Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Charter for Compassion

One winter’s evening whilst gathered round a blazing camp fire, an old Sioux Indian chief told his grandson about the inner struggle that goes on inside people.

“You see” said the old man, “this inner struggle is like two wolves fighting each other. One is evil, full of anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, deceit, false pride, superiority, and ego”.

“The other one,” he continued, poking the fire with a stick so that the fire crackled, sending the flames clawing at the night sky, “is good, full of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith”.

 For a few minutes his grandson pondered his grandfather’s words and then asked, “So which wolf wins, grandfather?”

“Well”, said the wise old chief, his lined face breaking into a wry smile, “The one you feed!”

Religion for me is a simple matter, its sole purpose is to awaken our natural goodness and enable each human being to develop their compassionate natures. I do not believe that anyone is wholly bad, nor am I so naive as to believe that we are perfect either. We all have the capacity to be selfish and we can all be deeply compassionate too.  Whichever aspect of ourselves flourishes, depends primarily on what is nurtured.

Karen Armstrong has stated “that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness” She has spent many years studying the great faith traditions of the world and has discovered a common value that lays at the heart of all of them, compassion. She claims that the true purpose of religion is to develop our compassionate natures. Sadly though these traditions have often become lost and or hidden and over powered by fundamentalist strains within them. In her Book “The Case For God” she disputes the claims of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, writing that those three “insist that fundamentalism constitutes the essence and core of all religion.” In fact, she argues, it is “a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the tradition it is trying to defend.”

Armstrong views the Golden Rule, “love your neighbour as yourself”, as the essence of religious practice; claiming that it is a universal principle and that versions of it are at the core of every single one of the major faiths, theistic and non-theistic. She does not advocate one tradition above any other; she just states that at the core of all of them is the “Golden Rule of Compassion”

Armstrong recently launched the “Charter For Compassion ( to help promote what she sees as the essence of religion. At our denominational annual meetings we Unitarians and Free Christians voted unanimously to sign up to the charter. As a result of this I have pledged to promote the charter in my ministry. Over the coming weeks and months I will begin this process. Come and join me and thousands of others. All  are welcome

Examples of “The Golden Rule” found in the major faith traditions:

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. 
      Matthew 7:1
Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. 
      Analects 12:2
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
      Udana-Varga 5,1
This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. 
      Mahabharata 5,1517
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. 
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. 
      Talmud, Shabbat 3id
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
      Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. 
      Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5


  1. Golden Rule in Wicca: "If it harms no-one, do what you will" (where will is defined as the aim of the higher spiritual will). From The Wiccan rede.

  2. May I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.