Monday, 2 July 2018

Compassion through acceptance

A great Buddhist teacher said that we can feel compassion for others through understanding. Compassion for those who have wronged us, he continued, can be achieved by understanding that the other person suffers too.

I don't consider myself to have any particular wisdom, but it strikes me that the aim is acceptance, possibly without first understanding. How can we truly understand another? We're subject to our own frame of reference, and see others through the lens of our experience. We project the things we find unacceptable in ourselves onto others, and see them as failings of that person's character. We transfer feelings we had for someone in our past onto someone in our present, simply because they are in some way similar.

Our understanding of others is limited, especially when we make assumptions rather than asking the questions which might correct our initial impression. Yes, we can achieve some level of understanding through putting aside our preconceived notions of who that person may be, but there's a point where we have to accept what we don't understand.

The inability to accept what we don't understand has real consequences. It troubles me to hear the way in which people from other lands are described by our print and broadcast media, and discussed on various platforms on the internet. I see fear, hatred and anger, rather than the compassion that our Buddhist friend rightly advocates.

How fully can we understand the experience of someone from another land, another culture, with values, beliefs and attitudes which may vary greatly from our own? Our understanding is likely to be limited, so we may ask them about their experience, their way of seeing the world around them. How likely are they to be open, though, if we don't first offer acceptance? How likely are we to listen, if we don't first offer acceptance?

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