Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents. Later on in life, when we are oppressed by sickness and become old, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. Since we are dependent on the kindness of others at the beginning and end of our lives, then how can we neglect projecting kindness towards others in the middle of our lives, when it is our best time to share it?
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Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents. Later on in life, when we are oppressed by sickness and become old, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. Since we are dependent on the kindness of others at the beginning and end of our lives, then how can we neglect projecting kindness towards others in the middle of our lives, when it is our best time to share it?

-Suzy Kassem

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When we came out of the cookhouse, we found the boy's father, the Indian man who had been grazing the horses in the pasture, waiting for us. He wanted someone to tell his troubles to. He looked about guardedly, afraid that the Señora might overhear him.'Take a look at me' he said. I don't even know how old I am. When I was young, the Señor brought me here. He promised to pay me and give me a plot of my own. 'Look at my clothes' he said, pointing to the patches covering his body. 'I can't remember how many years I've been wearing them. I have no others. I live in a mud hut with my wife and sons. They all work for the Señor like me. They don't go to school. They don't know how to read or write; they don't even speak Spanish. We work for the master, raise his cattle and work his fields. We only get rice and plantains to eat. Nobody takes care of us when we are sick. The women here have their babies in these filthy huts.''Why don't you eat meat or at least milk the cows?' I asked.'We aren't allowed to slaughter a cow. And the milk goes to the calves. We can't even have chicken or pork - only if an animal gets sick and dies. Once I raised a pig in my yard' he went on. 'She had a litter of three. When the Señor came back he told the foreman to shoot them. That's the only time we ever had good meat.''I don't mind working for the Señor but I want him to keep his promise. I want a piece of land of my own so I can grow rice and yucca and raise a few chickens and pigs. That's all.' 'Doesn't he pay you anything?' Kevin asked. 'He says he pays us but he uses our money to buy our food. We never get any cash. Kind sirs, maybe you can help me to persuade the master . Just one little plot is all I want. The master has land, much land.'We were shocked by his tale. Marcus took out a notebook and pen. 'What's his name?'. He wrote down the name. The man didn't know the address. He only knew that the Señor lived in La Paz.Marcus was infuriated. 'When I find the owner of the ranch, I'll spit right in his eye. What a lousy bastard! I mean, it's really incredible'. 'That's just the way things are,' Karl said. 'It's sad but there's nothing we can do about it.

-Yossi Ghinsberg

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Fifteen years ago, a business manager from the United States came to Plum Village to visit me. His conscience was troubled because he was the head of a firm that designed atomic bombs. I listened as he expressed his concerns. I knew if I advised him to quit his job, another person would only replace him. If he were to quit, he might help himself, but he would not help his company, society, or country. I urged him to remain the director of his firm, to bring mindfulness into his daily work, and to use his position to communicate his concerns and doubts about the production of atomic bombs.In the Sutra on Happiness, the Buddha says it is great fortune to have an occupation that allows us to be happy, to help others, and to generate compassion and understanding in this world. Those in the helping professions have occupations that give them this wonderful opportunity. Yet many social workers, physicians, and therapists work in a way that does not cultivate their compassion, instead doing their job only to earn money. If the bomb designer practises and does his work with mindfulness, his job can still nourish his compassion and in some way allow him to help others. He can still influence his government and fellow citizens by bringing greater awareness to the situation. He can give the whole nation an opportunity to question the necessity of bomb production.Many people who are wealthy, powerful, and important in business, politics, and entertainment are not happy. They are seeking empty things - wealth, fame, power, sex - and in the process they are destroying themselves and those around them. In Plum Village, we have organised retreats for businesspeople. We see that they have many problems and suffer just as others do, sometimes even more. We see that their wealth allows them to live in comfortable conditions, yet they still suffer a great deal.Some businesspeople, even those who have persuaded themselves that their work is very important, feel empty in their occupation. They provide employment to many people in their factories, newspapers, insurance firms, and supermarket chains, yet their financial success is an empty happiness because it is not motivated by understanding or compassion. Caught up in their small world of profit and loss, they are unaware of the suffering and poverty in the world. When we are not int ouch with this larger reality, we will lack the compassion we need to nourish and guide us to happiness.Once you begin to realise your interconnectedness with others, your interbeing, you begin to see how your actions affect you and all other life. You begin to question your way of living, to look with new eyes at the quality of your relationships and the way you work. You begin to see, 'I have to earn a living, yes, but I want to earn a living mindfully. I want to try to select a vocation not harmful to others and to the natural world, one that does not misuse resources.'Entire companies can also adopt this way of thinking. Companies have the right to pursue economic growth, but not at the expense of other life. They should respect the life and integrity of people, animals, plants and minerals. Do not invest your time or money in companies that deprive others of their lives, that operate in a way that exploits people or animals, and destroys nature.Businesspeople who visit Plum Village often find that getting in touch with the suffering of others and cultivating understanding brings them happiness. They practise like Anathapindika, a successful businessman who lived at the time of the Buddha, who with the practise of mindfulness throughout his life did everything he could to help the poor and sick people in his homeland.

-Thích Nhất

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Our family was starting. We kept on moving with our young lives, shortly afterward and took Ben Young with us everywhere. But pretty soon Pegi started noticing that Ben was not doing the things some other babies were doing. Pegi was wondering if something was wrong. She was young, and nothing had ever gone wrong in her life. People told us kids grow at different rates and do things at different times.But as Ben reached six months old, we found ourselves sitting in a doctor's office. He glanced at us and offhandedly said, "Of course. Ben has cerebral palsy."I was in shock. I walked around in a for for weeks. I couldn't fathom how I had fathered two children with a rare condition that was not supposed to be hereditary, with tow different mothers. I was so angry and confused inside, projecting scenarios in my mind where people said something bad about Ben or Zeke and I would just attack them, going wild. Luckily that never did happen, but there was a root of instability inside me for a while. Although it mellowed with time, I carried that feeling around for years.Eventually Pegi and I, wanting to have another child after Ben, went to se an expert of the subject. That was Pegi's idea. Always organized and methodical in her approach to problems, Pegi planned an approach to our dilemma with her very high intelligence. We both loved children but were a little gun-shy about having another, to say the least. After evaluating our situation and our children, the doctor told us that probably Zeke dis not actually have CP-he likely had suffered a stroke in utero. The symptoms are very similar. Pegi and I weighed this information. To know someone like her and to make a decision about a subject as important as this with her was a gift beyond anything I have ever experienced. It was her idea, and she had guided us to this point. We made a decision together to go forward and have another child.

-Neil Young

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But we have, if not our understanding, our own experience, and it feels to me sealed, inviolable, ours. We have a last, deep week together, because Wally is not on morphine yet, because he has just enough awareness, just enough ability to communicate with me. I’m with him almost all day and night- little breaks, for swimming, for walking the dogs. Outside it snows and snows, deeper and deeper; we seem to live in a circle of lamplight. I rub his feet, make him hot cider. All week I feel like we’re taking one another in, looking and looking. I tell him I love him and he says I love you, babe, and then when it’s too hard for him to speak he smiles back at me with the little crooked smile he can manage now, and I know what it means. I play music for him, the most encompassing and quiet I can find: Couperin, Vivaldi, the British soprano Lesley Garret singing arias he loved, especially the duet from Lakme: music of freedom, diving, floating. How can this be written? Shouldn’t these sentences simply be smithereened apart, broken in a hurricane?All that afternoon he looks out at us though a little space in his eyes, but I know he sees and registers: I know that he’s loving us, actively; if I know nothing else about this man, after nearly thirteen years, I know that. I bring all the animals, and then I sit there myself, all afternoon, the lamps on. The afternoon’s so quiet and deep it seems almost to ring, like chimes, a cold, struck bell. I sit into the evening, when he closes his eyes.There is an inaudible roaring, a rush beneath the surface of things, beneath the surface of Wally, who has now almost no surface- as if I could see into him, into the great hurrying current, that energy, that forward motion which is life going on. I was never this close to anyone in my life. His living’s so deep and absolute that it pulls me close to that interior current, so far inside his life. And my own. I know I am going to be more afraid than I have ever been, but right now I am not afraid. I am face to face with the deepest movement in the world, the point of my love’s deepest reality- where he is most himself, even if that self empties out into no one, swift river hurrying into the tumble of rivers, out of individuality, into the great rushing whirlwind of currents. All the love in the world goes with you.

-Mark Doty

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An imaginary circle of empathy is drawn by each person. It circumscribes the person at some distance, and corresponds to those things in the world that deserve empathy. I like the term "empathy" because it has spiritual overtones. A term like "sympathy" or "allegiance" might be more precise, but I want the chosen term to be slightly mystical, to suggest that we might not be able to fully understand what goes on between us and others, that we should leave open the possibility that the relationship can't be represented in a digital database.If someone falls within your circle of empathy, you wouldn't want to see him or her killed. Something that is clearly outside the circle is fair game. For instance, most people would place all other people within the circle, but most of us are willing to see bacteria killed when we brush our teeth, and certainly don't worry when we see an inanimate rock tossed aside to keep a trail clear.The tricky part is that some entities reside close to the edge of the circle. The deepest controversies often involve whether something or someone should lie just inside or just outside the circle. For instance, the idea of slavery depends on the placement of the slave outside the circle, to make some people nonhuman. Widening the circle to include all people and end slavery has been one of the epic strands of the human story - and it isn't quite over yet.A great many other controversies fit well in the model. The fight over abortion asks whether a fetus or embryo should be in the circle or not, and the animal rights debate asks the same about animals.When you change the contents of your circle, you change your conception of yourself. The center of the circle shifts as its perimeter is changed. The liberal impulse is to expand the circle, while conservatives tend to want to restrain or even contract the circle. Empathy Inflation and Metaphysical AmbiguityAre there any legitimate reasons not to expand the circle as much as possible?There are. To expand the circle indefinitely can lead to oppression, because the rights of potential entities (as perceived by only some people) can conflict with the rights of indisputably real people. An obvious example of this is found in the abortion debate. If outlawing abortions did not involve commandeering control of the bodies of other people (pregnant women, in this case), then there wouldn't be much controversy. We would find an easy accommodation.Empathy inflation can also lead to the lesser, but still substantial, evils of incompetence, trivialization, dishonesty, and narcissism. You cannot live, for example, without killing bacteria. Wouldn't you be projecting your own fantasies on single-cell organisms that would be indifferent to them at best? Doesn't it really become about you instead of the cause at that point?

-Jaron Lanier

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