9 Week Study Course for
"Ethics For the New Millennium"

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Study Guide Week Five
• Chapter 8
• Chapter 9

Chapter 8 - The Ethic of Compassion

Key Concepts
Compassion is based on the innate human sense of empathy, and can be developed without limit. We can extend our compassion to the point where the individual feels so moved by even the subtlest suffering of others that they come to have an overwhelming sense of responsibility towards those others. While this “great compassion” is an ideal to inspire us, it is not necessary to attain it to lead an ethically wholesome life.

Equanimity. If we reserve ethical conduct for those whom we feel close to, the danger is that we will neglect our responsibilities toward those outside this circle. The categories of friend, enemy and stranger are not stable. If our love is based on attractiveness, and we feel compassionate only to those on a lower social scale than us, our compassion is not stable. Compassion based on equanimity provides a much more solid basis for our relationships with others. So in order to develop compassion we must struggle against feelings of partiality.

Equanimity is not detached indifference. The essential challenge as we begin to extend our compassion toward all others is to maintain the same level of intimacy as we feel toward those closest to us. This is the ground in which to plant the seed that will grow into great compassion.

Self-interest. Does commitment to this ideal of compassion mean we must abandon our own interests? To the contrary, it is the best way of achieving our aim of happiness, the wisest course for fulfilling self-interest. Why? Because if qualities such as love, patience, tolerance and forgiveness are what happiness consists in, and if compassion is both the source and fruit of these qualities, then the more we are compassionate, the more we provide for our own happiness.

There is a common attitude that compassion is actually an impediment to success in professional life. But when compassion is lacking, our activities are in danger of becoming destructive. The ethic of compassion provides the necessary foundation and motivation for both restraint and the cultivation of virtue.

Barriers to compassion. If this ideal of love and compassion seems too high and difficult, consider the alternatives to seeking happiness: violence and aggression? Money?

Problems include burnout and “going through the motions.” If this starts to happen, best to disengage for a while, regroup, and make a deliberate effort to reawaken the basic sensitivity towards others’ suffering. Despair is never a solution. It is, rather, the ultimate failure. Perseverance is necessary.

A common objection is that the ideal of compassion requires one to enter into the suffering of others, thereby bringing suffering onto oneself. Remember, there is an important qualitative distinction between experiencing one’s own suffering and experiencing suffering in the course of sharing in the suffering of others.

The bottom line: compassion and love are not luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.


Discussion Questions
1. Can you recall a moment in which you have experienced a strong sense of compassion? What moved you so? How do you relate to this strong compassion? As a form of suffering or joy or responsibility or what?

2. Take an extended look at where you draw the boundary of your sense of empathy and compassion. Family? Extended family? Close friends? Acquaintances? Colleagues? Company? Town? Nation? Poor people?

3. Who do you think of as justifiably outside your circle of empathy and compassion? Strangers? Democrats?
Republicans? People of a different race? Abortionists? Murderers? Pedophiles? Hitler?

4. What do you make of the Dalai Lama’s assertion that equanimity is the fertile ground within which the seed of great compassion can grow?

5. In what ways do you experience a conflict between compassion and asserting one’s interests in the real world? In what ways do you see them as aligned?

6. Is compassion weak?

7. What barriers have you experienced to practicing and developing compassion? What motivates or helps you to persevere?

Practice Exercises
1. Once a week set aside time to expand your circle of compassion. Bring to mind an individual or group outside your boundary of compassion. Spend time cultivating a sense of empathy for them and their suffering and transform this empathy into compassion.

2. When your self-interest and compassion seem to be in conflict, use journaling to reflect on how the lack of compassion for others may be connected with destructive behaviors that will have long term if not short term consequences for you. How could restraint and cultivation of virtue be useful?


Chapter 9 - Ethics and Suffering

Key Concepts
In this chapter, the Dalai Lama discusses the types of suffering we experience, the positive and negative aspects of suffering, and offers ways we can alleviate it in our lives.

Nature of Suffering. In our quest for happiness we naturally and properly seek to avoid suffering, which lies at the very heart of our existence. It is a natural fact of life. Suffering also connects us to others and is the basis of our capacity for empathy. Suffering falls into two interrelated categories:
• Avoidable forms arising as consequences of war, poverty, violence, crime, illiteracy, and disease; and
• Unavoidable forms arising from problems of sickness, old age, and death. Other forms of unavoidable suffering include meeting with the unwanted – mishaps, accidents, and adversity – lack of contentment, and the phenomena that pleasurable experiences themselves tend to become a source of suffering.

Cause of suffering. According to Buddhist and other Indian religions/philosophies, suffering is seen as a consequence of karma, which is a Sanskrit word meaning action. It denotes an active force in which future events are influenced by our actions. Everything is not predetermined. We create karma ourselves. In everything we do there is cause and effect.

Experience of suffering. There is much we can do to influence our experience of suffering. How we respond to it has an impact. We can be dispassionate and rational or fret over our misfortunes. We can accept it and use it to develop inner strength or be bitter about it. There is a clear relationship between the impact suffering has on our heart and mind and our practice of inner discipline.

The degree to which suffering affects us is largely up to us. Suffering is magnified by self- absorption. If we let a problem engulf us, we suffer. If we look at the problem from a distance, we will see it in relation to other things. It may help to compare the problem with similar or worse events others or we have experienced. If we shift our focus away from self towards others, if we come to see our problem in relation to others’ suffering, we experience a freeing effect and more peace of mind.

The Dalai Lama mentioned that he deals with difficult situations by remembering that the basic human disposition toward affection, freedom, truth and justice must eventually prevail. The time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty. With the right approach, such as a positive attitude, the experience of suffering can open our eyes to reality. Our confidence, self-reliance and courage can grow and be strengthened as a result of suffering.

In response to difficult problems, we can
• Feel overwhelmed or go on a picnic, take a holiday, ignore it. These options bring short-term relief but the problem remains. If we avoid a difficult issue, we cannot resolve it. Mental and emotional unrest will follow.
• Face up to the situation directly; examine and analyze the problem, determine its causes and find out how to deal with them. This approach is preferred even though it may bring more pain temporarily. If we desire to confront suffering head on, we can remember that nothing within the realm of what we commonly experience is permanent. Everything that arises does so within the context of innumerable causes and conditions and is subject to change. The causes of joy and sorrow do not rely on a single source.

Shantideva’s advice on suffering.
The Dalai Lama finds the advice of Shantideva, an Indian scholar-saint, simple and helpful. Whatever difficulties we face, we should not let them paralyze us. Instead, examine the problem. If we find possible solutions, there is no need to worry. If there are no solutions, there is also no need to worry. If nothing can change the situation, worry will only make it worse.

Suffering can awaken our empathy, cause us to connect with others and serve to increase our compassion and love. Unfortunate events are potential sources of anger and despair and also, equally, sources of spiritual growth. The choice is up to us and how we respond.

Discussion Questions
1. What is your definition of suffering? On what is it based?

2. How do you view karma? What is your experience of causes leading to effects?

3. What is your normal way of dealing with a problem or difficult situation?

4. Have you ever been strengthened by suffering? If so, in what ways?

5. Has suffering ever connected you with others? If so, how?

6. Are you someone who worries? What results have you experienced?

7. In what ways, if any, will your approach to suffering change after reading this chapter?

Practice Exercises

1. Define a current problem in your life that is causing you to suffer. Examine it and identify its causes. Deal with it in a “new” way.

Quotes on Suffering
from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Source: The Path to Tranquility, compiled and edited by Renuka Singh

Suffering increases your inner strength. Also, the wishing for suffering makes the suffering disappear.

Encountering sufferings will definitely contribute to the elevation of your spiritual practice, provided you are able to transform the calamity and misfortune into the path.

We learn from the principle of dependent origination that things and events do not come into being without causes. Suffering and unsatisfactory conditions are caused by our own delusions and the contaminated actions induced by them.

The truth of suffering is that we experience many different types of suffering. The three categories are: suffering of suffering – this refers to things such as headaches; suffering of change – this is related to the feeling of restlessness after being comfortable; and all-pervasive suffering that acts as the basis of the first two categories and is under the control of karma and the disturbing mind.

In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.

We have been and are still going through endless suffering without deriving any benefit whatever from it. Now that we have promised to be good hearted, we should try not to get angry when others insult us. Being patient might not be easy. It requires considerable concentration. But the result we achieve by enduring these difficulties will be sublime. That is something to be happy about!

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