborn

    In Ethics for the New Millenium, the discussion of compassion is critical to the idea of universal happiness. It is not a coincidence that all the world’s major religions stress the importance of cultivating love and compassion. Compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. When one recognizes that all beings are equal in their quest to obtain happiness, there is an ingrained feeling of empathy and closeness for humanity as a whole. One who develops great compassion does not change their attitude even when others behave negatively.
    On page 24, the Dalai Lama states, “Compassion shares the characteristics of consciousness itself.” I think that compassion aries without effort and is universal to all human beings. Consciousness is a sense of awareness and perception that begins to develop at the start of life. Compassion and Consciousness share the same fundamental characteristics of arising from the intellect or the constitution of the mind, rather than through a learned experience. Consciousness and compassion are qualities that can be developed eternally and they never reach a certain height and then go on no further. The qualities of compassion and consciousness go hand in hand in the concept of a continuously expanding and developing sense of self.

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    David Kerr

    Compassion shares the characteristics of consciousness because they are both related to awareness. Consciousness is the action of being aware of one’s self, while compassion is the action of being aware of others and realizing that they desire the same thing that you do; happiness. On page 124 of Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama says: “Based on the simple recognition that, just as I do, so do all others desire to be happy and not to suffer, it will serve as a constant reminder against selfishness and partiality.” By saying this, the Dalai Lama implies that we must be conscious of our actions both physically and mentally in order to achieve nying je chenmo, literally translated as “great compassion,” and that in doing so we will have the ability to restrain our negative emotions and actions.

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