Saturday, May 6, 2017


An interesting question came up after the bi-weekly meditation session at my house this past week. I had suggested at the beginning of our sit, in conformance with the metta practice I have learned over the years, that participants send out wishes of compassion and goodwill to all, including those we dislike or mistrust. In this context, at this point in our history, the name of Donald Trump comes inevitably to mind.

So do we send out wishes of goodwill to a man who represents everything we dislike and whose transparent and consistent lying fosters anything but trust? One of our participants balked at the prospect. She thought it would be hypocritical to wish well for a person she despised--and with good reason, amply provided by the man himself. Should she have felt compassion for, say... Adolf Hitler? And in any case, would the goodwill she sent out have any discernible effect? We all thought, probably not.

Thinking back on our discussion--it was not an "argument," because we weren't at all in disagreement about the man who sits, to our mutual dismay, in the Oval Office--I began to wonder if "hypocrisy" was quite the right word. Hypocrisy is a disconnect between the moral values we embrace before the world, and the words we speak or actions that we take. My own core values, and those that inspire the metta practice, include compassion and the Buddhist injunction to "do no harm."

Do I feel inner resistance to sending out compassion to a man I judge does not deserve it? Yes! It's hard to do without an inner reservation of some kind: fingers slyly crossed behind my back! Some part of me definitely does not wish the man well. Some part of me wishes passionately for what I believe to be his deserved comeuppance. And that part, too, derives from what I believe to be another set of core values: justice, equal opportunity and treatment for all human beings, respect for the natural environment, and so on. Is it hypocritical to bypass these in favor of the others? Do some core values stand in open conflict with others?

I think not. I think they are consistent with each other. What's inconsistent with the whole package is to blame others who transgress them. That's where hypocrisy lies. If I extend compassion only to those I judge deserve it, I liken myself to those in political circles who truly believe that health care should be available only to those who've earned the right and the ability to pay for it. Compassion, I have to believe, must be bigger than myself or those for whom I feel it. Compassion has to be unreserved or it becomes, well... uncompassionate.

In meditation, then, if I'm to abide by the value of what it is I'm doing, I need to get past those obstacles in my mind--judgments, reactive feelings--that prevent me from finding that "bigger" place from which to exercise compassion. It also helps to remind myself that compassion can be as healing for myself as much as others.

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