"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heroes & Compassion

How do you define a hero?

Many here love their soldiers

 "Classical heroism clashed with the Bible because while the former valued power, Christ's heroism prized truth.  Other kingdoms fostered heroic deeds by cultivating racial, geographic, linguistic, religious, class, or caste pride and hatred. Jesus made love the supreme value of the kingdom of God.This love was not sentimentalism. It went beyond loving one's neighbors as oneself. Its supreme manifestation was the cross: sacrificing oneself for others, including one's enemies."

"I have set you an example..."

"Jesus' heroism replaced brutality with love, pride with meekness, and domination over others with self-sacrificing service.He exemplified this when he humbled himself, took a basin of water and a servant's towel, and started washing his disciples' feet. This, he said, is what the kingdom of God is all about. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. All power in heaven and on earth, he claimed, was his.  But he had come not to be served, but to serve, not to kill but to give eternal life.  These were not homilies delivered by a guru who sat on a golden throne. These teachings changed history because they emanated from a life lived in the public arena."  (pg. 134,135)

That was in a section on Heroes, but the following was on Compassion. I decided to post them together because I think self-sacrificing heroes such as Jesus display not how handy they are with swords and bombs, but how caring for others and compassion can change the world.

"Nietzsche was not alone in condemning Christian compassion. Many Hindus cannot believe that the poor are not the victims of their own karma and that God cares for the poor. They cannot understand why the West gives so much charity to serve the poor and destitute in India.They deeply suspect Western philanthropy and dislike the fact that Christians deliberately choose to serve, educate, and empower lower castes and the marginalized."  (pg. 300)

Dedicated to serving

The author then talks about how Christianity (eventually!) developed a culture of caring and compassion and how this relates to advances in modern medicine.  He speaks of the "tremendous heritage" of the Islamic civilization and its part in medicine especially Abu'l-Qasim Khalef ibn Abbas az-Zahrawi who "restored surgery to its former glory and wrote a medical encyclopedia."  He claimed plastic surgery developed first among his people, the Indians, because of the need for replacing noses that had been cut off when people acted shamefully such as committing adultery. He recognizes other civilizations' parts in medical history, however, he notes these things:

"With this tremendous heritage, Islamic civilization could have gone on to develop modern medicine, because Islam also believed in a compassionate God and respected Jesus Christ as a prophet. It failed to capitalize on its assets because it preferred to follow a military hero - Muhammad - in place of a self-sacrificing savior, Christ. Consequently, the Islamic tradition could not glorify self-giving service as a superior value."  (pg. 308)

Zorro ready to help!

Karma became another philosophical factor preventing a culture of care. A person's suffering was believed to be a result of her or his karma (deeds) in a previous life. In other words, suffering, was cosmic justice. To interfere with cosmic justice is like breaking into a jail and setting a prisoner free.  If you cut short someone's suffering, you would actually add to his suffering because he would need to come back to complete his due quota of suffering. You do not help a person when you interfere with the cosmic law of justice.

As human beings we Indians have as much natural empathy as anyone else in the world, but the doctrine of karma prevented us from turning  that natural empathy into institutions and traditions of caring.
Compassion from medical professionals

Buddhism did teach karuna (compassion) as a high value, but Buddhist compassion could not develop into a culture of care.  This was partly because Buddhism, too, believed in the doctrine of karma and partly because it taught that we must not get attached to anyone.  The Buddha had to renounce his own wife and son to find enlightenment. He saw attachment as a cause of suffering.  Detachment, therefore, became an important religious virtue.  That turned Buddhist karuna into compassion without commitment to another person.  Those whose commitment was to their own spiritual enlightenment did not have the motivation to develop a scientific medical tradition. (pg. 312)

Me and My Dad

I thought that idea of "compassion without commitment" rather interesting to consider. Is this like when we see some poor souls on television and feel sad for their plight,yet we do nothing to help? We hurt for their being raped (like in the Congo where rape is rampant) or their children starving or their families being bombed by soldiers yet we do nothing, we commit none of our time or money or energy into changing things.

What most stood out to you as you read this?  Any thoughts, comments, corrections, additions?

quotes from The Book That Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi


sanil said...

I get a little disturbed when someone of any religion seems to have an agenda bent on saying that theirs is the best at doing something or even the only one to do it at all. I think that the author misses a lot and makes incorrect assumptions about the other religions mentioned because it's somehow a threat to his (or her?) own if Jesus wasn't the only one who ever really taught his followers to care for others.

More specifically, I find the comment that Muslims chose to follow a military leader amusing immediately after saying they follow the same compassionate God, as if A)Christians always get it right and always have and B)Jesus doesn't have those militaristic aspects himself. ("I have not come to bring peace, but a sword"?) It's easy to only focus on what we like about our own traditions and only what we don't about others, but it isn't honest.

I'd be interested to see sources cited about Hindus being anti-charity. I'm not going to say for certain that it's not true, because I don't know either way. I've just never thought of it before. For Buddhism, though, I have to be nitpicky and point out that regardless of whether Buddhism actually supports charity, that is not what detachment in that case means. Desiring more (money, happiness, whatever) makes you suffer instead of being content with what you have, so Buddhism teaches not to desire more for yourself in the physical world but to strive instead for spiritual well-being. Not all that unlike Christianity, where Jesus suggested his followers sell everything and give it to the poor. That doesn't mean Buddhists don't care about or help others.

Also, anyone who thinks that self-sacrifice is incompatible with Buddhism/Hinduism should read some of Gandhi's thoughts on non-violence. I won't quote them, b/c that would take a lot of space and there's a nice and revealing collection at Wikipedia anyway.

Christianity has a lot to offer people. Many of its followers have done great things in the name of their God. That stands on its own, and doesn't require that it be the only one to add anything of value to society in order to be important or true. Personally, I'm more interested in learning about other religions on their own terms and merits than comparing them and trying to find the winner. (I know that's not what you're doing, I'm referring to the book...which in fairness might also not be doing that, I may be misreading.)

Susanne said...

Sanil, thanks for your views! I always enjoy the fact that you bring balance to posts. :)

The whole book is how the Bible influenced western civilization/western culture so, yeah, I guess the guy's got an agenda! :) At least it's an Indian from Allahabad not a Westerner writing it. Maybe that's a plus. :)

Overall I like the fact he does mention good aspects of other religions and really the book - in my opinion - does not bash the other religions. He does seem to believe Jesus is superior and the book definitely slants this way! Other religions mostly are mentioned by ways of comparison/contrasts, but rather than getting the sense of bashing them, I sense he is just saying how Christianity or Jesus rather or the Bible was able to influence people in a different way. He points out that when he first read the Bible, he hated parts of it so he's not saying everything is lovely within it. We all know it's not.

I sometimes hesitate sharing these things because I don't know if I fairly represent the author by taking short excerpts out of more than 400 pages. I don't want to misrepresent him or the book. I have the benefit of having read these passages in context and sometimes forget whoever reads here has not.

But based on what I shared here, I do appreciate your thoughts on that and how it "disturbed" you *and* the fact you took the time to counter some of the statements presented.

Thank you again! :)

sanil said...

It would be interesting to read the whole book. :) I did try (but probably failed) to allow for the fact that I haven't read the book and might be misinterpreting. Not your fault at all, you can't post the whole book in an entry! :D I think your readers probably understand that we're getting limited glimpses here. I should learn to tone down my comments until after I've actually seen the authors in context. :) But I think you actually do a good job of being fair to the authors and representing them well. It's always interesting to see your thoughts on them and a lot of times leads to me wishlisting the book for later.

Lat said...

Loved the pic of you and your dad! That's so beautiful! And thank you for including the Mother Teresa bit,as it book's author is Indian,so i'm not surprised at all :)

Enjoyed how the author brought out certain aspects of his arguement and agree with Sanil's comment above. Thank you for sharing this!

Susanne said...

Sanil, it's fine. I like your honest/gut reaction. :) I sometimes make note of things that were of interest to me realizing too that not everyone else will really enjoy it. Still, I appreciate the feedback always. Thank you! :)

Susanne said...

Lat, I was trying to think of different groups we might think of as heroes. Soldiers, fictitious heroes like Zorro and doctors, mothers and fathers came to mind. Also I thought of people who help the poor so Mother Teresa it is. I figured my dad could represent the parents. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!