Saturday, August 29, 2009


"The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
-Fredrich Buechner, Wishful Thinking
These words—which I got from Hazy Moon, thank you, Delwyn—prompted some rumination on the second Brahmavihara, Karuna, compassion.

Buddhism identifies four Brahmaviharas. Brahmaviharas, sublime abidings, can be translated as "divine abodes." These are places where you can live—at least momentarily—as if you were among the gods.

They are:

Metta (Loving kindness)
Karuna (Compassion)
Mudita (Sympathetic Joy)
Upekkha (Equanimity)

Each day teaching kindergarten gives me many opportunities to experience the first three Brahmaviharas. (Equanimity is a bit more elusive in kindergarten, an environment ever so close to chaos.) They arrive in about equal measure, metta, karuna, and mudita. But I want to talk about karuna, compassion.


Joy arises when I have the opportunity to respond to the pain or suffering of one of my students. Perhaps their pet died. Or their parents separated. Maybe a painful blister appeared on their palms after a long session on the monkey bars. Pain and suffering arise unbidden in a seemingly constant flow.

Fortunately, our world is set up perfectly:

When we respond to alleviate another person's suffering, our own hearts gladden in proportion to our ability to soothe the pain in person who's suffering.

I can't explain why. It's just the way it is.

In a future post, I hope to write about Stan Goldberg who discovered immeasurable joy in what might seem to be the least likely places: as a hospice volunteer at the side of people actively dying. Stan inspired me to take up the Native American flute which has taken me a few steps further down the pollen path.


Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...


May we all know the divine abode of Compassion.

I look forward to your post on Stan Goldberg and his compassionate service in a hospice.

Delwyn said...

Dan I first read that quote in a book called 'What Colour is my Parachute' about finding a rewarding career...Richard Bolles I think was the author.

I loved it then and now...

I am sure that while the kindy is jumping with energy and activity your ability to maintain your equanimity is being well exercised...

I certainly admire the ability that you must have to accommodate the wants and desires of 28 little people whose needs feel very immediate to them...

I liked to remind clients when I practiced, that when we share suffering it is eased, the load becomes lighter...the old "he ain't heavy, he's my brother..." notion...
and I agree that the gift of being a listener or a hand-holder or one placating fears and doubts is a very rewarding one...

Have you read any of Rachel Remen's books...
she models this skill well...

Happy days

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie--

Funny. Sarah and I were just out for ice cream at the local hand-made in Sebastopol ice cream shop. We ran into my friend, Marc, who told me he picked up a copy of Stan's book, Lessons for the Living. So, yes, I'll do a post on it before too long. It's important for us to remember that happiness isn't found where Madison Avenue suggests you might find it.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Delwyn-- Ah, I wondered. Funny. I read "What Color is Your Parachute" too. I actually have several copies because he updated it every year for a number of years. I probably read that quote in there...I'm sure I did...but it didn't have the impact on me that it did when I read it in your TM post.

I haven't read Rachel Remen at all. Never heard of her. I'd love to hear which title you'd recommend.

Margaret Pangert said...

The Catholic Church has service and giving at its core. Our particular church has some 50 ministries in which one can give and help as he/she feels called. I found from feeding the poor in Harlem such bliss; my slight depression/anxiety lifts and this wonderful joy comes over me. I think the best example is the story of the life of St. Francis.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Margaret— yes there's no doubt that the Catholic Church has made available many opportunities for compassion to arise (as have many Protestant Churches, too). St. Francis is indeed an exemplar in this regard. I feel happy to live so near a city named for him.

It's interesting that service in relieving other people's suffering does so much to lift our own personal spirits. You've experienced it in Harlem. I think it's important for all of us to spread the word, so that happiness can become more widespread. The cruelest hoax is that wealth and material excesses (the fancy car, the yacht, the 101st pair of shoes) brings happiness. It doesn't, won't, and never will.