Dalai Lama in Derry-Cultivating Compassion

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Be kind where possible and it’s always possible. Dalai Lama

The rain was spitting and the wind was messing with the umbrellas while tight security sifted through handbags and confiscated water bottles from old and young yesterday as 2500 people filed into the Embrington Plaza, Derry-Londonderry to hear Richard Moore and His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak on “The Culture of Compassion.”

The event was organised by the Children in Crossfire charity that helps children in war zones across the world. As serendipity would have it, I was one of the 2500. The mood inside the blackened arena was upbeat, celebrity and moving as we watched, via video link, 300 local primary school children form a guard of honour on the Peace Bridge for His Holiness, Richard Moore, Bishop Ken Good and Monsignor Eamon Martin leading the Peace Walk as a splash of sunshine escaped from the rain-filled threatening sky. The Dalai Lama hugged the children and urged them to go in front, spoiling the photographer’s view of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. “We need a sense of concern for others,” he was to say later. “That IS compassion.”

When everyone was safe inside, the heavens did open but as the rained drummed on the roof, his Holiness smiled and his gentle way filled the arena with warmth and humour.

“I am very happy to be here with my hero Richard Moore. Those of us who believe in peace and non-violence have a responsibility to show support and solidarity. It’s a great honour for me to come here. Today has turned out to be a special day for me. I’ve known Richard for some time, and he’s has come to see me in Dharamsala with Charles the soldier who shot the plastic bullet that blinded him. Despite that tragedy, he showed how as human beings we have a capacity to forgive and be reconciled. But today, I met my hero’s 93 year old mother, which has made it a great, great day.”

His Holiness stressed that developing a culture of peace is ultimately related to developing compassion for others. “We need to analyse whether anger and hatred have any value,” he said and gave three reasons for developing compassion. “First, it is based on our common experience; everyone responds positively to kindness. Secondly, it is common sense, because it’s obvious that people who are open-hearted are happier. And thirdly, scientific findings show that negative emotions like anger, hatred and fear eat into our immune system, whereas there is evidence that open-heartedness and compassion are good for our overall health.”

He made reference to the love he received from his own mother and the role of education to develop compassion in our communities to ultimately create peace and peace of mind.

“Peace must be part of our lives and part of our culture. Non-violence doesn’t mean we should be passive, because, for example, it takes will-power to restrain yourself from violence. When we have a problem, we need to look at it from many angles with a calm mind in order to understand the reality of the situation.”

He concluded, “Please think. It’s not enough to pray and to hope, we have to work hard to create and maintain compassion and peace.

He then presented the Youth Compassion award to a young medical student, Oisin Duddy, who spends his free time volunteering in Altnagalvin hospital. Oisin also gave a short but moving speech and when he finished he said, “If I ever come across your path may I be of service to you.” Let’s hope his compassion, like the Dalai Lama’s and Richard Moore’s is contagious with no known cure.

When Disaster Strikes Compassion Comforts

And a voice cried from heaven… “It is done.”

It probably isn’t accurate but this quote from the Bible came back to me as I climbed into bed on the night that Mother Nature took on New York. There is nothing like the hand of nature to stop us in our tracks and there is nothing we can do when Mother Nature speaks.

So I did what I could. I spared a thought and sent out a prayer for all those 60 million people who were projected to be directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy as I reflected on how nature always triumphs over technology. And electrical power. And political power.

Isn’t it ironic that Mother Nature had her say at a time when the election season in America was drawing to a close without any serious discussion about climate change? Two presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, and yet the climate spoke to them—and to everyone else around the world that is awake and listening.

Instead of continuing with their campaigns the political powers were forced to listen and react with the naturally occurring healing element of compassion for those caught up in the wrath of the storm. In the city that never sleeps schools were closed, businesses shuttered and mass transit suspended. Residents were told to hunker down and emergency responders where getting prepared to offer evacuees a safe place, a warm meal and emotional support. What else do you need when disaster strikes? What else do you need at any time in our lives when we are in trouble, fearful and anxious? Yet we spend so much time ‘needing’ other things that can be wiped out so quickly by a power much greater than ourselves.
In the past few years we’ve seen a number of natural disasters that leaves us without those things that we are too connected to, too plugged in, too fanatical, too dependent on. Is there an opportunity here to heighten our awareness of what really matters, to bridge and tunnel our way back to a deeper connection with each other and develop an understanding of what power really is?

At the time of writing this piece, the full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy had not been fully totted up but with that we are presented with an opportunity not only for the healing of others, but perhaps, surprisingly, for ourselves too. When disaster strikes compassion comforts. It is a time to come together and put it into action. The collective effort, the ‘we’re-all-in-this-together spirit,’ triumphs in the face of disaster, but it shouldn’t take a natural disaster to make us tap into our natural humanity.

When trouble knocks on your neighbour’s door, when a friend is in need it offers us an opportunity to reach out and support each other. Not only will our support help those who need it, it will also help keep ours spirit intact as we practice spiritual values that comes from the same power that causes Mother Nature to speak.

The act of compassion can fill us all up with hope at times when life and nature is full of uncertainty. Compassionate action has the power to makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves and can ultimately gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives which reminds me of another quote, this time from The Dalai Lama, “It’s not enough to be compassionate, you must act.”