Christian Long

Bob Thurman: We Can Be Buddhas

In TED Talks on May 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Extra credit reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Bob Thurman:  We Can Be Buddhas

Firstly, this has been one of the more engaging and realistic TED talks I have watched.

Bob Thurman is exactly what he appears to be, and there is an unconscious comfort in knowing his character is genuine. From there, his words touch closer to the soul as opposed to the cognitive part of the brain; we don’t process his speech as much as we directly live the words. Thurman makes a valuable connection with the individual audience member and once this relationship is established, the components or words of Thurman’s presentation are no longer just spoken words, but truth.

The most critical point of his speech is in the statement “Enlightenment is attainable through compassion”.

It sounds simple enough; it sounds as if I could be enlightened a few minutes after giving money to WWF. Compassion, however, is misperceived in our current society. Its not simply being charitable and loving, but having the ability and desire to empathize other human beings and live through them and enlighten them in order to lift the monster of suffering from them. It’s a complex term, but achieved in a simple, but extremely difficult way.

In order to locate our problem with compassion, we must first acknowledge that the materialistic world has us hardwired to believe in an unalterable, media-sponsored definition of happiness. All around is the modernized definition of happiness; in the commercials, the advertisements in magazines, anywhere that has a surface available for sponsorship or advertisement. We are supposed to believe that the material goods being promoted all around us are going to give us happiness, which is discussed in depth in one of my analyses on happiness located here*. (ß advertisement) However, in an inevitable circle of suffering, we end up being unhappy.

This is where our confrontation with compassion becomes difficult and awkward. Thurman says that once people embrace the idea of being compassionate, in the means defined previously, people are hesitant to empathize other people, because they don’t want to add the struggles of others to their own personal struggles. At first is appears complicated, and we have the natural tendency to oppose this idea of our inability to be compassionate, but in reality it is all too true.

For instance, parents with neurologically average children are afraid to jump into the shoes of a parent with an autistic child. Again, we have a natural tendency to deny this, but I know that I personally would be afraid to put myself in that position. Or in a different position, one who is healthy is reluctant to empathize the diseased. The weight of our personal burden becomes heavier once we take into account the distress of the others around us as well. However, there is a lesson to be learned from this.

Thurman then mentions the Dalai Lama, and how he is able to be joyous despite the horrid things being done to the people around him. The initial reaction to this is to be disgusted! How can such a spiritual leader maintain a happy misdemeanor all the time, and still feel the individual blow against an old peaceful nun and the hunger of the prisoners in the Chinese prisons. It is because after he had embraced compassion, he had opened himself and his struggles and his life to others, so that a web of empathy and connection would share the strife and happiness with all who are connected. After such hideous crimes of humanity are committed, at the end of the day, no good can come from adding strife to the communal happiness linked between us all. It just makes us that much sadder. The innocent prisoner could experience suffering in the prison cell minute by minute, but if the Dalai Lama is happy, and the people around him share happiness, then he can bask in the good fortune around him. The Dalai Lama shares compassion for everybody. If we find compassion, we can empathize the others who are suffering and help them to achieve compassion and end their suffering; we can connect to them, and shed hope for better situations and find the good vision.

The power to genuinely empathize appears to be a difficult one to come about, unfortunately. Fortunately, it may not be as hard as it appears.

Compassion is the ability to live in other people, to care for them, to wish for their enlightenment and desire to bring happiness to them. That sounds easy enough. However, it is also the ability to be selfless in your desire, which is not the easy part. Again, our society has lead us to strive for our own happiness, no matter what stands in the way, and this desire has been the ultimate misfortune for us all. Genuine compassion can only be achieved if you leave the suffering “thing,” as Thurman says, that we keep locked up inside us. This “thing” is the troublesome circle of “I, I, me, me, mine,” as one of my favourite Beatles song goes. It is our nature to satisfy nobody’s desire but our own. If we can leave this circle of “I me mine” we can expand our minds and our compassion and our wisdom into the infinite universe where there are lessons everywhere.

There’s not much difficulty involved in finding compassion; it is simply a nature that every soul has within them. The only problem is we may have forgotten the importance of compassion. Never fear, when we look inside ourselves, our capability is still there. Finally, the process of becoming enlightened is a beneficial journey as opposed to a futile mission as many readers may regard it. In finding the compassion housed within ourselves, we open up so many doors that, if used, will help us get by in life.

*Matthieu Ricard: The Habits of Happiness

For the Beatleheads:


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