Suffering, dis-ease, frustration, dissatisfaction, pain, misery, torment and grief – the disjointedness of so much of life – caused by desire, greed, and clinging attachments that manifest in possessiveness, ignorance, and aggression – suffering is ubiquitous. Suffering manifests in injustice and distortion of basic human rights. What do we do about this? For me it actions need to be grounded in recognition of and respect for the profound importance of empathy, and of empathy with all living human beings – deep, powerful empathy that evokes passionate and compassionate action. We need to understand each other, in each others’ terms, context, culture, history, and beliefs. And we need to think about the implications of our culture, history and beliefs for other people – how does all of that effect their lives? Then we can ask them to consider how all of their stuff affects our lives … and then we are ready to make some changes.
And all of that begins with understanding, understanding based on real knowledge …In his book, The Once and Future King T.H. White (1958, p. 183) presents a conversation between Merlyn and the young Arthur. Arthur is still a child, and has no idea that he will one day be King of England. He is anguishing over the loss of his childhood playmate and best friend, Sir Kay who is preparing to become a knight and so has abandoned his relationship with Arthur. Merlyn counsels Arthur,
“ The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”
Then when you know something, when you understand with your heart and mind, then go out and get your hands dirty (well engaged) and DO something. The Dali Lama once said, “compassion is not enough, you must act.” Truth be told, I think he was a little wrong. It’s not really compassion if you don’t act!
One thought on “Suffering, King Arthur, Empathy, Learning & Doing”
Yes, compassion is an over-used word, especially in Buddhism, my choice of practice. I It is like everything else; you cant turn it on and off like a tap. But I find – through my practice – feeling empathy more (mirror-neurons?) with the suffering of others, and of course, it can always start at ‘home’ – with oneself!