Compassion for true victims

What a great discussion in the last blog of how we humans can create victimness for ourselves … and thank you to all who made such insightful comments!

Not all victimness is self-made, and even though I focused on “victim consciousness,” I did not state that there are no true victims. Obviously, children can be abused or worse — and through no bad decisions of their own (maybe it’s their ‘bad karma’, payback for something they did in a past life, but that’s not our judgment to make).

At some point, each of us could be considered the ‘victim’ of our childhood upbringing, with all its shortcomings. For instance, if you learned from a narcissistic mother that you must be perfect in order to win a few crumbs of love, such a ‘core belief’ will handicap your life, giving you a greater challenge in giving and receiving love.

I personally like to think of this sort of victimness as ‘karmic,’ because I choose to believe that there is some sort of cosmic justice at work in the universe (and I think we choose all our beliefs). In any case, the good news is that such handicaps can be overcome … and perhaps get to ‘burn off’ some karma in the process!

We do have the power to become more conscious of who we are and learn to make better decisions, which will increase our success and happiness and steadily improve everything. I don’t think of self-improvement as a project so much as a way of life, a learning attitude.

But the point today is that there are real victims in life, including people we know or learn about through the media. So … what can we do? How much can we realistically do for them? What is the best attitude for us to develop?

Certainly, it is not one of blaming people for being victims. Blame is too easy and a nasty habit. It may make our egos feel slightly superior, but that pleasure comes with a steep price, for such egocentricity only produces bad karma for ourselves. The far more skillful choice is to practice compassion. But what is compassion? And how do we practice it?

In Buddhism, love is divided into three forms: loving kindness, sympathetic joy and compassion. Loving kindness is the driving force behind friendship and all forms of positive relating. Sympathetic joy is probably the rarest one of the three; it consists of feeling joyful about the good fortune of someone else! (In some Thai villages, they have the interesting custom of ringing the village bell and chanting something like “Good for you” whenever some major good comes to a household … sure beats envy!) Compassion, finally, is about being empathetic and helpful to those who are suffering, and governs all forms of charity and charitable work.

Does practicing compassion mean that we try to help everybody who seems to be in need of help? Some people try, but that’s a tall order! Obviously, one person cannot take care of everybody, not even everybody around them. So, the question becomes: Where and how do we draw the line? For one thing, how much time or money do we have to give?

Several years ago I lived in India for a year, where the suffering of throngs of people is highly visible. Every day I was in the city I would be constantly confronted by begging lepers, babies with mangled limbs, etc. It was extreme culture shock to say the least, just to live near a large Indian city. It put me face to face with overwhelming suffering, but what was I to do?

There was no way I could afford to give money to every beggar I came across (or, more accurately, who accosted me) and still take care of myself. On the other hand, realizing the spiritual importance of compassion, I didn’t want to become hardened to the suffering of humanity. My solution was to set myself a ‘compassion budget.’

Back in 1981, I didn’t have much in savings when I was that long-term volunteer for the Indra Devi Foundation in southern India. Nevertheless, I decided that I would hand out 10 rupees/day. That was my monetary solution for that place and that time, it gave me a way to give some money as well as my time.

This is the season when many of us are accustomed to think about what we can give. The time between Christmas and New Years is a wonderful week to take a little time to reflect on your relationship to the world, and consider what your Compassion Budget is going to be for next year. After all, with rising unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures, there are a lot of people who have been victimized by a system that’s been set up to highly reward greed.

Of course, as with all love, compassion starts at home, beginning with and for yourself. What are you willing to do to be more creative and free yourself from your own victimness tendencies? Or, focusing on attitude, what could you be more grateful for?

In terms of money, perhaps it feels like there is not enough available right now for you to create charity as a budget item. But if not 10% of what you bring in, perhaps you could make it 5% or even 1%. Or considering that time is more valuable than money, perhaps you can volunteer. There is always something you can do to empathize with and help others to exercise your heart’s compassion muscle. It feels good!