Greater Toledo has joined a list of communities that emphasize compassion in their actions by signing the international Charter for Compassion—and doing the prior work, including at the government level, to qualify as a signatory by showing that the area has a grounding in compassion. The charter's first sentence is “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.” That Golden Rule reference to ethics is how political bodies can be a part of the Charter for Compassion movement, as compassion is an element for both church and state.
The Charter for Compassion came into being in 2009, after author Karen Armstrong worked with the TED organization when it promised to grant her “a wish for a better world.” After input from thousands via the Internet and fine-tuning by a group of religion scholars, a simple charter was made public (see charterforcompassion.org/charter for the full text). Then a movement started for compassionate cities to be declared, with Seattle leading the way.
The work to bring greater Toledo into the Compassionate Community circle was not an effort by religions in the area, though it was largely organized by the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, which began Toledo's Compassionate Community initiative, and the co-chairs of its executive board, Judy Lee and Woody Trautman. The MultiFaith Council's member covenant is compassion-oriented: “I vow to intentionally grow in the compassion and understanding that will encourage me to live peacefully with all my neighbors.” Most of the Toledo effort was by religious individuals, working together, intending for compassion to spread consciously beyond temple, tabernacle, synagogue, mosque, coven, and church and into everyday, region-wide life.
So now that greater Toledo has become compassion-certified and its residents will grow as peaceful neighbors, how do we keep our compassionate focus?
While religion is not a requirement for compassion, religions place great emphasis on it, so compassion-oriented religious practices might apply outside of faith. I look at Buddhism in that aspect. It's not just that I took a course in theology school titled “Buddhism: The Face of Compassion,” where I learned about the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara, also known as Guanyin and having many other names; the Dalia Lama is said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara. Many Buddhists believe that bodhisattvas are people who have chosen not to become buddhas, or achieve full awakening, so that as bodhisattvas they can instead help others to reach that ultimacy. You might say they continue taking on suffering in this world so others won't have to, which is a fine description of a compassionate act.
Buddhist wisdom could help with the what's-next question. The Rev. Jay Rinsen Weik, Osho is the senior priest at the Great Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo; the "Osho" designation means in essence that his teacher, the Rev. James Myo'un Ford (who was one of my professors in seminary), recognizes him as an independent Zen teacher in a lineage that is traced back to the Buddha. Rev. Rinsen said that in Buddhism, “The first thing that's held up is equanimity, centeredness, presence. From there it moves into wisdom, and wisdom is having insight into the actual nature of reality, the actual nature of ourselves and the world we engage in.
"Strictly speaking, in Buddhist terms what compassion means is the response to wisdom. It's a universal fact that when any person of any tradition sees into the nature of existence in a meaningful way, the result is always this thing called compassion, that's what happens. If you're a 16th century Spaniard, you're going to word it in different ways than a sixth century person in India, of course, but we assert that what compassion actually is, is it's what an awakened person does. It's the natural response to finding oneself in the ridicuouls position of being alive, you know, to actually be. And when that's realized, then compassion is the instant thing.”
But compassion isn't the complete thing. Rev. Rinsen said, “A lot of people think or feel that you just need to get to compassion and that's it, but actually part of the next step is to be creatively engaged with it.” Creativity, he said, “is where the arts, poetry, visual stuff, music, whatever, contributes to the art of life. Living a compassionate life actually is an act of artistic endeavor. It's not just feeling empathy, although that's in the mix, but how do you really engage it? That's why in Zen, or with my students in the Dharma, some kind of a creative practice is a part of the spiritual path— poetry or writing or something; it can be gardening, I suppose, but we actually use that as part of the training that we do.”
We can quantify compassion, to a degree, by counting volunteering as an act of compassion, numbering meals given away to help others, calculating the benefits to the community from a health fair. But there are qualitative effects from creative compassion — how a conversation can change a person, that an unseen act of care can make someone's life better. Compassion is the Golden Rule, and its measure is limitless.
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