Filed in Compassion

Compassion Restored

An interview with Karen Armstrong, creator of the Charter for Compassion

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Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity, and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit, or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion • to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred, or disdain is illegitimate • to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions, and cultures • to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity • to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings— even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous, and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological, and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

To learn more about the Charter for Compassion, visit charterforcompassion.org.

Artwork by Liz Rideal, "Artichoke," and "Pretty Pear," Courtesy Liz Rideal and Gallery 339, Philadelphia

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jackelope65's picture

Mohammed Yunus, who began micro loans out of his own pocket in Bangladesh, also started the "Social Business" concept and wrote a book about it. The primary graph to demonstrate success uses customers served on the Y axis. However the business must be profitable. He teamed up with Yoplait to make tasty and very nutritious yogurt to sell for about 3 cents as well as Nike to sell 1 dollar sneakers: but these businesses, again, were profitable. His model is for compassionate and financially profitable business. To develop right action, we must first develop right intention.

sallyotter's picture

Could there be "compassionate capitalism"? What I see in the US now is the greed of the 1%, always wanting more. Putting their profits out of the country either in off-shore accounts or into factories propelled by slave labor. There really isn't the opportunity for the poor and middle class that the upper class portrays; it's all illusion, smoke and mirrors.
As a practicing Buddhist, I do my best not to support this rampant greed. I buy local, shop thrift stores, recycle everything. Compassion for the earth, the water, for my children and grandchildren and, by implication, their peers around the world. We are all in this together. And may I remind you, if you believe in rebirth, you will be returning to the world that you left in whatever shape you left it in.

jimgoldsworthy's picture

There is a movment among some economists to use the term economic freedom in place of capitalism. If we seriously consider the difference between the use of capital to aquire political power and the means of production and the economic freedom to use ones labor, talents, and knowledge to prosper in an economy we can start to move away from the present global capitalist system where those with the greatest financial resources either buy out their potential competitors or purchase political power to suppress them. Western society has limited how much political power an individual or group can amass. Perhaps we need to find ways to achieve this with economic power.

sds's picture

I am delighted to see this discussion of capitalism being sparked by Armstrong's discussion of compassion and I am delighted to read comments that recognize the reality of the harm that capitalist accumulation wreaks on the world. I don't think anyone here is saying 'down with capitalism' or yes to totalitarianism or communism or whatever other ism there might be. From my perspective, if we are to be a compassionate community we need to get away from knee-jerk reactions (which of course Buddhist training teaches us to do) and take a good hard, and dispassionate look at reality.

Will.Rowe's picture

I was quite shocked to see capitalism attacked here. The question "Do you think that compassion and capitalism can coexist?" is quite leading. To imply that they cannot is rather absurd isn’t it? We have proof here in America that it can and does. In fact it is not European socialists who give the most to help others through charities, but capitalist Americans. We are also the same country who gives the most to aid other countries in their times of suffering. The examples are countless.

And to state that: “capitalism relies on the suffering of others” is disingenuous if not deceitful. Capitalism has helped alleviate suffering. Suffering is the nature of this world, as the First Noble Truth points out, and was here long before capitalism. While capitalism certainly is not perfect—how could it be since it is administered by humans?—it certainly has proven the best economic plan for people who want to better themselves being allowed to do so. Consider the torture, literal enslavement, totalitarianism, and outright murder of 100 million by communism and the collective does not look so admirable.
As for suffering in other countries, I think as they embrace capitalism they can begin to eliminate their own suffering. Even, Communist China, who still persecutes religions, democratic proponents, and even a Nobel Prize winner, may one day be overthrown. How? By capitalism creating a middle class who demand certain human rights, which we here in the West take for granted. Communism does not recognize the right to own capital or even property. The collective in the form of a dictator under one party owns everything.

The questions posed and the ones not asked make wonder at the motivation behind the questions.

m.goulash's picture

Will.Rowe, I disagree that it is a leading question, given the simple fact that Karen Armstrong's reply implies that there is more than one kind of capitalism. Also, you are presenting a false choice by suggesting that the only alternative to the present form of capitalism is totalitarian communism. It is those kinds of conversation killers that serve to prevent any kind of reform. Thank you for your comments, though, and I wish you well even though we disagree.

two.z3ro's picture

What is it about "capitalist America" that we don't also rely on the supposedly enlightened, on super-committees, and a false perception that our justice is best and that we should have so much confidence in it? We have a system that entertains a "debate" of whether we should strengthen our social welfare or push for more personal responsibility from individuals, as if the two were mutually exclusive somehow, and not symbiotic. I suppose to make it clear what influences my reply most is any suggestion our system is capable of administering justice when our system, economically, and also politically, depends on social and economic inequalities to function.

I don't know that we could have a better system for us, but I would imagine there are better systems for others. I would also be much more comfortable in my capitalist skin if we wouldn't kill children (or adults) to put fuel in my motor vehicle and nice things in my airtight and leak-proof home, should anyone wish to speak of atrocity committed for the sake of allocating scarce and non-renewable resources.

I'm also ever-mindful as well, that it would seem that most people around the world learn to live with a lot less than one might want to. What I'm trying to say is that even I, as a low-income American, am filthy rich compared to our brothers and sisters across the border in Tijuana. It is very clear to me that I live with a much higher quality of desperation and troubles. Why should I avoid acknowledging that for the sake of not insulting an American? I am grateful that I can go to school at 40 years old and embark on a second career of digging up rocks and such to try to discern the reasons past civilizations came up with for torturing and killing each other. I'm so rich I don't even have to care that I'm poor and always will be.

In the essay and especially in the replies we all illuminate how we are all so disingenuous and as long as we are blind to it, we suffer, they suffer, we're smarter and better while they should have our pity for having foolishly taken another path to governing people and allocating resources... or is it governing personal defensiveness and allocating pity that we are talking about?

And this way we never have to look at anything with an open mind. Thanks, but that's what I hope to overcome in my life, and I'm not going to fall into a trap of taking insult at a critical essay, and take it as an attack on my almighty American way of life.

And I'm certain my reply will be well taken. I know I sleep well knowing everything I do and the ways in which I live my life are all unquestionably the right ways because I always know justice when I see it.

cynthiagray@hotmail.com's picture

Thank you for addressing this issue and calling into question this attack on capitalism. Having just subscribed to Tricycle about 20 minutes ago, I was so disappointed and horrified that I nearly cancelled. But your defense of capitalism and its appearance here is satisfactory to me. I believe capitalism gives everyone a chance while other systems that rely upon some enlightened supercommittee to administer justice to all seems like a dangerous fantasy. Thank you again.

gotimsiegel's picture

I view your points differently: First, it's not about comparing or us vs. them, capitalists vs. "socilaists." Second, Europe is more rife with capitalism than socialism. Third, "America" or Americans are electing to share some wealth from resources that have been extracted and gathered and yes, dominated, from around the world. If our generosity was so pure, then our carbon footprint and usurping of material would be much different than present reality, no? If it was so sincere it would be optional charity, but just sharing of resources and a minimal "floor" for quality of life and opportunity. Fourth, one of the precepts of capitalism is that (short term) profit to shareholders/owners trumps everything else. How can that, by definition be a humane system? And with it, the exploitation of labor. Fifth, every economist knows that there is no such thing as a free or true or visible marketplace. There are huge shadow costs that hurt others (dumping our toxic waste in foreign lands for instance). And there are oligopolies and locked up markets: oil, diamonds, chemicals and pharma to name a few.
To me the question comes down to is unbridled capitalism (in various forms and nations) fair, constructive, humane and esp. healthy for the next seven generations? Clearly, no. And with Business so Big and powerful, is it realistic to think that global regulation will work to prevent or correct abuses? If so, we would not have Gulf Spill, no leaking nuke plant in Japan, no mono agriculture based on one patented corn seed, etc.
So rather than just accept it as the best so far in an imperfect world, let's significantly reform it or invent anew. Why stop with such an imperfect system of haves and have nots? That does NOT mean the old systems of socialism or of communism are the only alternative.
Look around the world for the past decades or century. This is the best economic system we can think of for the next 100 years?
Please, we can do better and must.

Kjf49617's picture

Please look at how dogmatic language can be used to insult and degrade. Clinging to ideologies and berating others with them have nothing to do with compassion, or "suffering together."

robertomainetti's picture

love your path...it is familliar too and i love the art work...thank you