Let me start with a short but beautiful quotation. I mention this quotation on my Facebook page and very often elsewhere, a fact to which those who know me well will attest. It runs thus:
The day the child realises that all adults are imperfect he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. - Aiden Nowlan
When we grow older we grow wiser - at least such is the case with most human beings. It's a bit of a shock to the system to realise that the world is imperfect, that others are imperfect and hence oneself also is imperfect. However, that's one of the many lessons life teaches us. Aiden Nowlan brings this wisdom a stage deeper by applying it to our interpersonal relationships. All relationships are hard and have to be worked at. I can remember realising how imperfect my parents were as an adolescent. Years later I did learn to forgive them for what I had adjudged to be dreadful flaws when I was young. We all, I feel, become more sympathetic to our parents when we grow older and begin to repeat their mistakes with our own children. However, Nowlan brings us further along the path to self-knowledge by stating that as we grow older we also learn to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. When we can truly do this, we have indeed become wise.
In other terms, what Nowlan is referring to is in a nutshell what we call Compassion for the Self. Compassion is the very essence of Buddhism and Buddhist practice and philosophy, and it can never be a mere sentimental emotion. Rob Nairn, an international expert on Buddhist meditation, defines it as a "vital active knowledge of what is appropriate in a given situation." (What is Meditation? : Buddhism for Everyone, Shambhala, Boston, 2000, p. 6) In other words compassion is a knowledge born of love. It begins with an openness first to ourselves, to our own inner personal experience and it welcomes and accepts the self as it finds it. Most writers and practitioners state that only when one has true compassion for the self can one then have true compassion for others. I believe they are correct in this assertion. I will quote Nairn more extensively here:
Compassion is all-embracing caring that arises within the mind of an enlightened being, a caring that sees all forms of life... as equal. It can only arise in a mind that is completely open, a mind that is not narrowed by preferences, judgements, intolerance, or by blocking off. We can all reach the stage of enlightened compassion; the first step is to start accepting ourselves and others without judgement. (Op. cit., p.6)
Compassion for self and others not alone reduces suffering by encouraging us to charitable actions, but also it brings about a change of heart and mind that prevents us from clinging to our own various complexes, biases and narrow views of the world about us.
The problem of suffering in the world caused the historical Buddha much angst. Indeed, it was to the solution of this mystery that he dedicated his whole life and energy. His father, who was reputed to have been a great King, sought to shield his young son from all forms of suffering. However, one day when the young Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni or the Buddha) was 29 he went outside the palace and encountered what are often termed the "Four Sights," that is four experiences that convinced him of the presence of suffering in the world: (i) an elderly man, (ii) a diseased man, (iii) a decaying corpse and (iv) an ascetic monk. After this Siddhartha was a changed man. He vowed to resolve this problem and to make its solution his life's task. It is to Siddhartha Gautama's suggested solution for the mystery of suffering that I shall turn in future posts.
Above I have placed what I consider a "reflective" picture. I took this view on the banks of the Garravogue in July 2006.