“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” ~Muhammad Ali
His Holiness the Dalai Lama blessed the city of Louisville with a three day visit last week as part of the city’s annual Festival of Faiths. He had a laugh that lit up the room and immediately brought tears to my eyes. His warmth and genuine affection were instantly recognizable even in a space with 16,000 people, and his presence made the vast size of the space immediately welcoming and intimate. His talks mirrored that feeling and focused on compassion, love and giving back to the community. The Dalai Lama’s primary message was that all of humanity, despite race or religion or the language they speak, ultimately wants a happy life and inner peace. Such happiness and peace can only be gained through a sharing of love and mutual compassion with others and your community.
The Dalai Lama emphasized that peace and compassion require action, not just hopeful thinking, and that we must start with individual change to effect change on a global humanitarian level. As we increase our personal inner peace and ability to love, we begin to cultivate compassion that affects our family, our community and beyond. He said, “We are a small pebble dropped in the water, but the ripples keep spreading farther outward.” You may be only one person, but humanity is a collection of individuals and everyone’s actions count towards progress. His words were grounding, motivating and inspiring. To fuel the fire behind his words the City of Louisville printed a Guide to Compassion for the event that provided a comprehensive list of volunteer organizations and opportunities around the city.
We all understand that everyone wants to be happy, to be loved and to feel like they belong. The Dalai Lama explained it is our innate human nature to be compassionate and loving, but we sometimes get lost along the way. As children we are greatly affected by the level of affection we receive from our parents. If we receive bountiful affection and love as children then it is easier for us to be loving. Affection creates trust which is the basis of creating strong friendship and relationships.
If, as children, we don’t receive an abundance of love and affection from our parents then it is more difficult for us to trust others. We create a barrier between our hearts and the hearts of others to protect ourselves from hurt. In truth, the barrier only hurts us more. A lack of trust, and unwillingness to be vulnerable, results in behaviors that block our ability to share compassion and love. If we are unable to trust we often experience more fear, suspicion and intolerance towards others.
The Dalai Lama spoke about how, in our current culture, we focus on money, big houses, big cars and material things, but they do not make us happy. It is a major misconception and leads to much unhappiness. Material objects provide us sensory enjoyment and comfort on a physical level in this life, but we should merely appreciate them for their beauty, and not become attached to them.
In contrast, what truly makes us happy is allowing a genuine, deep connection with other people. Loving and caring for others makes us happy. This happiness does not reside on a physical or sensory level, but on a deeper mental and spiritual level and is the essence of who we truly are. To be happy we must quiet our minds, open our hearts, be trusting and allow compassionate connection with others. The Dalai Lama’s ability to connect to others through his mere presence is astounding. During the event a quiet reverence and a still hush washed over the vast crowd that extended into the rafters. The City of Louisville sat, spellbound.
So, why Louisville for a talk on compassion? It may surprise you to learn that Louisville, Kentucky is one of the most compassionate cities in America. Mayor Greg Fisher signed a resolution adopting the international Charter for Compassion, kicking off a ten-year campaign for compassionate action. Louisville is the largest city to sign the charter so far and is considered an early adopter and leader in its compassionate efforts. In 2012, Louisville was named Compassionate City of the Year, and in 2013 it was voted by the National Conference of Mayors as the Most Livable City in the United States. The award noted Mayor Fischer’s success with the Give a Day program of public service where the citizens of Louisville volunteered over 100,000 hours of community service in one day. Compassion and community connection are also central themes at the annual Festival of Faiths celebration, known for its emphasis on interfaith integration.
At his Festival of Faiths speech, the Dalai Lama emphasized that compassion, love and peace are at the root of all religions. All religions, at their core, teach us tolerance and forgiveness. They teach us to extend love to all of creation, and have a common goal of serving humanity. He said, “Some religious people try to say all the flowers in the garden need to be one color, but even the butterfly likes many colors in the garden.” Any use of a religion for unloving purposes – judgment, intolerance, hatred, condemnation, violence, war – is a misuse of religion and the concept of God. After all, God is love.
After two days in the presence of the Dalai Lama it was hard not to feel more loving toward mankind. But working towards a compassionate nature takes constant work and practice. Later that same week I experienced some emotional turmoil of my own and my attempts at a loving nature were tested. The Dalai Lama would just tell me to keep trying at compassion, to forgive, quiet my mind, still my thoughts and find my connection to inner peace. It doesn’t come easy, but the compassionate nature of our soul is right there inside, buried under the weight of our physical, earth-bound experiences. In any given moment, we can choose love or fear. It is always our God-given choice.
I’ll leave you with a few considerations for contemplation.
How can you give back and engage compassion in your local communities? Small ripples of happiness can create a tidal wave of joy.
What practices can you implement in your day-to-day routine to create more inner peace? Have you ever considered a meditation practice? The benefits are endless.
How can you be more loving and compassionate to those around you?
In what ways does fear hold you back from greater joy? How can you release negative thinking, silence your mind and be happy?
Who do you need to forgive? What parts of your past do you need to release to live firmly in the present?