Fearlessness and Compassion

The path to happiness has a scientific basis

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion,” the Dalai Lama says. “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” But what does it mean to practice compassion? I sometimes think it’s only a warm, fuzzy feeling towards others, or a New Age trick to subvert my consciousness. Perhaps it’s a sign of weakness and I’ll be bullied. Maybe I should reserve compassion just for a deserving few.

Not according to Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., translator of many years for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and author of A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives. Returning to Eugene two years after the Dalai Lama spoke at Matthew Knight Arena, Geshe Jinpa will be speaking at LCC on May 10 about this very topic.

We generally define compassion as the deep desire to relieve the suffering of others. Perhaps a noble sentiment, but what does that have to do with my own happiness? This isn’t simply a philosophical or spiritual question. For years, neuroscientists like Richard Davidson and Daniel Siegel have been studying the neurobiology connecting the practices of compassion and mindfulness. They’ve discovered strong evidence for changes in brain function, cognition and behavior when compassionate activities are studied, mindfully practiced and implemented in our daily lives. From experimental social studies to functional MRI images of the brain, the evidence is now overwhelming: Compassion and happiness are intimately intertwined.

This makes me ponder what I need to do to cultivate compassion and thus be happy. I often wonder why courage and fearlessness are essential ingredients in this quest. I might think of myself as a naturally compassionate individual but often I’m shocked to learn of the negative consequences my “compassion” has created. Perhaps I confused compassion with the need to change or fix a situation. Or I expressed pity instead of concern for another. And even worse, a compassionate view is sometimes nowhere in sight. I feel discouraged, afraid to look at my shortcomings. I worry I’ll never get it right. It seems so much easier to abandon compassion and endure the consequences.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa, who has studied both the spiritual and scientific aspects of compassion, will be addressing my questions and those commonly associated with compassion: Can compassion be cultivated? Shouldn’t we be worried about the dangers of “compassion fatigue,” the fear of being taken advantage of, or compromising our ambitions? 

Jinpa will help us understand what compassion is through remarkable stories of transformations resulting from the practice of compassion, including his extraordinary personal experience — from being a Tibetan refugee, living in a monastery in India, being the Dalai Lama’s translator, to fatherhood in Montreal.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa will be speaking on Mother’s Day. This seems especially appropriate given the fact that the genuine seed of our compassion is rooted in our mothers. The Dalai Lama himself spoke highly of the love and affection that he received as a child, attributing whatever sense of compassion he has to his mother. Furthermore, he encouraged women to take a more active role as leaders of the world to foster compassion in all of our affairs. Can we learn to express compassion in all of our daily affairs, at work, with family or personal arenas? Jinpa says yes we can, for the benefit of others and ourselves.

Jinpa is a former monk and holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Jinpa, the principal English translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal and chairman of the Mind and Life Institute, which is dedicated to promoting dialogues and collaborations between the sciences and contemplative knowledge.

The Lane Peace Center and The Palmo Center for Peace and Education are honored to be sponsoring Jinpa, a highly acclaimed thought leader on the two-year anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Eugene. He will be speaking from 3:30 to 5 pm May 10 in the Ragozzino Performing Arts Theater on the LCC main campus. Tickets are $15, $50 VIP, students free and can be purchased online at lanecc.edu/tickets or at Star Gate, 1372 Willamette St. Jinpa’s new book can be purchased at Tsunami Books or at the door. There will be a book signing at the event.

This is a rare and fascinating opportunity not to be missed. Come to Geshe Jinpa’s talk and learn from a 2,500-year tradition that demonstrates the connection between compassion and happiness in everyday life. — James R. Morris, M.D.