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Coming Together for Compassion

August 10, 2009 by Cierra Dahlquist


Karen Armstrong speaks on compassion

Karen Armstrong speaks on compassion

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong is on a global mission for compassion. The essence of religion, she says, is not about belief, but about compassionate behavior. The Golden Rule’s simple directive “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is shared by all faiths, and Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion aims to bring it back to the forefront of global consciousness. Yasodhara Ashram has recently joined this international, multi-faith network of partners to help make Armstrong’s vision a reality. Read this post and share your ideas on how we can support a comeback for compassion.


What would happen if mass media, technology, and market forces were harnessed as tools to promote the Golden Rule? What if a Charter for Compassion were signed by thousands of religious leaders around the world, and made available in every institute of higher learning and place of worship, giving guidelines for the implementation of the Golden Rule? And what would it mean for Yasodhara Ashram to become involved?

We are about to find out! The Charter for Compassion is real, and Yasodhara Ashram has now become a partner in this globally significant project. The result of Karen Armstrong‘s 2008 TED Prize win, the Charter is a multi-faith effort to bring compassion back to the forefront of global consciousness and to ensure that religion remains a source of peace, not of conflict. The Charter will elucidate the principles of compassion and speak to ways of manifesting compassion in the modern world.

The Council discusses the final draft of the Charter

The Council discusses the final draft of the Charter

Supported by the TED (technology, entertainment, and design) community’s media and marketing savvy, as well as by the $100,000 Armstrong received with her TED Prize, the charter is currently being refined by a council of sixteen exceptional spiritual leaders and thinkers based on input from around the world.  The final version of the document itself is scheduled to be released this November.

Yasodhara Ashram’s Swami Sivananda says that the Ashram Society is honored to be a partner in this project, which he sees as “a stepping stone of global significance in the process of finding new avenues to establish peace and harmony in our world.” He commented that Armstrong’s TED talk, in particular, struck a chord with Ashram residents. The essence of religion, she says, is not about belief, but about compassionate behavior. In the talk, she states: “Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice.” Yasodhara Ashram’s founder Swami Radha similarly encouraged students to be cautious about “blind faith,” and to ensure that all spiritual understanding is grounded in the personal experience of putting teachings into practice.

Karen Armstrong’s own strong credentials as a religious scholar, former Catholic nun, and author of more than twenty books are added to by the impressive array of supporters who have also signed on: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Imam Faisal Rauf, and the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations Initiative are only a few. Partners include organizations such as the World Council of Spiritual Leaders, the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the Global Peace Initiative of Women, and now, Yasodhara Ashram.

Ashram residents, karma yogis, and students have long been inspired by Armstrong’s work. Her books, which include A History of God, Holy War: The Crusades And Their Impact On Today’s World, and The Bible: A Biography have been included on teacher certification program reading lists and are sold through the Ashram bookstore. Armstrong’s perspective on the role of religion and spirituality in the development of the human potential has much in common with the teachings on the Kundalini System followed at Yasodhara Ashram.

To Armstrong, putting the teachings into practice means acting from compassion. Having worked with people throughout the Middle East, where the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) co-exist in constant conflict, she has seen first-hand the effects of the human desire to “be right rather than compassionate.” People tend to focus on divisive details and forget about the Golden Rule shared by all faiths. The rule “do not do to others as you would not have them do to you” is simple enough, but is often forgotten in the modern world as people reserve compassion for members of their own nation or group, sometimes in the name of religion. Religion, she says, has been used to oppress – “because of human ego, human greed… religion has been hijacked.” Yet there is light in all religions, and Armstrong wants religion to inspire peace, not oppression. The solution is compassion. “In compassion,” she explains, “when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we’re ready to see the Divine.”

Is the world ready to see the Divine? In our own lives, are we ready to see the Divine? Can we commit to compassion? With so much momentum backing the soon-to-be-released Charter for Compassion, now is a good time to ask ourselves: what we can do to bring the Golden Rule into the forefront of our world and of our lives? As a partner with the Charter for Compassion, the Ashram is also looking for ways we can celebrate and promote the launch of the Charter this November. This will be a point of discussion at the AGM this month but it is important for us to hear from everyone.

Lightwaves invites you to share your ideas by commenting on this post. How can we, personally and as a community carrying on Swami Radha’s work, come together to support this world-wide initiative?

Click here to watch Armstrong’s TED talk
Click here to learn more about the Charter for Compassion



1 Comment »

  1. The ashram is working on raising funds to restore the Kuan Yin in the atrium and make her all shiny again… and Kuan Yin represents compassion so I wonder if her restoration could be connected to the launch of the Charter for Comassion?

    Comment by Lightwaves — August 12, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

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