It's easy to blame others or to feel good about ourselves because we feel that we are better than others, but moral integrity is not about blame, it is about our own very personal cultivation of our ethical values.
Moral integrity is internal. Other people cannot see our motivation it and we cannot see other's either. I don't see much benefit in advertising one's religious or secular ethics, so you don't see me post things like "I pray for...", or even less "Let's have compassion for..." (this can be a form of using suffering of another to look saintly, without any benefit for them). I believe that it's more honest to keep one's good motivation private. It is good and necessary to discuss ethics, I appreciate it most of the time, but I don't think it is beneficial to use it design one's image, it's better to be honestly human than to use one's spirituality to deceive.
When we deeply consider our ethical values and moral integrity, when we study and discuss ethical issues, it is much less likely to point out at the mote at other person's eye while having a beam in our own. Ethics is not a gossip about wrongdoings of others, it is cultivation of our virtuous mind.
“Truth is something that in time gains momentum and clarity. Those who suppress the truth are the weapons, however, although weapons may be forceful for a short while, their impact does not last very long.”
HH Dalai Lama
Heroes are messengers of hope. They personify the values which guide us, showing us that relying on values leads to good results, sometimes after a period of hardship. They play a cultural role than a single life.
Like many of us, I have been lucky to be growing with stories of heroes. Some of them were from religious books, and to my awe, some of them were living in recent history, or even at right then, when I was listening to the adults talking about them during formal dinners. Almost sacred atmosphere was surrounding these stories. The adults would stop eating to fully focus on the topic, their backs would solemnly straighten, and their faces would open into serene elevation when they discussed the values underlying the heroes’ goals and actions. These stories were more interesting than the fairy tales that I was given to read, they had a sense of witnessing something historic, something much more important than the everyday affairs.
These were the stories of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, or Lech Walesa. Different people, with one thing in common: far before they were heroes, when they were just single person, standing alone in front of a huge apparatus of injustice and oppression. Yet, they did not remain silent, they did not give up their discomfort, they did not allow emotions to overcome them, but instead sought for the way. Contemplating about the goal and the way, they were able to explain it to others. Some people understood and followed. Very few at the beginning, probably only those with similar personality traits, even if they did not have the vision and clarity of a leader. When more people joined, the change became inevitable and won. Power is not in oppression, money or in social status, on the long run, the real power is in truth.
Buddhist belief system has an advantage, when it comes to heroism or personification of any value that we hold sacred – it teaches that heroes or holy beings are not merely somebody else, nor completely differently of us, these same features are ingrained in our own nature. Once a person believes that they can reach what they aspire to and that they transform their life into the path to their goal, nobody can stop them. People are not born as heroes; they are made through thousands of little decisions to act in a certain way and to refrain from the opposite. We ourselves are the ones who are either empowering or restricting the journey towards our goals through our beliefs and mental attitudes. There is always an opportunity for training.
And it helps if one learns and thinks, if I may add.
“It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. There are two aspects to action. One is to overcome the distortions and afflictions of your own mind, that is, in terms of calming and eventually dispelling anger. This is action out of compassion. The other is more social, more public. When something needs to be done in the world to rectify the wrongs, if one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved.”
-His Holiness Dalai Lama
Loving compassion is such a wonderful thing, it is beneficial and it can be developed far beyond our present states, yet it is often abused and perverted into its opposite.
One can think how much better one is that anybody else and call it compassion to others. Yet, others are not objects to step on so that we feel better about ourselves, this has nothing to do with compassion. One can weaponize compassion as an insult, saying, “I feel compassion to you”; adding well-wishing words just increases the gap between one’s presented sainthood and the other’s projected negativity. People can be very mean in the name of compassion. In religious communities it is quite common to use big loving words for judging others. One can say: “You have no compassion,” or, “This person is so compassionate,” but we do not really know the minds of others. Compassion is internal. We do not see the motivation of others. We do not know the context from which one’s actions arose. Judging others tells a lot about our own attitude towards them, but little about themselves. When judging others, one acts as if one is a Buddha or Bodhisattva with much higher capacities to see the mind than we, the ordinary beings have at our present stage. What is the point of judging other people’s compassion anyhow? Venting out our tensions by projecting negativity in others? Feeling good about being better than the projected others? Feeding from being perceived as a good person who always talks nicely about others?
Any virtue can be twisted to serve one’s selfish needs. Nice words do not necessarily mean that the person is nice and vice versa. We do not need to advertise our compassion, prayers or any good feature, there is something twisted in this on its own. I strongly believe that our practice should be our private endeavor, not something to advertise or a means to design our religious image on social media. we can be simply human.
At the same time, compassion is a wonderful, wonderful feature to develop. And it’s always at reach. All we need is a person or a situation that annoys us or that we do not like. If we look at our mind at such moment, we can see that our attitude towards the person is not so pristinely pure as we might wish to be. And here it is, our cherished opportunity to develop sincere compassion – genuinely loving attitude towards the person or genuine appreciation to the situation. Do you remember the classical example of compassion about a mother who notices that her only child is in a burning house and rushes there to help her baby. You can feel how much love is in such
compassion. There is no judgmentalness, just sincere heartfelt care towards a fellow being. And this is just the first step. To become a great compassion, we need to develop equanimity to all sentient beings – a stable impartial attitude towards all, without feeling some close, some distant, without attachment to some and aversion to others. Once this is stable and strong, bodhicitta can be developed. Such a beautiful path, isn’t it?
The discrepancy between the beauty of one’s internal development of compassion, hidden from the eyes of others, and the judgmental usage of compassion as a weapon or self-promotion is based on ignorance. Misconceptions and ignorance about the most basic religious terms are quite widespread. It does not matter how long one has practiced, or how many initiations one has or how many famous teachers one knows, without study, misconceptions and ignorance are still there. No matter which topic I contemplate, I always come to this conclusion. One really needs to understand Dharma in order to practice it well.