I have heard so much and indeed have written so much, about the importance of compassion, the concept has become almost a cliché, something taken for granted as desirable without thinking overmuch about what it means. Reading recently the words of one of the great spiritual leaders of our time jolted me into thinking again about the key test and intent in being human, which is to be kind to every thing in every way at all times. Is this the new religion?
Seeing kindness as a religion brings into focus how unnecessarily complicated our different world faiths can be. They can be rigid, elaborate and didactic, exclusive and narrow-minded: they can be used to control lives. Dreadful acts are carried out every day in the name of religion, and have been throughout the brief history of man. On the other hand, membership of a faith movement based on community, morality, precepts and a certain order can be a comforting support as well as a source of spiritual understanding and connection. It can be empowering – or disempowering.
However they are, in our many different world religions, kindness can be overshadowed by the need to behave in a certain way and to believe in a certain way. Sometimes, indeed, acts of kindness are punished in the name of religion – in Northern Ireland, for example, where for decades and not so long ago, bitter divisions between Catholic and Protestant communities saw ugly reprisal if one tried to help the other. Like everything in our world, religion can be abused and yet in its purest form, religion can be a vehicle for spiritual enlightenment and human fulfilment.
We are fortunate in that some religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, are choosing to emphasise the importance of heart and not head, of compassion and mutual respect for all people and the Planet, and of fairness and of kindness. The distractions of procedure, dogma and judgment from these core messages may be lessening, and the idea of a simple world religion based on love, promised in the most ancient spiritual texts, is not so unlikely, nor so far away.
(Image by Christopher Michel)