Charter for Compassion

I’ve been following the development of the global Charter of Compassion, an idea developed by the wonderful Karen Armstrong following her receipt of the TED prize. This is a truly powerful idea, one that I hope will have a great impact on how we see ourselves as humanity.

The final Charter for Compassion is to be unveiled on November 12, and I hope you will all follow and support this initiative.

I was honored to be invited to take part in a multi-faith photograph for the Charter tomorrow at the Opera House. I love doing interfaith work so much, there are so many wise and compassionate people out there.

We all need to do our bit to use religion to respond creatively and constructively to our environment, making it a force for helping rather than hurting, fostering love and inclusiveness, not alienation and ignorance.


6 thoughts on “Charter for Compassion

  1. Dear Ajahn Sujato,
    Thank you so much for sharing this now. My heart has ached over the WPP et al actions following the bhikkhuni ordination. This helps.

    With metta,

  2. It’s kinda funny. It’s kinda sad. We can argue till the buffalo-treasures come home about what the Suttas and Vinaya actually say about women. But when we ask the question, “What is the compassionate thing to do?” the answer is clear.

    Which is why Buddhism has looked so backwards for so long for modern people of compassion.

    Which is why so many people, women particularly, have been hurt by our failure to reform in relation to the bhikkhuni question.


  3. Good morning. I am guessing you are on the opposite side of the world from me and will be waking up in a few hours. I’m in Texas and just wrote yesterday about the charter on my blog. Where are you? Attic Annie

  4. Dear Ajahn Sujato,

    Congratulations on your efforts to bring humanity to be ONE.

    Your talk on feminine and masculine aspects of humanity was fun to listen to.
    I am writing to you because I feel you have an open mind and you will not take this as a criticism of your scholarship. The explanation of the golden peacock as a symbol of ‘higher masculine’ aspect sounded very strange to me. I have heard these tales growing up in the culture and never once encountered the lower and higher and female/ male dichotomy. Granted that there are many ways to interpret these ancient tales. I am writing in the hopes this will be in someway helpful .

    Here is another explanation of the attributes of the human mind that are transcended when masculine and feminine principles conjoin in their quest for liberation that are consistent with ancient Indian myhtological stories ( which were very common I am sure before, during and after the time of the Buddha ). They still are told and heard.

    Here we go:
    1. The peacock in the Indian culture is a symbol of vanity- egoism- self aggrandizement. So the golden peacock in this story is a symbol of someone who has made a lot of effort to find liberation and gone off in the wrong direction. Yes, the golden peacock goes into hiding in fear – like a monk from the world. The exhumerance of gold symbolizes his egoic self setting himself apart from the rest, far from the reaches of the masses. There is another reason for the use of gold. Gold is the only metal that can be molded and remolded without any part of it being lost. It is always recovered and beaten to its original formless ‘ore’ no matter what form or forms it takes on.

    Often it would be commented that someone is proud as a peacock! So the peacock did not show up arbitrarily in the story. It wasn’t a beast chosen randomly. It’s all part of the deeper plot of the story. The peacock puts on a lavish display of itself for courting purposes. As soon as courting is over it sheds its feathers and turns into this far less attractive unkempt pathetic looking creature.
    2. The queen’s yearning ( without her yearning he will never come out of his hiding and therefore no chance of liberation) is the compassion or ‘grace’ ,you may call, that draws him out of his hiding and liberates him from his vanity and fear.
    Without coming face to face with the feminine aspect of compassion he will never be liberated. That much is certain. We know that by our own experiences as well.

    3. The queen also awaits liberation. Surprisingly, for the queen, the liberation is not possible without dissolving her feminine aspect with the masculine and resolving the illusory split into this oneness. Despite the aggressiveness and grandeur of the male ego she has to come face to face with it and dissolve it with her compassion. That’s why she summons the ‘golden peacock’. The gold is the certainty that no matter what form it takes it is retrievable to its original form ( formless blob!) when it is thrown into the fire of compassion.
    In this face to face encounter of the male and the female principles and mutual dissolution, fear vanishes, vanity is shed and finally one tastes liberation.
    In this transformation ahs occured for both the male and female manisfestations.

    So it’s not that the golden bird is a symbol of ‘higher’ masculinity that the queen yearns for. You made such references about higher masculinity and lower femininity narrating another story. I am not trying to give a feministic take on these stories. But truly told in native language there are no references to higher male and lower feminine aspects. The lower aspects in both male and female are considered impulsive and animalistic and it is the same for male and female. This is actually in keeping with the latest findings from the field of genetics as well. The western Freudian psychology has done more harm than good towards understanding the subtlety of feminine and masculine aspects that is in both male and female body-mind systems.
    In other enlightenment stories, in the Vedas, Ardha narishvar is the result of the dissolution of the mind. When the world (mind) is dissolved, there is the only One (from which the world/ mind arises). Ardha-Narishvar is the ‘One’ ( in Shiva stories) when he attains perfect enlightenment. He has met his inner feminine principle… yielded to her yearnings, answered the call of Grace.
    From my research of the Jataka tales there is certainly a re-hashing of ancient Indian mythological tales in Jataka tales. The symbolisms used in Jataka ( different animals represent different qualities of the human mind – like courage , cowardice, vanity, etc. are similar in other Indian mythological stories.
    The One ( the Buddha within us ) comes into focus when all concepts are removed. The dualistic mental assignment of ‘male’ and female’ falls away and one rests in just the being as ONE ( or Nothing-you can take your pick ).
    So it is very simple. Without dualism there is no fear. When fear is gone compassion shines through and harmony and balance prevails.

    Just so we have some cross ventilation to circulate the thick air:

    “Move beyond attachment and names
    Move beyond attachment and names.
    Every war and conflict between humans
    happened because of some disagreement over names
    This is such an unncessary foolishness
    Because, just beyond the arguing
    there is a long table of companionship
    set and waiting for us all to sit down.

    Sunlight looks different on this wall
    than it does on that wall
    and a whole lot different on that one
    but it is One light”.

    • Dear Gita,

      Thanks for your perceptive and intelligent remarks on the mythology, a subject dear to my heart. Those who haven’t heard the talk will find this all a bit mysterious, I suspect!

      I won’t give your message the detailed response it deserves, but just a few remarks for now.

      You criticize my interpretation of the Golden Peacock, with reference to the Indic trope of the peacock as vain and egoistic. For sure, such depictions appear in the Jatakas, also. But it is not relevant in the current case; for the same story is told in many variations, and only in some is the beast a peacock. In others he is a Golden deer, or Golden Goose, or Six-tusked White elephant, etc. And in all variants, the emphasis is clearly on the nobility and purity of the beast. It may be possible to detect a hint of the negative stereotype of the peacock that you mention in some versions, but this is certainly not the main thrust of the story.

      I like your reflection on gold as the most malleable of metals. It is indeed as if the beast is remodelled out of the base gold to take its individual shape in each story. But as well as malleability, another attribute of gold is brought out explicitly in the stories: it does not tarnish, and so, like the sun with which the peacock and goose are explicitly identified, it is a symbol of immortality.

      And with regards the ‘lower’ masculinity and femininity being the same, I’m afraid this does not reflect the stories at all. In the Mora Jataka, the lower feminine is the female peacock, whose sensuality allures the Golden Peacock from his asceticism – a favorite trope of Indic myth. The lower masculine is the hunter. These gendered roles are clearly figured in the stories: woman is sensuality, man is violence. No doubt the real situation is more nuanced than this, but these kind of depictions appear constantly throughout these stories. They do not tell us anything about the ‘essential nature’ of men and women, but they do tell us something about how this nature has been perceived and depicted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s