The Charter of Compassion

The Charter is ‘A call to bring the world together…’. It was launched in 2009 by a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders called the Council of Conscience. They reviewed and sorted through the world’s contributions and crafted the final Charter. On the website these figures express their commitment to the venture from their own religious perspectives. For example Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University states:

“Everything partakes in the same drive, in the same inspiration: eating, breathing, taking care of one’s body, of one’s being and of one’s inner life are mystical, sacred acts, enabling one to reach an absolute by overcoming the self through Love-Compassion.”

Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Rabbi of the Reform Jewish Community of The Hague, writes:

“Compassion is not hereditable. It can and therefore must be taught. The teaching of compassion, the exercise of the soul, will open the heart. And then nothing will be impossible.”

Sadhvi Chaitanya, Spiritual Director, Arsha Vijan Mandiram writes:

“[The goal of becoming a compassionate person] is achieved through acts of compassion. First those acts are deliberate because nobody wants to be compassionate. It is a religious discipline to practice, and after the practice, it becomes natural, it becomes part of one’s nature.”

The Charter of Compassion states that the compassion principle is found at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions. This principle calls us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. This golden rule is a moral requirement to work to end the suffering of others and replace egoism with altruism. This is a leap of the moral imagination. Egoism is an attitude to life centred on self-gratification. Altruism is an other-centred approach. We must shift from thinking in terms of the former, to the latter. The charter continues arguing that we must:

“…honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

We must live a life where we refrain in public and private from inflicting pain through word and action, refrain from denigrating others, and refrain from the exploitation of others. These deny the common humanity of others. The Charter calls on everyone to put compassion back into the heart of religion and morality. It acknowledges that this has been lost in some cases. It urges a sympathetic teaching of religions and cultures:

“…to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings — even those regarded as enemies.”

The Charter continues to express a compassion centred view of the path to salvation and enlightenment and a world of peace:

“Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

The emphasis of the charter is not on thinking, but doing. It is not simply a set of principles but a practical proposal. The organization seek to promote the idea throughout the world, encouraging groups and organizations to take it up.

Read the full text of the Charter and consider what implications it has for your own personal situation and your school or place of work. (charterforcompassion.org) If you had been involved in writing the Charter what would you have included? You could form groups to write your own Charter. Is there another principle that you would put at the centre, or is compassion right?

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