Justice Compassion Justice: The Dalai Lama and a Little Bit of Durga

This has been a strange couple of weeks–last week’s visit to hear the Dalai Lama speak sandwiched between two courtroom appearances–although the Dalai Lama is less like lunchmeat and more like some kind of exquisite ice cream holding together two chocolate wafers. What a quirky little man. And yet, he is a force. The more the experience of seeing him at the epicenter of the coming together of so many people from different walks of life sits with me, the more I see there is a depth in his thinking I’d hoped to find but wasn’t sure I would. Sounds arrogant, but let me explain.

It is easy to be compassionate to people less fortunate than ourselves. That doesn’t mean we do anything about it, but sometimes we do. What is harder is compassion towards your enemies, and the Dalai Lama does in fact address this in his latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. I was concerned primarily that justice falls by the wayside in an ethics that emphasizes compassion, but not as he sees the relationship between compassion and justice. Not only do you hold your enemies accountable, but if punishment is necessary to prevent further aggression, then punishment (always with compassion) is allowed. There is a place for justice in his system, and justice is desirable and necessary, but alway accompanied by compassion.

Even without the opportunity to take in the Dalai Lama’s visit, I would have wrestled with how I ought to feel and act leading up to hearings I’ve been waiting for for a year and a half. I have done tonglen out the ying yang. It is a compassion meditation I have practiced for several years. And yet, because the injustices seemed heaping and accountability for my husband’s ex non-existent, I have still spent a lot of time being angry. So I have asked myself–what do I want?

It is simple. I have never wanted revenge. I do not want to see her suffer. That’s only sad. Punishment is not necessary, since she makes so many bad decisions that she punishes herself. But I want her to stop.

  • Stop treating my husband like a cash-cow. He overpaid you so you wouldn’t make good on your threats to move the children out of state when they were little. You rode that gravy-train for the same number of year you were married to him. Stand on your own two feet. Sell one of your houses if you have to. If you must, think you are a good person because you didn’t remove two small children–who exist only because of his basic goodness and ethical principles about life–from their father. To think doing the right thing tethered him to a person who used him and continues to make outrageous demands while he worries and works hurts my heart. This is where I start thinking of Indian goddesses–Durga comes to mind–who smite their enemies. (The Dalai Lama might not approve. . .)
  • Stay on your side of the fence. What we do is none of your business. We work for what we have. Give it a try.
  • Get your mental mitts off my husband. I quote–“You and I have a lifetime together because we have children together.” Imagine Wanda dropping immediately onto her meditation cushion. May you–crazy lady who thinks she still has an originary claim on my soulmate–experience loving-kindness and the root of loving kindness. ARG. . . Don’t comment on my husband’s fitness, pray he reaches his fitness goals, or report how fast you can run, ever, but especially not in the middle of a lawsuit. We don’t care. I’ll watch over his health. Oh, get some help, because I don’t know anyone who thinks they have a lifetime with an ex. My ex-husband and I are both happy we get along as well as we do, but neither of us is under the delusion that we now or in the future might “share a lifetime” with the other. There is respect and even caring, but no claims on the other. These kinds of claims are inappropriate even when you are married. Several wise women have said all along that this demand is the root of all of her behavior, but it is still shocking to hear her say it.
  • Just stop making demands for money and attention and live your life. That’s all I want. No retribution. You are a thief and a liar, but just a wall of normalcy will be enough.

All this to say that I am relieved to hear that compassion and justice can co-exist. I can feel compassion most of the time, although it is hardest when I feel the children are suffering or in the moment of an attack on me or us as a couple. In fact, I tend to be exceptionally calm as things are happening, but anger and indignation arrive eventually. If you’ve ever practiced martial arts, at that moment, I just want a quick block and counter punch, that’s all. Again, not what the Dalai Lama is promoting. Probably the block would be okay?

The Dalai Lama is calling for an ethics beyond religion. It is ironic that I traveled to see this famous man in the company of someone whose aggression toward me has caused great difficulties over the years. I can feel compassion for her because I see that she is a very fearful person. It is beyond me why there are people in this world who think others are bad if those others don’t believe exactly what they believe. Why would you ever insist that others believe as you do? It’s just bizarre. I have only had two enemies in my life, and both see themselves as women of faith–good people–surrounded by others without values. Both have sought to take away the most fundamental building stones of a happy life, my work and my love.

I am called to extend compassion to both. Both are fearful and spiteful people. In the case of the one, it is easy, because justice was done. But between weeks in court, we are waiting. I still struggle with compassion from the Buddhist perspective in terms of non-attachment. Both Christianity and Buddhism say love the sinner, hate the sin. Buddhism says I shouldn’t be (overly) attached to good things or good people, and it seems that it is this very non-attachment that should be the well-spring of compassion for enemies, so that my compassion doesn’t have to come from my understanding of the specificity of that person but their universal humanity. A student rightly asked this week–but isn’t it easier to have compassion if we know why the other person did something wrong to us? This seems the crux of the issue. In my opinion, my husband’s ex-wife is not well, and that is the source of her disconnect with reality and what others owe her. The Dalai Lama made the point, however, that compassion can have two places of inception–the love and kindness we receive from parents and the cultivation of compassion in adulthood, whether we had loving parents or not. I suspect she did not have the former, and I have compassion for her for that reason alone. That knowledge helps me have compassion for her. But I also know what she has been given, and that makes her meanness inexplicable. The Dalai Lama says intentions matter, and he means we should do the right thing for the right reasons (guess he’s a little Kantian). (Imagine the Dalai Lama chuckling and Kant looking stern.) But what about the intentions of the person doing the harm? Clearly the lawsuit is the child of envy and nothing else. It is why the situation screams for justice. It occurs to me that world-views that allow for a concept of the self might see justice as more pivotal in ethics, whereas compassion seems to go hand in hand with a no-self doctrine. I guess that’s obvious.

A yoga teacher recently asked her students what makes up the core of who you are and what part of that core extends out into the external world? At the same time, she wondered what is happening when we get “shaken to the core”? I’m not sure I know the answers to that nexus of questions, but I would say with some certainty that connectedness is at my core, and I get shaken to my core when someone tramples on that desire to connect, either by giving me names that say I destroy connection or by making claims on those I love that are unjust.

A wise young women asked me if I plan on dressing as a witch for Halloween. I was stunned it hadn’t occurred to me that this is the very thing I need to do. I’ll be stepping out as an agnostic paramour at the end of the month. Thanks to all the witchy, smart, ethical, irreverent women who have helped along the way over the past three years. So glad I already have a broomstick. The boots are a new acquisition.

~Wanda

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1 Comment

  1. PhiloPsycho says:

    What you wrote about the two women who have tried so hard to steal your joy made me wonder if the search for Truth might have undesirable consequences. The one who was along on your trip seems to be convinced that she is right. Therefore, in her mind, those who don’t believe the same truth as she does are wrong (and consequently, ‘bad’). It seems her intentions are not to do good for the benefit of others (preventing harm, alleviating suffering), but to follow the rules of her ideology and serve her own interests. That seems selfish to me. So, does firm belief in an ultimate Truth breed selfishness and lack of compassion, even if some acts (feeding the hungry, etc.) are good? Where is the interconnectedness, if the goal is to win for the home team? Maybe the question is, What is her ideology’s goal? Ideologies seem to drive people to do a lot of punching…

    Ah, these advanced brains of ours! We love to have a reason for everything. We want certainty, darnit!
    In my line of work, we strive to understand why people do what they do (harm their children) because then we can recommend to the court what kinds of services ought to be included in a treatment plan. It also prevents us from being so biased and judgmental that we alienate the parents we work with. Sometimes, though, there comes a point when we must say, “There is no help for this person / they have been offered help but they refuse it. The child cannot wait. Permanent custody should be transferred.” I like to preface this kind of statement with “The parent says s/he loves the child. Unfortunately…” We can have compassion without allowing the person in question to harm others (or ourselves). We don’t have to punch, but we can block. I don’t think that is contrary to an ethics based on compassion.

    I think the concept of a “self” is a bit of a monad lol Can’t quite put my finger on its existence, but I have to call it something. Freud definitely grappled with it- even broke the self up into ego stages, so either he was way off and the self is an illusion, or we MUST have a way of speaking about what fuels our motivations and behaviors. I don’t know if there is a no-self doctrine, so much as a compassion doctrine that puts self somewhere beneath consideration for others. Not sure what that means for the airplane analogy of putting on an oxygen mask first before assisting others with their masks…
    Gah.

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