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Challenge for Compassion

November 10, 2009 by Sandra Hindson

Charter for Compassion“Compassion needs an open door of acceptance.” – Swami Radha. On October 15th, Karen Armstrong spoke to a large gathering in Ottawa about her new book The Case for God. Several Radha Yoga Centre people including Erna Herwig and Joan Gamble were among the sold out crowd. Her words were refreshing reminders of the importance of commitment and engagement in our lives. Karen eloquently shared her practical views about spirituality and religion. Here you will read the musings of both teachers on Karen’s words and a real life practice of compassion.

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Karen-A.-Karen Armstrong is described, “as being one of the most provocative, original thinkers” on the role of religion in the modern world.” TED A former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford, she wrote her first book, Through the Narrow Gate about her seven years in the convent that angered and challenged Catholics worldwide. She has written more than 20 books around the common ideas of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and their effect on world events, including the monumental study,  A History of God (This is a 1hr33min video that captures the essence of her book.) Her meditations on personal faith and religion, especially fundamentalism, which she considers an outgrowth of modern culture, sparks considerable discussion.

Karen Armstrong has been a pivotal figure over the last several months in raising awareness around compassion through a Charter, which seeks to remind the world the core principles of compassion, calling for universal responsibility. A tireless speaker, with engagements worldwide, she speaks enthusiastically about her vision for peace and compassion in the world. In Ottawa, Karen spoke of the power compassion as the safest way to divest oneself of ego.  By looking into our own hearts we can discover what has caused us pain and then we choose not to do that to another.  It is our beliefs and concepts about ourselves and each other that hold us back in an old place.

Charter-imageIn an interview with ascent magazine (Issue 33, June 5 2007), Karen spoke about the yogic texts that teach us self- mastery by first building a strong moral foundation practicing self-awareness or observances. When we master these moral observances, i.e. non-violence, which includes the practice of patience and non-injury and taking only what we are given,“we achieve indescribable joy because we’re putting ourselves in a different frame of consciousness from the grasping, frightened self that limits our horizons…  We experience a lightness of being.”

Joan Gamble who attended Karen’s talk in Ottawa reflects on bringing in awareness of thoughts and actions as an act of compassion:

Compassion is an incredible challenge. I’ve had this quality in the forefront of my mind for the past several months as the Ottawa Radha Yoga Centre community engages with the Charter for Compassion. When do I really treat others as I’d like to be treated? A few days ago, I noticed myself bristling as a driver honked at me to turn a corner more quickly. I slowed down to cause him more frustration and part of me wanted to get out and ‘give him a piece of my mind’. Where is the compassion in my reaction? What if the ‘piece of my mind’ was the compassionate part and that I aspired to be aware of his needs?


As we entered the venue for Karen Armstrong’s presentation, I found the pushy part of myself, ‘looking after number one’, coming to the fore as I rushed to find the best seat. That competitive part that has served me well in my life quashes compassion in my actions and mind. Being aware, reflecting on my actions and my thoughts and being compassionate with the personality aspects that arise in the course of a day are ways for me to build my compassion muscle. Growing into the Light, I grow in compassion.

Karen Armstrong finished her talk by saying that we fail in compassion 100s of times a each day yet I leave reassured and very grateful for all the tools offered in Swami Radha’s teachings that keep me moving forward on this path toward my goal of greater and greater compassion.

On September 27th Karen Armstrong, on stage with the Dalai Lama, appealed to the audience at the Vancouver Peace Conference to help her spread the word about the Charter of Compassion. Watch on TED More Talks on Compassion by International spiritual leaders.

This week the Charter for Compassion will be launched and we at the Ashram are reflecting on compassion in our Karma Yoga and Hatha classes.  In the spirit of our earlier Lightwaves article, we invite you to explore and share:

What does compassion mean to you? How can we, personally and as a community carrying on Swami Radha’s work, come together to support this world-wide initiative?


Yasodhara Ashram is a partner of the Charter of Compassion and will be celebrating its launch as the sun rises on November 12. We will gather in the Temple of Divine Light to walk in meditation, chanting the mantras and prayers of the world’s faith traditions. All seven doors of the Temple will be wide open, each symbolic for a major world religion, and we will walk, weaving through each door symbolically bringing the essence of each into the One Light. Join us that day if you can either in person or in your own communities and homes to walk together in the Light of Compassion.

1 Comment »

  1. I am glad the Ashram supports this initiative and encourages us to bring it alive. We reflected on your questions today in the Edmonton teachers’ group which, as so often happens, brought us ever closer together. We are offering films Fierce Light and/or Baraka on Saturday, as a way of prompting reflection on compassion within our community.

    I will symbolically join your Temple walk tomorrow morning, with thanks. Namaste, Terri

    Comment by Terri — November 11, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

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