April 18, 2013

Engaging Compassion in Boston. ~ Enver Rahmanov

Boston. Baghdad. New York. Kabul. Tel Aviv. Gaza… Syria…Burma… Rwanda… Tibet… the sorrow of violent tragedies that I have learned in my generation seems to have crossed all the borders.

The reality is that there are no borders, even if we try to build the walls and fences that separate us. Hurt, like love, travels thousand of miles.

This is not to suggest that it comes from that far away—it can easily come from our own neighborhood, house, and ultimately, from within us. The interrelatedness of our own actions is ultimately what matters on the scales of negative and positive actions. Unlike the lady of justice, there is no blindfold, and both violence and love is in our face. How we respond is what will be added to the scale of humanity’s fate.

Hope, can not remain a noun, it must become a verb. In times of tragedies, hope is our compassionate response.

I read in the New York Times about Carlos Arredondo, a man in a cowboy hat who had been handing out American flags close to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. When the first explosion went off he ran to help others. Thanks to Carlos and the doctors at the Boston Medical Center, Jeff Bauman’s life has been saved—although Jeff, who is only 27-years-old, lost both of his legs to the tragedy. Years ago, Carlos lost his 20-year-old son Alexander to war in Iraq.

The Dalai Lama holds that human nature is fundamentally compassionate. As such, it is not limited to any religion or philosophy of goodwill—although it finds its place among the highest virtues in all of them. One of the common Zen pictograms (kanji) for compassion (jihi), known as Karuṇā in Buddhism, is a combination of the characters for loving affection (utsukushimi) and sadness (kanashimi). Sadness as empathetic emotion comes naturally from our presence to suffering.

Today we do not need to sit under the sacred tree to acknowledge the Buddha’s truths of suffering that appears to be a constant in our human existence. We see it in our homes, streets, schools, hospitals, movie theaters, public squares and even temples and houses of worship. We are raped, gunned down, maimed and burned alive.

Perhaps we cannot stop all of suffering, but what we can do is to decrease the causes of it and heal what we can—standing up to hate and violence, looking at it with our open heart and reaching out with loving kindness for our human fellows…and, for all sentient beings. Yes, only our light can drive out our darkness. Compassion, which literally means co-suffering, is always engaged. We run to the wounded when we are next to them and help to reduce their suffering. We, as the human family, do it every day—and that was the first thing many of those at the finish line in Boston did on Monday, April 15th, 2013. They got up to help with the suffering of others. I bow to them for their courage and truly engaged compassion, as I pray for the wounded and the dead.

I choose to practice compassion, which dwells in our human heart and comes from a place of sorrow and, above all…love.

Even if we have never experienced personally the tragedies that Carlos and Jeff have, we can still share in it through our interconnectedness. That is the sacred meaning of humanity.

Today, we grieve with those who lost their loved ones.

We gather together, light candles and try to understand.

We sit in stillness to recharge our humanness.

We wake up and realize how precious each human life is—vowing to change ourselves and our policies, creating a safer and compassionate environment for all in this world.


Enver Rahmanov was born in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and studied in Kiev, Ukraine before moving to the United States to work at the United Nations in New York. Currently, he is a student in Interreligious Studies at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, California) and a Graduate Research Assistant at the Mangalam Research Center for the Buddhist Languages. Working for the UN and volunteering with several faith-based organizations, including on Navajo land in Arizona and in Bodh Gaya, India, Enver has come to realize that the wisdom of peace, compassion and right actions is truly universal and has no borders but only different languages and interpretations. He is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s ethics beyond religion and “education of the heart,” a call to bring the indispensability of inner values of love, compassion, justice and forgiveness into education. Enver promotes interfaith dialogue by building personal heart to heart connections across religious borders and through his facilitation of Beyond Words: An Interfaith Ritual for Peace. Enver enjoys meditation, yoga, dance, bicycling, hiking, volunteering and travel.


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Ed: T. Lemieux & B. Bemel


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