Friday, March 7, 2008

Compassion? Have Mercy!

Have you also asked yourself whether there can be too much of a good thing? I asked myself that question when someone talked to me about Tamo Lüjin, the legend where the Buddha sacrifices his body to a starving tigress and her cubs. People still go for pilgrimage to the place in the Kathmandu Valley, Namo Buddha, where it’s supposed to have happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in one of the Buddha’s previous lives.

From today’s perspective, where’s the balance in this, I ask myself? Where was the Buddha’s compassion towards himself? Don’t we have a responsibility to be good to ourselves as well? Was that a gesture in the heat of the moment or something thought out? Who can tell? I only know that if I applied Tamo Lüjin logic to my daily life, I’d be downright naive.

It happens ever so often that a prestigious project pops up and everyone in my team is keen on getting the lead, including me. Why? Because it’s an interesting change to your everyday job and can be instrumental in gaining visibility, getting known, position yourself, and ultimately move ahead. The more you move ahead, the more power and influence you have, the more you can actively shape things.

Ultimately, it’s about taking charge and making the most of your opportunities while being true to yourself and not harming others intentionally. To me, there’s nothing wrong to be assertive and focussed as long as you are true to your principles. So where do I strike the balance? Where is the limit to compassion in complex situations of modern life? Where would Tamo Lüjin leave my capacity to compete?

By mere co-incidence, Yudon-la, a Tibetan colleague, told me over lunch the other day, that in her school, run by the Tibetan exile-government in India, the motto was “others before self” and that the most selfless student was considered the best person. – “Gosh”, I thought a bit shocked, “the legend is really alive. People are encouraged to forget about their own needs and put others first...” Does that help in preparing Tibetans to face the challenges of a modern world? After all, they are no longer among themselves, not even in their homeland…

Tamo Lüjin can also take on pretty subtle forms as I discovered with myself. If your kids were fighting over a toy which belongs to the older one, I bet you a Tibetan parent would say to the older kid: “Common, sweetie, give the toy to the little one, you’re older, you should be considerate, your brother is still so small, ok? Now that’s my boy, very good.” – At least I used to say that.

Until I came across a reference in one of those parenting books. It said I should have taught the little one to respect, that the toy belongs to the older one, and that the younger one can only play with it, if the older one agrees. To sum up, what I used to do weakened the older one’s natural ability to assert himself, inducing yieldingness and giving up early. And it made the younger one believe he can have everything through the mere fact of being younger. Bottom line: I almost screwed up both kids! - Too much empathy then, is not good for a kid’s self-confidence.

The Dalai Lama time and again encourages Tibetans to study and work hard so they can compete with the Chinese. Tough call. Tibetans must be better than the Chinese – or Americans or Europeans, wherever they live – in order to have an equal chance in any profession. They must find a way to strike a balance between compassion on the on hand, and assertiveness on the other.

As far as I’m concerned Tamo Lüjin is what it is: A legend, from another era, for another audience. For my life, another quotation from the Buddha works better: “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path”.

Mountain Phoenix

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