Tapestry

Compassion: the centuries-old solution to violence

Scholar Karen Armstrong argues religion is more often a scapegoat for violence than the real cause of it. She says the great sages - like Confucius, the Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus - lived in violent times and all called for the same thing: compassion.
Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images (Getty Images)

"If the world needs anything at the moment, it is compassion. 
I'm not in this because I'm filled with love and peace and joy.
I'm in it because I'm filled with dread." 

- Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is an author, commentator and former nun who has written extensively on faith and finding commonality in the world's major religions. She was a featured speaker at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11, which was held in Montreal in September 2016.

Armstrong argues that religion is too often a scapegoat, masking the real reasons for violence, hatred, and war. She points out that territorial, political, cultural and - above all - economic motives are to blame.

Religion may be inherently political, Armstrong says, but every single one of the world's major religions call for the same solution to violence: compassion.

Karen Armstrong speaking at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11. The event was held in Montreal in September 2016. (Photo: Eva Blue)

Compassion is the essence of the Golden Rule: love thy neighbour.

"The Golden Rule requires that you look into your own heart, discover what has given you pain in the past, and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else." 

This sentiment has been echoed by all the great prophets, including Confucius, Mohammed, Jesus, the Buddha, and Hillel the Elder.

"These sages, they were living in societies like our own where violence had reached an unprecedented crescendo. And they all said that unless we learn to treat others as we would wish to be treated we'll simply destroy one another. And that has never been more true than it is today."

Armstrong says 'love thy neighbour' doesn't refer to a sort of "soggy affection". Instead, it means assisting people in practical terms: coming to their aid in times of trouble and supporting them even when it goes against our short term interests.

"Who is my neighbour in this globalized world? Everybody is our neighbour. We are now so deeply interconnected."

Armstrong urges us to follow the lead of the Buddha.

"The Buddha looked at the world… with compassion and saw the world in pain and spent the next 40 years of his life trying to help people to live with their pain. This is our message now. This is what every one of us can do: to increase awareness of the pain of the world, to let it disturb us. It's not easy... We should all be sweating with the effort of how to bring the message of compassion - that alone can save our world - to public awareness."

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