From my experience, we are much closer to realizing this dream than we may think.
In 2008, I had the incredible privilege of being one of many organizers of a five-day, large-scale event in Seattle called Seeds of Compassion which featured the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and spiritual leaders from many faith traditions. As 50,000 enthusiastic attendees sat attentively in a packed Seahawks football stadium, the Dalai Lama spoke extensively about the importance of compassion in creating a more peaceful world.
Many of us heard the call to compassionate action that day and so I followed up with the Dalai Lama the next day while I was moderating a discussion. I asked him, “Your Holiness, we have orchestrated a five-day compassion event with 150,000 attendees and millions more who are watching online eager to hear these messages. What is the most important thing we can do to keep this global compassion movement going?” He replied without hesitation, “Compassion education. We must grow compassion education.” Without even thinking how, I promised that we would indeed grow and expand compassion education.
Education starts with full appreciation of what the word means. Compassion, as I have come to understand it, has four interrelated elements:
1. Mindful recognition that suffering is occurring;
2. Sympathetic concern related to being emotionally moved by the suffering, aka “I feel your pain”;
3. Having the wish or intention to see that suffering relieved; and
4. A responsiveness or willingness to help relieve the suffering, even if the gesture is as simple as saying silently, May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you find peace and joy. Even that, I have come to learn, is an act of compassion.
So how can we mainstream compassion education? Here, another Tibetan man comes into play: Thupten Jinpa, the principal English translator for the Dalai Lama since 1985, was also on the stage in Seattle that day. He has since created a Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program in partnership with Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). I didn’t hesitate to take the 8-week mindfulness course and in keeping with my commitment, I became certified to teach it, thereby contributing in my own way to expanding compassion education.
As I have immersed myself in this work, I have come to see there is a much larger compassion movement emerging around the world, made up of researchers, neuroscientists, professors, psychologists, contemplative scholars, religious leaders, activists, philanthropists, meditators and service-oriented individuals. They have all been quietly contributing to a solid foundation for compassion education.
Seeing this larger compassion movement taking shape, I was inspired to work with CCARE, The Shift Network, The Charter for Compassion and other organizations to create a free online Global Compassion Summit – July 7-9. Anyone can participate and all recordings will be available afterwards — also for free. The intention is to showcase and accelerate the growing field of compassion and create a vision of what is possible: global compassion education, the ideal gift for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday.
The Global Compassion Summit will feature more than a dozen experts all bringing their experience and unique perspective to this growing field. Among them are:
• Karen Armstrong, a religious historian, collaborated with major world religious leaders to create a universal and secular expression of the Golden Rule, aptly called The Charter for Compassion. As a result of The Charter, more than 200 compassionate cities have emerged around the world, from Kentucky to Pakistan
• Congressman Tim Ryan, a pacesetting politician, will illustrate how mindfulness and compassion are changing politics, helping the most at-risk schools and saving the lives of our country’s war veterans.
• Kristin Neff, Ph.D., will share how raising an autistic son helped her become an expert researcher and teacher of self-compassion, a skill that is essential, but harder for us self-critical westerners to embrace.
• Dr. James Doty, a neurosurgeon, will explain how we are hard-wired for compassion and how with effort, anyone can increase their capacity for compassion. He will also share his personal story of a woman in a magic shop who showed an act of kindness that turned his life around when he was a young boy.
• Darshita Gillies, a millennial from Mumbai was born into the lowest 1% class of India, and who through education raised herself to the top 1%. She will highlight how she is working to expand compassion in business to benefit 100% of the planet.
• Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk, will discuss how compassion can change not only us, but also the world — if we are willing to make a paradigm shift from a consumptive, self-centered way of thinking to a more selfless, altruistic way of behaving.
Through the process of producing this summit, I can now envision what is possible if we fully embrace the value of compassion to heal our planet. I can imagine a world where compassion education is mainstreamed into our schools, communities, hospitals and places of business. I see a world where altruism is the next sustainable trend. I see a world where in the face of the inevitable suffering, compassion becomes our most automatic response. And I see a world now where those choices are being made and reinforced across all genders, ethnic groups and nationalities.