From a student
[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]
We are beginning with trees, with the vegetable kingdom, since below that we do not know how to see the compassion that must be there. But we were able to find this:
Physicist Andrew A. Cochran, in Main Currents in Modern Thought, said scientists have come to realize that there is nowhere a sharp dividing line between living and non-living matter. There is instead an unbroken series of small gradations in complexity that bridge the gap.
Cochran quotes Dr. Henry Margenau of Yale University: “Different atoms owe their characteristic features to a kind of social behavior of the electrons which may be summed up by saying: One electron knows what the others are doing and acts accordingly...”
That sounds like trees for it is said that when a tree is sending out new roots, if it approaches the roots of a nearby tree, it turns aside. However, as hard as we tried, we were unable to prove this fact. But there are many uncanny facts about the vegetable kingdom that can be proven.
A few years ago, a gypsy moth attack in New York and Pennsylvania caused people to get chemicals sprayed on their unharmed trees, since the trees that were unharmed that year would be the trees that would be attacked the next year. Alas, all those expensive chemical treatments did not save the treated trees. But the trees that were left alone and got no chemicals survived perfectly. Why?
Biologist Ian Baldwin, Molecular Ecology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany, has studied how plants defend themselves. He and his colleagues use chemical sensors to investigate plant communications that float past human noses unnoticed. The harder they looked for these signals, the more they found, discovering plants can send chemical cues to repel insect enemies, or they can send signals to attract allies. Nearby plants can listen in to this conversation and gear up their own defenses.
Scientists at Cornell University found that when a hornworm starts eating sagebrush, the wounded plant will send out a blast of scent that warns surrounding plants - in the case of this study, wild tobacco - that trouble is on its way. Those nearby plants, in turn, prepare chemical defenses that send the hungry critters in the opposite direction. Sagebrush warning the wild tobacco. That certainly sounds like compassion, doesn’t it?
Sir Chandar Bose of India began to conduct experiments on plants in the year 1900. He claimed that plants can "feel pain, and understand affection." A well-known vegetarian, George Bernard Shaw, was intensely disturbed witnessing a demonstration in which a cabbage had "convulsions" as it boiled to death.
In a later demonstration with the equipment, a leaf’s reaction was off the chart when a live shrimp was dropped into the boiling hot water the leaf was itself submerged in. Clearly it is conceit on our part if we think only a human can feel compassion.
Quoting from “All About Elephants” from kidcyber.com.au: “Elephants appear to make allowances for other members of their herd...one African herd always traveled slowly because one of them never recovered from a broken leg. One perplexing report was of an adult elephant making repeated attempts to help a baby rhinoceros stuck in the mud. She continued to try to save the baby rhino despite the fact that its mother charged her each time. Risking her life for the sake of an animal that is not her own, not related to her, or even her own species is remarkably altruistic in nature.”
You can watch a video of elephants helping elephants:
In addition, besides the behavior of animals in the wild, we have animals that are close to us: Animal control officer Michelle Smith of Anderson, South Carolina, got a call about a dog constantly barking in a ravine – the barking led through heavy foliage and an extremely steep embankment where she found a Shih Tzu comforting a little kitten it had rescued.
We all know dolphins have rescued other sea creatures as well as rescuing human beings.
We have numerous examples of animals rescuing humans collected on Listverse.
We seem to only notice compassion in times of crisis - like Hurricane Sandy. Beyond the generous response of thousands, in terms of dollars and people, simple acts by individuals show you can do for others without great expense - like this example: putting a power cord through a New York window with this - WE HAVE POWER. FEEL FREE TO CHARGE YOUR PHONE!
There are physicians who donate their time and genius to heal people around the world. But there is a group that not only donates their time and talents, both doctors and nurses, to help treat West Africans in terms of eye surgery and plastic surgery. BUT THEY PAY FOR THEIR OWN TRIP on Africa Mercy Ships . Imagine, these medical professionals pay to be able to offer their services to thousands - over 30,000 to date.
H. P. Blavatsky pointed with high praise to the compassion of Tolstoy. The inscription in H. P. B.'s presentation copy to Tolstoy of The Voice of The Silence , reads: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, “one of the few”, E. Blavatsky. You will recall she dedicated The Voice of The Silence to the few.
From H. P. B.’s translation of Tolstoy’s On the Science of Life: “Our life, ever since we became conscious of it, is a pendulum-like motion between the two limits. One limit is an absolute unconcern for the life of the infinite Universe, an energy directed only toward the gratification of one’s own personality. The other limit is a complete renunciation of that personality, the greatest concern with the life of the infinite Universe, in full accord with it, the transfer of all our desires and good will from one’s self, to that infinite Universe and all the creatures outside of us.” In a footnote: This is what the Theosophists call “living the life” — in a nut-shell. We have translated this rather lengthy fragment from the Report of Count Tolstoy’s superb lecture, because it reads like the echo of the finest teachings of the universal ethics of true theosophy.”
In The Key to Theosophy , H. P. Blavatsky writes of Father Damien , a young Catholic priest who served the lepers in Hawaii. On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, lepers were literally dumped into the ocean and left to fend for themselves without food or shelter or hope. Whatever supplies had been sent with them were thrown in the water, relying on currents to carry them ashore or the exiles to retrieve them. In 1873, Father Damien was sent to the lepers by his church for a time period of 3 months and ordered not to touch anyone. He never left once he arrived; he used his carpenter skills, learned in Belgium, to build homes, churches and coffins; he arranged for medical services and funding from Honolulu. Father Damien worked to restore human dignity and respect for life to each leper. He taught the lepers how to grow crops so they could eat better. He provided medical attention for the wounds and sicknesses that could be healed and, when they couldn’t be, he organized burial details and performed funeral rites, so that death might be seen with some dignity.
In 1889, his sermon began “We lepers...” He died from leprosy that year, aged 49. The life he had lived among the lepers led to an intensive study of the disease, eventually resulting in a cure.
H. P. B. said of him: “He was a true Theosophist, and his memory will live for ever in our annals.” “Had we the means to do so, we would raise a statue to Father Damien, the true, practical saint, and perpetuate his memory for ever as a living exemplar of Theosophical heroism — and of Buddha, and Christ-like mercy and self-sacrifice.”
In the June 8th issue of Theosophy Watch there is a feature on Father Damien and there are several online documentary films about him worth seeing as well. There are so many quotes on compassion from the writings of H.P.B. But perhaps none is more important than this, from The Voice of The Silence:
“Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of laws ...” Thus compassion and its source must be sought in the Heart, rather than the head. It is written: “As man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
In Lucifer, November, 1887, H. P. B. wrote “He who does not practice altruism; he who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or a poorer than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever race, nation, or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and does not undertake his defense as he would undertake his own – is no Theosophist.”
We find in Five Messages : “Therefore it is that the Ethics of Theosophy are even more necessary to mankind than the scientific aspects of the psychic facts of nature and man.” And, “The life of altruism is not so much a high ideal as a matter of practice.”
Here is the answer to the question ‘How To Awaken Compassion’ - “The life of altruism is not so much a high ideal as a matter of practice.”
We are already very skilled in the use of compassion; but our use of compassion is restricted to what we love and care about.
We must practice compassion by seeing the other is truly myself.
COMPASSION IS EVERYWHERE; ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS LOOK FOR IT IN OURSELVES; THEN WE CAN BEGIN TO EXPAND OUR USE OF IT.
Practice, practice … practice!