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  • I want to address the issue of compassion.

  • Compassion has many faces.

  • Some of them are fierce; some of them are wrathful;

  • some of them are tender; some of them are wise.

  • A line that the Dalai Lama once said,

  • he said, "Love and compassion are necessities.

  • They are not luxuries.

  • Without them,

  • humanity cannot survive."

  • And I would suggest,

  • it is not only humanity that won't survive,

  • but it is all species on the planet,

  • as we've heard today.

  • It is the big cats,

  • and it's the plankton.

  • Two weeks ago, I was in Bangalore in India.

  • I was so privileged

  • to be able to teach in a hospice

  • on the outskirts of Bangalore.

  • And early in the morning,

  • I went into the ward.

  • In that hospice,

  • there were 31 men and women

  • who were actively dying.

  • And I walked up to the bedside

  • of an old woman

  • who was breathing very rapidly, fragile,

  • obviously in the latter phase

  • of active dying.

  • I looked into her face.

  • I looked into the face

  • of her son sitting next to her,

  • and his face was just riven

  • with grief and confusion.

  • And I remembered

  • a line from the Mahabharata,

  • the great Indian epic:

  • "What is the most wondrous thing in the world, Yudhisthira?"

  • And Yudhisthira replied,

  • "The most wondrous thing in the world

  • is that all around us

  • people can be dying

  • and we don't realize

  • it can happen to us."

  • I looked up.

  • Tending those 31 dying people

  • were young women

  • from villages around Bangalore.

  • I looked into the face of one of these women,

  • and I saw in her face

  • the strength that arises

  • when natural compassion is really present.

  • I watched her hands

  • as she bathed an old man.

  • My gaze went to another young woman

  • as she wiped the face

  • of another dying person.

  • And it reminded me

  • of something that I had just been present for.

  • Every year or so,

  • I have the privilege of taking clinicians

  • into the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.

  • And we run clinics

  • in these very remote regions

  • where there's no medical care whatsoever.

  • And on the first day at Simikot in Humla,

  • far west of Nepal,

  • the most impoverished region of Nepal,

  • an old man came in

  • clutching a bundle of rags.

  • And he walked in, and somebody said something to him,

  • we realized he was deaf,

  • and we looked into the rags,

  • and there was this pair of eyes.

  • The rags were unwrapped

  • from a little girl

  • whose body was massively burned.

  • Again,

  • the eyes and hands

  • of Avalokiteshvara.

  • It was the young women, the health aids,

  • who cleaned the wounds of this baby

  • and dressed the wounds.

  • I know those hands and eyes;

  • they touched me as well.

  • They touched me at that time.

  • They have touched me throughout my 68 years.

  • They touched me when I was four

  • and I lost my eyesight

  • and was partially paralyzed.

  • And my family brought in

  • a woman whose mother had been a slave

  • to take care of me.

  • And that woman

  • did not have sentimental compassion.

  • She had phenomenal strength.

  • And it was really her strength, I believe,

  • that became the kind of mudra and imprimatur

  • that has been a guiding light in my life.

  • So we can ask:

  • What is compassion comprised of?

  • And there are various facets.

  • And there's referential and non-referential compassion.

  • But first, compassion is comprised

  • of that capacity

  • to see clearly

  • into the nature of suffering.

  • It is that ability

  • to really stand strong

  • and to recognize also

  • that I'm not separate from this suffering.

  • But that is not enough,

  • because compassion,

  • which activates the motor cortex,

  • means that we aspire,

  • we actually aspire to transform suffering.

  • And if we're so blessed,

  • we engage in activities

  • that transform suffering.

  • But compassion has another component,

  • and that component is really essential.

  • That component

  • is that we cannot be attached to outcome.

  • Now I worked with dying people

  • for over 40 years.

  • I had the privilege of working on death row

  • in a maximum security [prison] for six years.

  • And I realized so clearly

  • in bringing my own life experience,

  • from working with dying people

  • and training caregivers,

  • that any attachment to outcome

  • would distort deeply

  • my own capacity to be fully present

  • to the whole catastrophe.

  • And when I worked in the prison system,

  • it was so clear to me, this:

  • that many of us

  • in this room,

  • and almost all of the men that I worked with on death row,

  • the seeds of their own compassion had never been watered.

  • That compassion is actually

  • an inherent human quality.

  • It is there within every human being.

  • But the conditions

  • for compassion to be activated,

  • to be aroused,

  • are particular conditions.

  • I had that condition, to a certain extent,

  • from my own childhood illness.

  • Eve Ensler, whom you'll hear later,

  • has had that condition activated

  • amazingly in her

  • through the various waters of suffering

  • that she has been through.

  • And what is fascinating

  • is that compassion has enemies,

  • and those enemies are things like pity,

  • moral outrage,

  • fear.

  • And you know, we have a society, a world,

  • that is paralyzed by fear.

  • And in that paralysis, of course,

  • our capacity for compassion

  • is also paralyzed.

  • The very word terror

  • is global.

  • The very feeling of terror is global.

  • So our work, in a certain way,

  • is to address this imago,

  • this kind of archetype

  • that has pervaded the psyche

  • of our entire globe.

  • Now we know from neuroscience

  • that compassion has

  • some very extraordinary qualities.

  • For example:

  • A person who is cultivating compassion,

  • when they are in the presence of suffering,

  • they feel that suffering a lot more

  • than many other people do.

  • However,

  • they return to baseline a lot sooner.

  • This is called resilience.

  • Many of us think that compassion drains us,

  • but I promise you

  • it is something that truly enlivens us.

  • Another thing about compassion

  • is that it really enhances what's called neural integration.

  • It hooks up all parts of the brain.

  • Another, which has been discovered

  • by various researchers

  • at Emory and at Davis and so on,

  • is that compassion enhances our immune system.

  • Hey,

  • we live in a very noxious world.

  • (Laughter)

  • Most of us are shrinking

  • in the face of psycho-social and physical poisons,

  • of the toxins of our world.

  • But compassion, the generation of compassion,

  • actually mobilizes

  • our immunity.

  • You know, if compassion is so good for us,

  • I have a question.

  • Why don't we train our children

  • in compassion?

  • (Applause)

  • If compassion is so good for us,

  • why don't we train our health care providers in compassion

  • so that they can do what they're supposed to do,

  • which is to really transform suffering?

  • And if compassion is so good for us,

  • why don't we vote on compassion?

  • Why don't we vote for people in our government

  • based on compassion,

  • so that we can have

  • a more caring world?

  • In Buddhism,

  • we say, "it takes a strong back and a soft front."

  • It takes tremendous strength of the back

  • to uphold yourself in the midst of conditions.

  • And that is the mental quality of equanimity.

  • But it also takes a soft front --

  • the capacity to really be open to the world as it is,

  • to have an undefended heart.

  • And the archetype of this in Buddhism

  • is Avalokiteshvara, Kuan-Yin.

  • It's a female archetype:

  • she who perceives

  • the cries of suffering in the world.

  • She stands with 10,000 arms,

  • and in every hand,

  • there is an instrument of liberation,

  • and in the palm of every hand, there are eyes,

  • and these are the eyes of wisdom.

  • I say that, for thousands of years,

  • women have lived,

  • exemplified, met in intimacy,

  • the archetype of Avalokitesvara,

  • of Kuan-Yin,

  • she who perceives

  • the cries of suffering in the world.

  • Women have manifested for thousands of years

  • the strength arising from compassion

  • in an unfiltered, unmediated way

  • in perceiving suffering

  • as it is.

  • They have infused societies with kindness,

  • and we have really felt that

  • as woman after woman

  • has stood on this stage

  • in the past day and a half.

  • And they have actualized compassion

  • through direct action.

  • Jody Williams called it:

  • It's good to meditate.

  • I'm sorry, you've got to do a little bit of that, Jody.

  • Step back, give your mother a break, okay.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the other side of the equation

  • is you've got to come out of your cave.

  • You have to come into the world

  • like Asanga did,

  • who was looking to realize Maitreya Buddha

  • after 12 years sitting in the cave.

  • He said, "I'm out of here."

  • He's going down the path.

  • He sees something