Tong-len is a practice of great kindness. The aim of tong-len is to reduce selfishness, create a spirit of giving and helping and develop loving-kindness.
Last week I heard a talk by Harsh Mander at The Banyan campus at Kovalam outside Chennai. The talk was primarily about how we tend to ‘look away’ from those having less. He was presenting the contents of his recently written book Looking away: Inequality, prejudice and indifference in New India. I recall some of his words. “...there is a need for compassion and this has been forgotten towards those who need it the most. We need to address the injustice and inequality all around us; for this, we need a caring society, public compassion for the less unfortunate....”
I was touched by his account about the growing indifference and lack of sharing among us towards the increasing poor and homeless in rural and urban areas of our country.
While listening to his talk I reflected on whether there were enough examples of compassion among humans living in societies. Finding one such example was a difficult task for me. Even if it were so, I wondered whether we could learn to cultivate compassion and sensitivity in daily life?
I was reminded of the Dalai Lama who says being compassionate is a mental attitude. He says it is associated with commitment, responsibility and respect for one another.
According to him, we can start with ourselves and then extend it to include and embrace others. Mander’s point that hit me the hardest was how we have developed a numbness to other people’s suffering. This cannot be more real in today’s busy lives, especially in metros where we are pressed to pack in a busy and intense day. Given this, we drive hurriedly past people from very low socio-economic status of different ages, gender and mental states (some who are ill) who are searching for some space to rest or sleep or are looking for food.
We have stopped noticing them and even if we do it means nothing to us any more. We have become hardened to such everyday experiences and are mainly concerned about our selfish interests.
In such a case, we may not find the need to develop compassion and sensitivity, furthered by lack of awareness, insight or ignorance.
The Dalai Lama seems to show how we can remove such blocks. Compassion involves opening up oneself to another’s suffering and the willingness to reach out to others. He says that in reaching out and understanding another person’s difficulties, there is a sense of connectedness and commitment.
Perhaps, by taking this first step of developing insight within ourselves through the practice of tong-len, we can become sensitive to the growing inequality around us, and start addressing it.