The Essence of True Humanity Is Compassion

Excerpted from a Plenary Address delivered at Ahimsa Diwas (Day of Nonviolence), New York, 2003.

Throughout our history, human beings have killed millions of our own kind, in the name of power, politics, and religion. Over this same period of time, people have also killed billions of animals, in the name of food, clothing, science, entertainment, and convenience.

And as we look around the world today, we can’t help but notice that violence — toward both humans and animals — has become, for many people, a socially acceptable form of human behavior.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we look back at the messages sent forth by some of our greatest leaders, we’ll find that people like Gandhi, Buddha, and Albert Schweitzer all spoke with great conviction about the importance of living our lives guided by the principles of nonviolence and compassion. And to that end, it was Schweitzer’s firm belief that until we extend our circle of compassion to include all beings, we, ourselves, will not find peace.

There is a principle in Tibetan Buddhism known as Bodhicitta. It is a principle that teaches us to extend loving kindness and compassion toward all beings — without exception. The way this principle is taught, is each of us is asked to look inside ourselves and recognize two universal truths. The first, is that both humans and animals look to find pleasure, comfort and safety in their lives. The second, is that we both look to avoid pain, and suffering, and death.

Imagine, if you will, what kind of world it might be if each of us embraced a lifestyle guided by the principles of nonviolence and compassion toward all beings – without exception. Imagine what kind of world it might be if parents, for example, spoke with their children at an early age about why they’ve chosen not to kill animals for food or clothing, or for any other reason — and that they do not believe in the use of violence as a way to solve problems between people, or between nations.

In the words of Bradley Miller: “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”

In closing, I’d like to share with you a short poem, written by the Buddha, which I believe best captures the spirit of the message I’d like to leave you with today:

All beings tremble before violence.
All love life.
All fear death.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

* * *
Copyright 2000 John J. Morlino, Jr.

All rights reserved. May be reprinted with written permission from the author.

* Originally published in VegNews (July 2001). Also published in YES FUTURE!, #7-8, 2003 (Russia).