Charter for Compassion

Monday, November 23, 2009


A call to bring the world together…


The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

在公共生活的私人生活中设身处地地对待他人,避免不断地给他人带来痛苦。 出于恶意,狂热的爱国主义或自私自利而出现极端言行; 剥夺他人基本权利,利用他人的基本权利或否定他人的基本权利;通过诋毁他人-甚至我们敌人-煽动仇恨都是有违于我们的基本人性的。 我们得承认我们的生活中缺乏仁爱,甚至一些人还以宗教的名义给人类增加更多苦难。

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.


We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

我们迫切需要 让仁爱成为我们已经极化的世界中一股清晰,引人注意的,动态的力量。因为作为一种本原上就可以超越自私自利的原则性力量, 仁爱可以打破政治,教条,意识形态和宗教藩篱。 生来就深深相互依赖的人类使得仁爱成为人类关系和完整的人性中的基本元素。仁爱是通往启蒙之路, 是创建公正的经济与和平的国际社会所必不可少的。

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.

The following arose in part out of a facebook comment I had from a friend, Charles Reynes. Charles is National Science Teacher of the Year. Hopefully, he will meet President Obama when he goes to Washington D.C. in January for a week of activities in connection with his achievement, a blessing well deserved. But I digress, last night I posted:
Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.
Charles responded:
When I first became a teacher, I had a principal who focused her attention on my deficiencies, which were numerous. She moved on. The next principal saw my weaknesses, I'm sure, but rather than trying to make me conform, she encouraged me to be innovative, to take risks.

Disabilities are often much easier to spot than gifts, in ourselves and others. We can squander a lifetime trying to become something we're not, to remediate or compensate for our disabilities. On the other hand, when we focus on our gifts, we become so brilliant that our disabilities seem to fade away.

As I heard Mister Rogers say one morning when my kids were small, "Look for what others can do, and when you find it, appreciate it." My life is so much better for the people who saw in me what I had yet to see in myself.

This is one reason you are such a great teacher, Todd. You are able to see what people can do. (Hey, I included this last paragraph not for reasons of vanity, but because it helped me see connections)

Charles' comments are a gift in themselves. As a fellow educator, I appreciate his constant effort to reflect on his own experiences in education. But I also appreciate his comments for more deeply allowing me to ponder even more and draw other connections. He took my thinking to another place, which is why I like talking with Charles so much. He has that gift for lifting thoughts, which is why I think he is a great teacher.

My original comment was generated last night after the Rabbi asked us to ponder why in Genesis 27:32, Jacob is tricking his father by pretending to be Esau in order to gain his father's blessing which "rightfully" belongs to Esau, and then in Genesis 28, Jacob is being blessed by God. Clearly, God can't be endorsing deception as the path to blessing. There are many possible explanations, and Rabbis of the past have not all agreed on one interpretation. My own explanation was that maybe God doesn't play the reward and punishment game; after all, the foremost patriarch, Abraham, also engaged in what appears as despicable behavior (when he went to Egypt for example and claimed that Sara was his sister, so that no harm would come to himself 12:11-). He too was blessed, with progeny (as many as the stars, and to become a father to many nations). I admit the idea that God doesn't engage in reward and punishment is somewhat tenuous given the tenor of some parts of Torah. On the other hand, I find the Torah to contains so much for so many. I take comfort in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner who said both, "If you try to make it all work together, you will 'crash and burn.'" and, "my choice is reverence".

At any rate, I found myself blurting out that gifts and disabilities seem pretty random, as part of my reasoning. For those who take a "God is all controlling view", I think this looks like a heretical claim for a believer. But in life, as in Torah, blessings do seem random, and the sufferings (for example in the case of Job), undeserved. Still, in our arguing with God (Genesis 18:25 Abraham: "The judge of all the earth-will he not do what is just?) and in our wrestling (Genesis 32:21-33 Jacob wrestling with the man/G_d on the verge of seeing his brother again.), God seems to learn and teach with us, granting us the blessing to see blessings. It may not be the only lesson, but it is a good one to take away from Torah. As Charles added later: "It's both a blessing to ourselves and to others when we are able to see blessings."

Which brings me back to my Rabbi, Rabbi Suzy Stone. I laugh as I consider that she changed around some of our local ritual (minhag) last night, so as to talk about what we are thankful for, on this, the last shabbat before a secular holiday, Thanksgiving. She then proceeded to go on about Jacob as if there was no necessary connection. I feel like I am in the presence of a Jewish Zen master when things like this happen. ... As I approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for good friends like Charles, Rabbis like Suzy, my children, my students, Marshall School, and Shir Ami, you all inspire my thinking, hopefully my actions, and are in so many ways, such a blessing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Letter to President Obama from Ding Zilin, a member of Tiananmen Mothers

from the Human Rights in China web site.

November 13, 2009

[Chinese / 中文]

In early November 2009, at the request of Ding Zilin, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers – a group of families of the victims of the June Fourth government crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement – Human Rights in China translated into English a letter by Ding Zilin, and delivered the letter in its original and translation to President Obama before his visit to China.

Ding Zilin: Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I am a Chinese intellectual, a mother who lost her beloved son in the June Fourth Massacre in Beijing 20 years ago.

First, I would like to congratulate you on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and I look forward to your outstanding contributions to maintaining world peace, promoting the advancement of humanity, and putting America’s founding principles into practice.

On the eve of your trip to China in November, I am taking the liberty of writing to you with a request that you use your political wisdom and influence to save Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese independent intellectual.

To my knowledge, legislators and fighters for justice from several democratic countries and regions across the world have used various approaches and channels to demand that the Chinese government release Dr. Liu Xiaobo. In particular, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding the release of Dr. Liu with an absolute majority of 410 votes on October 1 this year, the 60th anniversary of the rule of the Communist regime in China. I therefore sincerely hope that you will not disappoint everyone’s expectations and that you will join in the rescue effort. As the president of the largest democratic country in the world, your actions will play a decisive role.

Dr. Liu Xiaobo has not only pursued democratic principles with courage, passion, and persistence, but has also steadfastly fought to achieve these principles with moderation and reason. He has been arrested and jailed many times over the past 20 years. Most recently, he was detained for taking part in the drafting of, and being an initial signatory to, the famous Charter 08 at the end of 2008. However, the deeper reason for his current arrest is his longstanding “June Fourth Complex.” That is, Dr. Liu has kept trying to do something for those involved with the June Fourth Incident, whether out of ethical concerns or his good heart. His actions have propelled him onto an independent intellectual’s path of no return. But, in the final analysis, who is at fault?

The arrest of Dr. Liu Xiaobo is representative of a whole series of “speech crimes” that have occurred in the Chinese mainland in recent years. That the police can, by brute force, deprive a citizen of his rights to freedom of speech and liberty of the person, and that this can happen in the glare of the public eye in the 21st century in a great country like China, must be intolerable to the leader of any civilized nation, especially the leader of the United States of America! I hope, Mr. President, that you will relay a strong message to the Chinese leaders: the United States does not support regimes that suppress the freedom of speech.

During your visit to China, numerous Charter 08 signatories and millions of those who love freedom and pursue democracy will eagerly watch your every move. If you think that one can overlook the Chinese government’s trampling of human rights and choose not to raise the issue during your visit, you will not only be ignoring the rights and interests of China’s political prisoners and their families, but will also seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. Hasn’t the human experience provided enough painful lessons in the past?

This is why, with the conscience of an intellectual and as a grieving, victimized mother, I’m writing this letter to you today. Whether you agree with my views or not, please let careful consideration inform your actions.

Wishing you a successful visit,

Ding Zilin

November 3, 2009






据 我所知,世界上一些民主国家和地区的正义之士、议会人士,都先后以不同方式、通过不同途径要求中国政府释放刘晓波博士;尤其是在10月1日中共建政60周 年当天,美国众议院以410票的绝对多数票通过了要求释放刘晓波博士的决议案。在此,我热切地期盼您不负众望,加入到这个营救行列中来。作为当今世界最大 民主国家的总统,您的举措,将起到举足轻重的作用。

一向以来,刘晓波博士不仅勇敢、热情、执着地追求民主的信念,而且始终不渝地以温和、 理性的态度去争取实现这种信念。在已经过去的二十年中,他数度遭中国政府当局逮捕入狱,最近一次是他於2008年底参与起草并发起签署着名的“零八宪 章”。然而,导致此次拘捕的更为深层的原因,是他始终怀有一种“六四情结”,对於涉及“六四”的人和事,无论从道义上还是良心上,一直想争取做点什么,致 使他走上了一条独立的自由知识分子的不归路。但这究竟是谁之罪?

逮捕刘晓波博士是近年来中国大陆所发生的一起最典型的 “以言获罪”。以警察之暴力去剥夺一位公民的言论和人身自由,此类事情竟众目睽睽地发生在二十一世纪的泱泱大国——中国,这恐怕是任何一个文明国家的首脑 ——尤其是美国的首脑无法容忍的!我期望总统先生向中国的领导人传达这样一个强烈的讯息:美国不支持压制言论自由的政权。

在您此次访华期 间,中国广大的《零八宪章》签署者、千百万热爱自由、追求民主的人们,将以热切的眼光注视着您的一言一行,如果在您的这次访问中认为中国政府对於人权的践 踏可以忽略,不必提及,那将不仅是对中国所有的政治羁押者及其家人权益的漠视,也将严重伤害中国公民的感情。以往人类所经历过的惨痛教训难道还少吗?


丁子霖 2009.11.3

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Perspective on Compassion

I have been thinking a lot about compassion lately; how it gets played out, what it means, why it is important. I really see it as key for our society right now. I was very happy to see Karen Armstrong, a prize winning author on world religions and God emphasize it. Ms. Armstrong has called for religious people from all over the world to create a Charter for Compassion. Religious leaders including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu support it. It is to be unveiled this week, November 12, 2009.

Compassion is really very simple, it comes down to feeling each others pain, seeking each others happiness and doing something to make for happiness and avoid suffering. Doing unto others as we would have them do to us, and what is not pleasing, don't do to others, this is the core. In Judaism, the Torah says, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Rabbi Hillel, said, "What is not pleasing to yourself, do not do to others..." It is a simple concept contained in all the major religions. It is our world heritage, a strength that we have moved away from in our attempts to more clearly define ourselves. You can hardly find people who would consciously say no to it, yet we don't always carry it out. Rather than defining ourselves away from each other, we should be building a greater unity, and compassion is the key. Our world requires it of us.

In my view, the world and especially the United States is over full of bureaucracy and prisons. Do you realize we have more prisoners than the Chinese?! I, for one, am not willing to set China up as a role model. But actually, China is a place to look at when we think about where we have gone wrong. China's first dynasty, the Qin, the one responsible for a unified written Chinese language, the unification of the Great Wall, the standardization of weights and measures, the Terracotta Soldiers, and a lot more, took rules and regulations, rewards and punishments to the extreme. The Qin way of going about the unification of language was to burn books that didn't meet the standard. When Confucians didn't follow the standard philosophy, they were slaughtered. The Qin were so good at punishing, that you could count on being killed if you were a conscript laborer and didn't get to the designated meeting place on time. (That's how so much got done in the Qin) In fact, that is how the dynasty came to an end: A large group of conscripted workers were delayed by a rainstorm. Rather than show up late and be killed, they decided to revolt, and there were many others who joined them. Bureacracy, prisons, the death penalty, the Qin, were good at it. Sustainability, they were not. The dynasty lasted less than 20 years.

If someone is doing wrong, make a rule for it, and designate the punishment. It seems that this is the trap we have fallen into. (I know, we are not so severe as the Qin, but...) I look at my work as a teacher, and what is overwhelming is the bureaucracy. The education code has become a massive tome, (that's one letter away from tomb). All of the regulations for how to handle students, teachers, principals, situations... its untenable. I certainly don't know all the rules. No one could possibly know all those rules. I look at all the paper work I am responsible to fill out, it is overwhelming. As many teachers complain, it is cutting in to our ability to teach the students. The requirements by the state on the school districts are also overwhelming, hence the tendency toward increased staffing at the district offices. In the current economic crises, this can not all be maintained. Looking around at society, I don't think I am so unique, bureaucratic forms seem to be necessary for so much. Then I look at the prison system here in California, it is also becoming untenable. More and more we have built. It certainly doesn't seem to be stopping crime. Some argue that it perpetuates it as a training ground and communication network. I see it competing with education for funds and worry. There is still not enough, prisoners are being released into society due to the shortage of funds. More rules, less schools, more prisons seems like the direction we have been heading for too long. Why do we have to have all of these rules? To keep us on the right path, but obviously it is not working.

Many have argued that we need a new mythological framework from which to unite the greater populace of the world, but it is clear there is no myth that holds all of us together. I have thought about this a long time. People aren't ready to give up their religion, or their atheism, and it really isn't the democratic way to give up your religion, or atheism, nor does it respect diversity. But compassion, this key component of all religions and yes, science has had a lot to say for it too, can play an important role in bringing us together. By bringing about a resurgence in compassionate action, everyone trying to do the right thing, everyone talking about how compassion works in our houses of worship, our schools, and our workplaces, we can make a difference. It may be the glue that brings society together. A society working on compassion would need a lot fewer rules and prisons. Compassion means concretely figuring out how to help each child learn, how to help people stop engaging in crime and ultimately how to build the human endeavor. It means, getting our priorities straight. I think we can go much deeper in our practice of compassion.

I look forward to the unveiling of the Charter for Compassion on November 12th with great hope. I hope you do too. We need a change in direction, and putting compassionate action at the fore has great potential. For more information and perspectives, please see the Charter for Compassion web site at:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Untitled For the Time Being

you learn about life
watching kids in a service
it happened to me
it happened to the rabbi
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
sometimes the best sermons
should be abandoned
for what
for improvisation on reality?
not so good at that
it takes a long time
to come up with
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
and the rabbi had that
one would have thought that
the downfall would be
too much noise
while the message is delivered
noise can be diverted
but children can hijack a service
you call out for justice
you argue with the Infinite for justice
little james
he called out for justice
he argued with his parents
for justice
the other little boy was a hoarder
there are hoarders in the world
what do you do about them
james didn’t want to ignore
and there wouldn’t be a story
if james did ignore
justice, justice, you shall pursue
james had heard the message
but the other little boy had not
now some might ask
where was the other boy’s father?
the Av/father of this situation
laissez faire freedom
some might argue
he was there
but he was not there
laisssez faire freedom
is just too easy
it isn’t the father
after all
we have a world full of hoarders
and the spiritual message
should be able
to deal with hoarders
one would have thought
the father would
step in
and take away
the hoarded goods
but he did not
looking at the father
he wasn’t a hoarder
he looked more
the victim of hoarders
he looked exhausted
spent by the hoarders
so spent
that he was not there
so that is where we are
for whatever reason
hoarders we have
was what was
called for
justice should be combined
with compassion
thats what the rabbis
what is not pleasing
to you
do not do to others
so where was the rabbi?
he had a plan
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
if you abandon the plan
what do you have?
it really isn’t a simple problem
somebody call the president
oh, that’s right
he gave millions to the hoarders
but now he is looking to
give us inexpensive health care for all
socialism the hoarders declare
this really isn’t simple at all
so where is God?
God too had
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
so that’s why its back on us
can someone figure out
a creative end to this
what do we do
when others
I’m not talking violence
a poem
for God’s sake
how about
a sustained
how much longer
will we let
others hijack
the service?
how much longer
will we let
others hoard?
that is also why
titles should come at the end
because children can hijack a service
Rational Mind
Spiritual Mind
and me