The way in which you are part of the web of life, of incarnation, is around the dimensions, you could call it, of compassion, suffering or dealing with suffering. That when you have a society that is built on the denial of other people’s suffering, for the myths of the society to be lived out, you have a very frightened society, and you have all the pathology that comes from fear. And what is the fear is that people are afraid to look at. You got cancer, there’s inner city violence, there’s somebody starving. The first part is just acknowledging what is – just acknowledging what is. And what you will see when you sit down quietly is how frightening it is to acknowledge what is. That has to do with your suffering and it has to do with everyone else’s as well – including the earth.
There is a story of the Buddha and the Buddha’s father. The Buddha’s father created a castle which was a protected environment to keep the Buddha, the young Gautama, from seeing suffering. Because the father knew that if the son saw the suffering, the son wouldn’t become the next king. The son would be busy finding out how to end suffering – which is what happened. And that’s just such a simple story, and it just works. Because it says, here’s a person that came along, that had everything. And then he saw through the cracks, and he saw that everything was in relation to everything else. He saw that a lot of people were just scrambling for food, or for survival, or for warmth, and dealing with loneliness and alienation. And what kind of contract you make with people’s suffering determines how happy you can be as a human being. And the funny thing is, the model most people function under is, “If I open to their suffering I won’t be happy.” And the truth is, if you don’t open to their suffering you definitely won’t be happy. And there may be a way to open to suffering and still be happy. And I firmly believe that is true; were it not, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, in my work and in my life. Because what I find is the closer I stay to the truth of people’s suffering, my heart opens, and by allowing myself to feel it, the more I experience that I am part of the living truth. I am part of the living spirit of the universe. And then I do what I can.
The trap is, if you’re identified with being a do-er, your predicament is that when you see suffering you feel you’re supposed to take it away. And if you can’t take it away you feel inadequate, and you fear feeling impotent in the face of suffering. Your heart’s breaking and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well that’s true most of the time. And if that’s true most of the time and you can’t stand it, most of the time you can’t stand yourself and it. The fact is, I can’t take away people’s death and suffering when I’m working with their death and suffering. But I can be a presence where they can shift their consciousness in a way so they don’t experience their death and suffering the same way. But I can’t take away all the stuff from people. And the ability to be with somebody where your heart is breaking because they’re suffering and you do not have the power to take away that suffering… and the feeling you have under those conditions has got to be reflected upon. You have to take the time to reflect upon that, in order to find peace within that situation.
~Ram Dass, October 15, 1995