A Review of The Power of Compassion

Matthieu Ricard
The Power of Compassion – Change Yourself and The World

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, author, translator, and photographer. I recently enjoyed listening to him speak about compassion at The RSA. He has a lovely disarming nature about him and his ability to weave humour into serious subjects is rare. Here are a few thoughts and notes I scribbled at the time, outlining some of the conditions in which compassion can flourish, and some of what gets in the way. Subsequent additions to my notes are in italics. A link to a video (runtime just over an hour including introduction and Q&A) of the whole talk is also included at the end of this post. I’ve intentionally left this post quite loose, on reflection it felt more helpful to put my scribbles forward as an offer to ponder and discuss a few ideas, rather than a more tightly formed review of Matthieu Ricard’s talk. I hope you find a few useful threads to grab hold of.

The banality of goodness is overlooked. Banal – adjective. Mid 18th century (originally relating to feudal service in the sense ‘compulsory’, hence ‘common to all’): from French, from ban ‘a proclamation or call to arms’.

Compassion Challenges

We have enough for everyone’s needs, not for everyone’s greed.

We are currently enslaved to economy, why be rich and unhappy? We need to deal with poverty in the midst of plenty.

Emotionally we are simply not equipped to deal with long term concerns, Ricard suggests we find it hard to see, and think about events beyond our life time. Add into the mix the short term way politics currently operates, and you begin to see why it is hard to change.

Equality. Social justice. Education. We need all these, and we need consideration for others first.

Stable climate needed. Livestock methane emissions are a significant part of the problem.

A cow farts out approximately 100kg of methane each year *shocked face*. This is equivalent to around 2,300kg of CO2, about the same emitted by a car travelling 7,800 miles. All ruminants on the planet together emit the equivalent of around 2bn of CO2 equivalents each year, and the clearing of forests etc to create more grazing and farm land is currently responsible for an additional 2.8bn metric tons of CO2 per year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide (this is more than the whole transportation sector). Source.

Choose not to eat meat. I’m currently experimenting with a meat free diet, only a few days into this but so far no cow related cravings. Compassion not just for other humans, but for other species we co exist with too.

People don’t always want to lead…

A well known environmental conference offered a vegetarian meal option and the organisers were surprised when only 20% of guests chose it. The following year, the vegetarian choice was made the default option and 80% of guests stayed with it.

Environmental stuff in general – 20% of people see the environment as an issue and are actively engaged to limit climate change. 20% of people disagree that it’s an issue they can help solve, and 60% say they will act if/when others do. I don’t know where Matthieu Ricard sourced these figures from.

Cooperation is a source of joy. I just love this phrase.

Mindfulness needs care, a psychopath can be mindful, not caring.

Individuals recognising the need for change and taking action is good. Don’t worry that when an altruist meets a selfish person, selfish wins. When a group of altruists meet a group of selfish people, the group of altruists always win as the selfish ones inevitably turn on one other. Find your fellow altruists.

There is immense joy in practicing and noticing each moment. As someone who is 150 odd consecutive days into a meditation experiment, I’m starting to relate to this and yet I do so like to let my mind wander too. Ooh look, a squirrel!


Sorry about that – where was I…?

Compassion > any religion

Economics – it’s presented as analytical stuff yet it is practiced/done/responded to emotionally.

Trust is open minded caring.

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