Compassion and Skillful Action
The idea behind formal meditation is that it can lead to insight into the mechanisms
that produce suffering, which can in turn lead to wisdom and increased compassion for
ourselves and others. With true compassion – not to be confused with pity, or with charity
bound up with a desire for self-recognition – we can act in a more effective and engaged
way in the world.

There exists a form of Buddhist meditation aimed specifically at generating
compassion. It uses as its starting point the belief that all beings with awareness share, and
are motivated by, the same fundamental desire for happiness. The practice uses “resolves”
or sincere wishes for the health, well-being, peace and happiness of any being or person
brought to mind, whether our self, friends, or enemies. The guiding principle is that all
beings deserve our compassion, even if they behave in ways we find objectionable.
A crucial point to make here (indeed a main point of this article) is that cultivating
peace within ourselves and compassion for our enemies does not mean that we should
simply learn to accept injustice, greed, poverty, hatred, war and the other ills of the human
race. Everywhere we look, we encounter individuals, organizations, institutions, ideas and
attitudes that clearly cause a great deal of suffering, and we all share a moral responsibility
to oppose them. At the same time, we must also strive to avoid causing further suffering
and division in our attempts to bring about positive change. Especially in the realm of
politics, it’s easy forget that we’re all part of an interconnected whole and to let our anger
and indignation propel us into an “us vs. them” or “good vs. evil” mentality. It’s a tricky
business that requires an openness of mind and heart.

The Buddhist term “skillful action” refers to behavior that leads to a decrease in
suffering. The concept is simple enough, but its application is incredibly complicated, given
that we can never fully know the ultimate ramifications of each of our actions. Furthermore,
our minds are usually too filled with doubts, plans, advertising slogans and other white
noise to think or perceive with much clarity. Memories of the past and worries about the
future often prevent us from experiencing the present directly enough to make truly wise
choices, despite whatever intention we might have to “do the right thing”. It becomes even
more difficult for us to act skillfully when we’re feeling physically or emotionally
compromised. At those times, we’re largely confined to REacting to the world in habitual
and often destructive ways. A clear and balanced mind empowers us to act with calmness
and creativity, even in the face of stress, while a compassionate heart naturally gives rise to
altruistic behavior.

Think Universally, Act Personally
Both religion and psychology support the aphorism that peace begins within. Even
cold logic suggests that establishing peace within one’s own life and mind brings about
more peace in the world. Most importantly, the arena of the mind is the one most
immediately accessible to us, as well as the one over which we have the most control. By
tending the garden of the mind and weeding out selfishness, each one of us has the power
to create positive change on the most fundamental, psychological level.
As global citizens, however, we also share responsibility to help create a better,
more just and equitable world. Although the world “out there” may never conform
completely to our expectations, we do have the power to affect small but important changes,
whether on an interpersonal level, through activism or social service, or as part of a larger
movement.

Buddhist Causes
Given the omnipresence of suffering, there are countless ways of putting
compassion into action. Though there are no particular causes with which Buddhism
exclusively engages, its emphasis on peace and nonviolence has led to a widespread
involvement in the anti-war movement, with anti-nuclear and disarmament issues, and
opposition to the death penalty. Another natural extension of Buddhist ethics is into the area
of environmentalism, with many Buddhists adopting a low-impact, vegetarian lifestyle for
political reasons as well as ethical ones.

A final political issue of note is the Free Tibet movement, which works for the
preservation of Tibetan culture and human rights and advocates autonomy for Tibet, a
Buddhist country which has been under Chinese occupation since 1950. Despite ongoing
reports of torture, religious persecution and other human right abuses against Tibetans in
China, Tibet’s leader-in-exile, the 14th Dalai Lama, has maintained a lifelong commitment
to nonviolence, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Bringing It All Back Home
Buddhism is certainly not the only religion or ideology that espouses peace, though
it does offer some practical and powerful tools for its cultivation. Indeed, in order to better
the world, one need not rely on religion, which, it can be argued, has caused more division
and destruction than it has helped to alleviate. All that’s required is a good heart, a point
more eloquently made by the Dalai Lama during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

“The problems we face today…are human-created problems which can be resolved
through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and
sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we
share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and
compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can
develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

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