His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama says that his religion is “compassion.” As one of the main proponents of Buddhism in the world this may seem a strange statement as Buddhism is considered one of the world’s great religions. Technically speaking, as Buddhism is not theistically (God/god) based and is viewed by those within the sphere of the Buddha’s teachings as a mind science, His Holiness’ statement makes perfect sense. At the same time, like all great souls, the universal principles and practices of love and compassion are the fruition of most – if not all – great wisdom traditions, be they considered philosophies, psychologies, or religions. Thus, as a “simple monk” as he calls himself, that compassion is the hallmark of his Buddhist practice demonstrates his commitment to “religiously” adhering to this principle as the essential reason to practice Buddhism in the first place. As is said in the Buddhadharma, “for the benefit of all sentient beings.”
Within the context of compassion, His Holiness also speaks of human affection. Again, we don’t necessarily expect a monk to emphasize this trait with respect to our interactions. However, as within the Six Realms of Beings Buddhism classifies the human realm as being distinguished by passion or desire, it makes only sense that compassion arises from the skillful understanding and application of our inherent warmth – our affectionate nature – what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls “basic goodness,” and I label in some of my writings as our basic Loving Nature.
Thus it is that the historical Buddha, when giving discourses on skillful speech and how to maintain harmony with others, cultivating practices and an awareness of the importance and naturalness of human affection are essential in making life together workable as well as worthwhile.
When looking at George Washington’s practice of The Rules of Civility, there are many lessons of propriety and decorum which may – on first view – seem contrived, if not stifling with respect to our desire to be relaxed and comfortable within our own being. Some may seem antiquated, but in The Path Civility, I have often found modern equivalents. Nevertheless, the Jesuits who wrote these Rules in the seventeenth century also understood that without the circumscribing of our passions by some moral or standard, we don’t necessarily volunteer for critiquing or censoring our own social behavior which is usually guided by our ego and habits. Thus, while to give pause and apply a rule may feel stiff and/or contrived, by including an awareness of others and their perception and ease with having done so, an opening occurs and with it, a harmony which allows civility in word and action to be more perceptively imbued with human affection. Even if the transaction is confrontational, actions and words that demonstrate civility with genuine affection as opposed to affectation are either well met or best addressed. This is not soppy, but rather heart-felt civility.
Actions and interactions initiated with heart-felt civility do – initially, but also in the long run – create a civilized world where compassion for all becomes the spark – the passion – that can make the kind of advances which benefit all. That kind of civilized world may not necessarily look that technologically advanced or cool. But, it is a world that is easy to cherish and be grateful for.