SPIRITUALITY | Compassion: The heart of the golden rule

By Sharon Taylor –

You’ve heard the Golden Rule in many forms throughout your life: treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Don’t treat people in a way you wouldn’t like to be treated.

The Buddha said: Treat not others in ways you would yourself find hurtful (Udana Vargas 5.18).

The Prophet Mohammed said: No one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself (Hadith).

Rabbi Hillel said: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all else is commentary (Talmud, Shabbat at 31a).

Nearly all major faiths share at their core the idea that compassion – loving kindness – is a fundamental human response to the world we live in. While humans do compete for food and space, they have also learned through the years that they only thrive as a society by coming together in community, caring together for the aged and the children, and sharing resources so that more of the tribe – inter-related families – can improve their lives.

St Peter’s Anglican Church in Williams Lake has received Anglican Foundation funding to develop an Inter-faith Circle with interested faith groups working together to strengthen the community through building compassion. Learning about each other’s history, core beliefs, and lived faith can help us to find points of similarity, such as the idea of giving thanks for blessings received. It can also help us find points of divergence, such as the very idea of God. Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahá’í, and Christian people are exploring these ideas together, finding it both eye-opening and challenging.

In order to start on common ground, the Inter-faith Circle has looked to Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, a statement developed in consultation with many faith-based groups around the world. The Charter has inspired a global compassion movement based on the belief that “a compassionate world is possible when every man, woman, and child treats others as they wish to be treated—with dignity, equity, and respect.” www.charterforcompassion.org/

Compassion can be defined as the ability to see the suffering of others, and the desire to lessen that suffering through our actions. Many people choose to show compassion for others directly: collecting and delivering food to a food bank; adopting a rescued animal; donating money towards refugee support or medical research. In Williams Lake, individual “pay it forward” actions are common: someone pays for the next person’s order in the Tim Horton’s drive-thru; someone covers the bill for a person caught short in the grocery line up.

Some businesses take this idea a step further: internationally, coffee shops participate in the Suspended Coffee movement by accepting payment for a ‘suspended’ coffee from customers, then offering that coffee to someone who needs it. Locally, 4Sure Bistro on Second Avenue accepts a $5 “pay it forward” from customers, so the restaurant is able to offer a meal to someone who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. This way, customers support businesses offering compassionate service. http://suspendedcoffees.com/

Kindness is the first step towards becoming a more compassionate person, but it is only the first step: recognizing that others have the same needs, rights, and desires as you do. The next step is acknowledging that others’ needs, rights, and desires are as important and valid as yours are, and then fighting to ensure that others have equal access to safe water, or legal representation, or a system free of discrimination. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals lists 17 common issues, including poverty, health, education, environment, gender equity, peace, and justice that require governments, social development organizations, and individuals to work together to solve. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

As our understanding of the world becomes larger because we know more about places we might never see for ourselves, and at the same time smaller, because we know more about individuals we may never meet in person, our understanding of “tribe” must also grow. We are not many races. We are one race—the human race. And we do not live on this planet by ourselves—our actions and inactions affect every sentient being, every living and growing organism, the very ground beneath our feet, and the air we take into our lungs. Without expanding our notion of compassion to include everything around us, we will not be able to keep what we have, never mind thrive in the future.

The Inter-faith Circle is open to anyone interested and meets every two weeks. Discussion groups are looking at Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, online and in small meetings. Please contact St Peter’s Anglican Church at wlchurch@telus.net and leave your contact information for the Reverend Keith or Kris Dobyns.

Sharon Taylor has lived in Williams Lake most of the past 35 years with her husband Rob. Together they have raised four loving and compassionate children, have taught hundreds of students in elementary school and at the university, and have been leaders in the Anglican church here and in Vancouver. Sharon now works with the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to help newcomers to Canada settle in the Cariboo.

 

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