Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Ancient Tree Blooms: The Awakening of Compassion

Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers,
But the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms.

~ Ikkyu Sojun

They say that the fruits of Buddhist practice are the awakening of wisdom and compassion.  As we grow in our practice, we first notice, then nurture, the blooming of these precious flowers in ourselves and others.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this manifests in our society, especially our attitude to the suffering we inflict on women, other races and religions, gays and lesbians, the disabled, the addicted and mentally ill, and also other species.  There is a pattern that seems to repeat as we strive with each of these issues.

Schopenhauer said that every new truth goes through three stages:  First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is violently opposed.  Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

It’s easy to imagine the mustachioed chauvinists in the men’s clubs of the last century smirking about the ridiculous notion that women should have equal rights.  As the women’s liberation movement gained momentum, their casual dismissiveness escalated to righteous indignation and then to frightened fury.

First, the law was changed, making a woman no longer a man’s property, then women were permitted to own property, then vote, then hold office.  Today it’s a no-brainer that our sisters are equal to us in every way.  Sadly, it’s not yet so self-evident to our brothers in all parts of the world.  Or for that matter at home, where you still hear us say “the wife” and “the little lady”.

The same pattern repeated with the abolition of slavery, then segregation, then racial prejudice – at least in the eyes of the law.

It’s heartening that many things we considered to be ‘politically correct’, such as gender-neutral language, are now just plain ‘correct’.  In hindsight, the whole political correctness issue seems like an awkward adolescent phase we were going through.

I feel a twinge of sadness when we slip a notch or two, as with the introduction of things like live crab vending machines and (*sigh*) meat-eating furniture

Recently, on the animal liberation front, we seem to be at Shopenhauer’s second stage with several states proposing laws to make it illegal to take or publish pictures of the mistreatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses.  To wit: [a] person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree.

On the cheerier side, it’s a joy to read about our steps forward, as last year when Catalonia became the first region in Spain to ban bullfighting, and when Illinois abolished the death penalty earlier this month.

Reminders of evolving compassion are everywhere.  The photo is a Vancouver bus that accommodates motorized wheelchairs.

I think the internet and the social media networks are playing a major role in accelerating the flowering of compassion.  We can participate by forging links, one person at a time, by taking every opportunity to share and be kind, and above all, by remaining diligent in our daily practice, for without that, it’s all just words.

Who is asking this question?
What wants to know?
An ancient tree blooms


  1. I am touched by the gentleness with which you discuss such a difficult topic. Thank you!

  2. Thank you David, for gift of our connection in the blogosphere. Your comments have brought much into my life. And so do your posts. Today, I would add elders to your categories of disenfranchised. I have the privilege of serving elders living with forgetfulness (a kinder and more accurate word than dementia) and I can see firsthand the scale of the societal stigma that is affecting them. Much work to do there and why I am so inspired to go down that work path!

    May your day be filled with mindfulness, and loving kindness, and poetry!


  3. Wendy, Genju and Marguerite, thank you for your very kind words. As a newcomer to the blogosphere and the twitterverse, I'm still deeply touched (and hopefully will continue to be) by the mutual support that people express to each other. I can't see this not continuing to spread after we have turned our screens off and go about our 'other' lives. (We do turn our screens off sometimes, right?) Marguerite, thank you - I would definitely add elders to the groups we stigmatize. I'll bet you spread a lot of happiness in your work with them.

  4. A lovely thoughtful post. Thankyou for expressing these things! Its awful to think that the publication of images will be illegal, but the mistreatment of animals will not. Bah.

  5. Ah - What a gift! I surely did over-look and miss this gem!

    Everything you said then - is relevant today... Even the re-introduction of the law (in Florida) to ban photographing animal agriculture. But there is more good news too - Among the best is more awareness of and intolerance to social injustice.

    Yes - Things are changing... One idea, one word and one person at a time.

  6. Thanks very much, Bea. Being impatient for faster change (really - who wouldn't be - with thousands of sentient beings being slaughtered as we speak?), it's easy to give in to despair. All we can do is work hard, practice hard, take some comfort in the signs of spring, and take a lot of comfort in knowing there are kindred spirits out there. So much to be grateful for!


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