Compassion: a dynamic new movement?

Compassion appears to be in short supply these days.  The Charter for Compassion is a new movement to reclaim this ancient truth found in most spiritual and moral traditions.  Yesterday it was unveiled in 125 cities around the world!  The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were among the initial signers of the charter.  They may be onto something.  The people who showed up in those 125 cities are certainly onto something too!

A multi day gathering called Seeds of Compassion drew more than 150,000 participants in Seattle last year.  The lead line-up included His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  During their visit I hosted a breakfast conversation with them.  Those present could not have missed their playfulness and humor!  What is striking is that these two spiritual leaders have stood against powerful forces of violence and hatred.  They are unflinching in their resistance to injustice. Yet there they were joshing with each other, taking delight in life.  Their playful interactions, like their lives, reflect compassion within, without and for others.

I marveled at the vast number of people who showed up in Seattle to engage in conversations about compassion in the world.  For many who refer to themselves as spiritual not religious, compassion is an authentic, compelling spiritual value.  When you experience it in another, you know that is for real.  The large crowds in Seattle are, I believe, indicative of a deep spiritual hunger for meaning and purpose.  There is no elaborate dogma attached to compassion.

The Charter for Compassion begins with a reminder that the principle of compassion I sat the heart of all traditions – ethical, religious and spiritual.  It calls for the restoration of compassion to the center of morality and religion.  The signers express urgency about making compassion “a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.”

Reflecting the simplicity of compassion, the document speaks simply about compassion as a way of being.  It does not side-step the question that drives so many away from, or into ambivalence, about religion.  It asks that there be a “return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.”  Simplicity is not to be confused with shallowness or lack of spine!  Breeding disdain, violence and hatred of any kind is rejected with simple clarity.  That is a breath of fresh air billowing through the religious clutter of disdain and hatred! Is this what people all over the world are responding to in the unveiling of the Charter- compassion as the legitimate grounding of spiritual life?

The language of the document reminds me of Desmond Tutu’s persistent reminder that we are all made for “oneness”. Or of the Dalia Lama insisting that we are all inter-twined.  Is the authentic compassion of these two spiritual leaders what caused over 150,000 in Seattle to come out and talk about compassion?

The Charter for Compassion recognizes that compassion is taught and instilled in the lives of the young when they are given, “accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures.” It doesn’t stop there.   It urges a pro-active apperception of cultural and religious diversity.

Is this all simply about a “feel good” experience?   The Charter reminds us that when we denigrate others, even our enemies, we deny “or common humanity.” It invites us to “cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings.”

I read this and I think of Tutu and the Dalai Lama poking each other in the ribs and laughing like delighted children over breakfast.  Their joy, in spite of all they have lived through, is palpable. It is the real thing.  They have each cultivated compassion for themselves and for those who have been their enemies.  Compassion for them, as it is for us, is a way of being.  It is about a mindful approach to life.  We cultivate it.

Compassion may be the only bridge across which divisions, violence and hatred can be re-imagined.  As I looked at those present at the unveiling of The Charter for Compassion last night in Seattle I had the feeling that I was witnessing the start of a grassroots movement.  A spiritual movement that reflected the hope, yearning and expectation in the eyes of the 150,000 who came to hear Tutu, the Dalai Lama and others speak about compassion.  Unlike those crowds, the supporters of the Charter are part of a connected network that technology has made possible.  Technology is making possible the reminder that compassion is the abiding, central truth of all spiritual and moral traditions.


Watch Robert discussing Building a Values Based Framework on YouTube

Read or post comments


  1. Well said, Robert! Though I’ve not seen the Dalai Lama in person, I did have the joyful privilege of sitting near Archbishop Tutu at a diocesan convention gathering in Connecticut the year he won the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact the award was announced just a day or two before.

    You’re right that he is full of a childlike joy and delight, despite — and perhaps because of — what he has lived through in his lifetime. His ubuntu way of life, compassion for others and his ardent belief in the redemption of even the worst situations, was quite evident.

    I can just imagine those two great leaders as they giggled together. Their sense of humor is, no doubt, quite contagious! And that will help model the love and compassion that they live.

  2. Compassion starts in something as simple as the delighted look in a friend’s eye and a tickle. I remember that tickle, the deliciousness of it, and the wistfullness I felt that even while experiencing it, knowing that my compassionate relationships had to take another form.

    And that is the task. Finding the form of compassionate expression that works best for each of us and engaging in it, full out, in private, in public, alone and in concert with community, with tears and with tickles. That’s the only way it works.

  3. Karen Armstrong is in my pantheon of spiritual heroes! She climbed out of the nunnery, attempted a doctorate at Oxford on Tennyson, but was side-swiped by epilepsy and still has gone on to be one of the world’s leading interfaith lights. Anybody could use a $100K, but she took her TED prize money and turned it into a Charter, which I’m wagering will take its place among the most pivotal treatises and synods of all world religions.

  4. Great blog!!! Very informative and inciteful. Excellent!!!

Leave a Reply

Using Gravatars in the comments - get your own and be recognized!

XHTML: These are some of the tags you can use: <a href=""> <b> <blockquote> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>