Compassion in a time of crisis

In this time of crisis, one of the messages in the Bodhicaryāvatāra which had a resounding impact on me was the quote in the introduction that:

“All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.” (8.129)

One of the crucial aspect of the Mahayana tradition is this idea of the boddhisattva, a figure who chooses to continue to undergo the cycle of reincarnation and the suffering inherent in samsara in order to help completely alleviate the suffering of others. There appears to be, as Paul Williams the writer of the introduction phrases it, “no higher human sentiment” (ix).

Given that we are in a period where a lot of people are experiencing a great deal of suffering due to this virus, this made me start thinking about the type of person that I am and the type of person who I want to be. If I chose to accept all of the tenets of Buddhism as correct, and I had the opportunity to either escape suffering myself or have the dedication to commit myself to the task of alleviating the suffering of all other beings in the infinite cosmos, what would I choose? If I am being completely honest, it would be hard for me to say that I would choose the latter option. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but at the very least it speaks to the endless compassion which those who choose this path must feel towards all beings in the universe.

This has made me begin to think about how I could show more compassion to those in my own life who are suffering in this moment. Even if I would not be ready yet to make the ultimate sacrifice of myself to others, maybe I can start small with helping those around me, and that seems to be its own victory. For me, this has taken the form of spending more time with my family, messaging and talking to friends who have had a hard time with the adjustment, and even volunteering to talk to other people who are going through moments of crisis at this time. As a result, I have even found myself to be happier as a result (confirming the saying above)!

As we go through this together, self-care is extremely important, but it also seems like the reading encourages us to think about how we can help those around us as well. That is a thought which I will continue to ponder as the weeks go by, and maybe one day, as I develop my compassion, I will find myself willing to devote my life and entire existence to alleviating the suffering of others. Until that day, I will do what I can and be content that I have tried my best within the confines of my own experience.

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