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Buddhist monk muses on true nature of compassion

Grace McCormack | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Growing up in a Tibetan monastery, Arjia Rinpoche lived through the political oppression and forced labor camps of the Cultural Revolution, escaped to the United States in 1998 and now works as the director of Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Ind.   

Rinpoche gave a talk titled “The Power and Practice of Compassion” to an overflowing crowd Wednesday in DeBartolo Hall. In the talk, sponsored by the Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine, Rinpoche discussed some of his own experiences and shared insights on the cultivation of compassion.

“There are three things I want you to take from this talk,” he said. “One: what is compassion. Two and three are how to practice it. … Everyone has a seed of compassion, which is love.”

Although the seed of compassion is prevalent, Rinpoche said we often reserve compassion for friends and family.  

“We must think of the source of this compassion,” he said. “Is it merely from a close relationship with the person?”

Rinpoche said compassion is not a relationship-dependent act.

“The pure compassion is an exceptional love, a love without limit,” he said. “… The mind, speech, and body have to hold that compassion.”

This understanding of the pure, unconditional nature of compassion is essential to its “mental and physical” practice, Rinpoche said. Meditation and mindfulness are means of leading more compassionate lives, he said.  

“When you breathe in good things and breathe out bad, our body changes,” he said.  

Rinpoche said people should channel this inner calm into outward displays of compassion, such as community volunteering and action, but they should not be motivated by external incentives.   

“True compassion is without exception,” he said.  

Although the temptation to seek rewards is strong, Rinpoche said “powerful compassion can protect you.”

At the conclusion of his talk, Rinpoche led a meditation and traditional chant with seven fellow monks. The monks have spent the last seven months travelling the United States, giving lectures on compassion and raising money for the Children’s Cancer Care Treatment Center in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Rinpoche said.
During their week at Notre Dame, they have been working on the intricate sand mandala currently on display in the Jordan Hall of Science.  The sand mandala’s closing ceremony will take place Thursday in Jordan Hall at 4:30 p.m.

Contact Grace McCormack at gmccorma@nd.edu