Message Boards Message Boards

Dealing with the Dark Night

The grey areas of compassion

Toggle
The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/19/18 6:02 PM
The development of compassion is something discussed here fairly often, and I usually see people claiming it should be developed early in the path. Personally it seems to develop naturally as practise deepens, it seems inevitable as long as you keep practising. At first it was metta, which began as repetition of words, and eventually it became something deeply felt and more honest. That led to realizing I wasn't doing enough in daily life. After noticing I was wasting food, I began collecting types of food waste which the local crows could eat (the crows in my area have had a pretty nasty couple years, not many food sources other than worms and bugs). This allowed me to waste less food, feed the crows, spare a few worms a horrible death, and develop compassion. Great! Then the grey areas seeped in.

At first I placed a single mound of food, and the crows would fight over it. Then I placed multiple piles, spaced apart so that each crow could eat without fighting the others. That worked for a while, but then the alphas started getting more aggressive and trying to control multiple piles. Now it's progressed to where the alphas chase off the other crows if they see me coming. There's a particular injured crow with a broken leg that they keep chasing off despite my efforts to make sure he gets fed too.

I know this isn't limited to crows, corrupt governments redirect food aid, corrupt charities take most donations for "administration fees" etc etc. When I gave change/food to a local homeless guy for a while, another guy got really frustrated when I didn't have enough for him too when he suddenly showed up, which made him angry at the first guy.

My question is, how do you practise compassion in a way that isn't taken advantage of, or makes things worse for the ones you're trying to help? I don't mind the alpha crows eating too, but seeing the injured crow being chased off by the alpha even though I had enough food for the both of them was a bummer.

1) Give food to all of them and "let karma sort them out" even if it means accepting that alphas chase off betas
2) Chase off the assholes (tried this once and it just seemed to make it worse, and made me feel like a bully too haha)
3) Stop feeding them since usually only the alphas benefit, and just makes the alphas stronger and more aggressive

I'm tempted to go with number one, seems the least dramatic and most even tempered response. The other options just seem reactive/aversive. I'm open to other options.   emoticon

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/19/18 6:13 PM as a reply to Lars.
This morning I had to take my dog to the vet. He wouldn't eat, and then he vomited. When I wiped up the vomit--kind of a frothy, stomach-acid looking puddle of liquid--I noticed red flecks of what appeared to be blood in it. At the vet, I put the dog on the table and then the attendant held him really tight so that the vet could give him an injection. The dog was so terrified that he was violently shaking. He looked at me with his big brown eyes, pleading for help and protection. I felt an immense amount of compassion at his vulnerability and innocence. Here was this poor creature, capable of feeling overwhelming fear but utterly helpless and physiologically constrained from grasping the complexities of the higher-order beings in whose world he was enmeshed.

It strikes me that meditation helps you see that humans really aren't in all that different of a position. We're every bit as vulnerable. We're all just sentient beings in this extremely weird and inexplicable universe trying to cope with forces beyond our control.  

Anyway, with respect to your question, I think the answer is to just do your best. You could spend a lifetime reading Peter Singer and a million other philosophers trying to sort out what's the best approach to compassionate action. Sometimes maybe the answer is to not think about it too much. Other times, maybe you should ask an expert--like a wildlife management official who could tell you whether feeding those crows, in the end, would cause them more pain and harm than feeding them.

It's also frequently the case that good and bad are thoroughly intertwined. Deer hunting, for example, seems like an evil thing to do, but in the United States, deer populations are skyrocketing. You'll see some poor deer in a Walmart parking lot. There are horrible diseases like 'blue tongue' that they get when there aren't enough predators around. Hunters are actually a positive force for them, weird as that might sound.   

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/19/18 9:40 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, sounds like option one. I did do some reading previously on crow feeding habits etc, but I did some more after reading your post and found out about a Hindu practise called Shradh. Feeding crows is seen as a way of giving an offering to your ancestors. The funny part is that it's not considered as promising an offering if the alpha crow doesn't eat first, and then the betas eat once it leaves. If they all eat at the same time it's considered bad luck. Apparently I was making my ancestors angry today when I faced the alpha so the betas could eat behind me (in the past I just kept feeding them until he left, or the others would follow me and i'd feed them a few blocks away). I love how even something as simple as feeding crows can be so complicated if you let it.  emoticon

I think I was disturbing the natural pecking order by trying to be nice to the injured one specifically, which caused the alpha to get angry. I'll just help to feed them when it seems appropriate (crows and humans alike) and let them sort out their own politics from now on.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/19/18 9:27 PM as a reply to Lars.
This is such a complex topic. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, activists, pacifists, animal lovers (over humans) etc. The Dharma we focus is in our world and ourselves yet we need to be sensitive to the cultures, beliefs around us.

I would check my locality if crows are considered a pest or not for the benefit of those around me... emoticon

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/19/18 10:23 PM as a reply to Lars.
Lars,

Try volunteering? Money can be misappropriated. Food can be fought over. Time is always genuine.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 2:11 AM as a reply to Nick O.
Nick O:
Lars,

Try volunteering? Money can be misappropriated. Food can be fought over. Time is always genuine.


Yeah i've done that a few times, and was considering doing it again at a place I volunteered at before. The last time I was there the guy who ran the place was chewing out myself and the friend I went with for not volunteering more often, which we found amusing. One of the ladies who also worked there said "Oh don't mind him, he's a grump, he says that to everyone". He did have a point.

Thanks for the suggestion, I think I need to get out more anyhow.  emoticon

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 5:56 AM as a reply to Lars.
A friend of mine is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and she has told me many tales of untrained people with good intentions doing a lot of harm to wild animals by feeding or otherwise trying to care for them. It would be a good idea to contact someone knowledgable in your area to see what if anything can be done so that your actions don't lead to unintended and unfortunate consequences for the birds.

Ethics and skillful compassion are incredibly challenging because we must consider not just our good intentions, but the reverberating impacts that our actions will actually have in the real world. That usually requires a lot of mundane knowledge, as you have seen! I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for getting it right that will always work because reality is constantly unfolding and while there are patterns that repeat, every situation is different and requires careful attention. Abstract principles like the paramitas are helpful but not enough as they can be misapplied through ignorance.

Ethics requires a lot of knowledge and experience, and a big part of experience is making mistakes and learning from them. When trying to navigate difficult situations, I usually do research to learn the worldly specifics (or even consult an expert on the subject) and often also ask for the perspective of a friend with strong ethics to get an outside perspective that might help eliminate my own blind spots. But it's hard. There's a good reason some say that morality is both the first and the last training.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 7:46 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Well, that's three people recommending I perhaps should not be feeding the crows, so i'll take that to heart and stop until I can speak with someone more knowledgeable. I'll stick to helping humans for now, though they have their own complications.  emoticon

I know this stuff is difficult, which is essentially the reason for the thread. I want to continue developing compassion, but I don't want to be one of those people who causes suffering despite good intentions (or one who only offers "thoughts and prayers" while sitting on my ass). At this point I think i'll just keep it simple and do some volunteering as Nick suggested. I'll just offer my time, and they can put me to work doing whatever seems most useful. Thanks for the feedback.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 7:59 AM as a reply to Lars.
My personal experience:

I find that a large part of being compassionate is just being present. This seems to be one place where a good meditation practice and morality/ethics merge. I've been through a series of close family deaths (both parents + others) and various health related crises with family members over the last five years. I find that being able to put the internal dialog, angst, worry and freaking out aside and really just be with the people in my life, to listen, to share, to experience it all clearly, is a major benefit of my mediation practice.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 8:09 AM as a reply to Lars.
Here's are some sources I've drawn on:

Culadasa on compassion-
https://m.youtube.com/results?q=culadasa%20compassion&sm=1

Will MacAskill on Effective Altruism -
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hU5O4PhrOik

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 10:40 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
My personal experience:

I find that a large part of being compassionate is just being present. This seems to be one place where a good meditation practice and morality/ethics merge. I've been through a series of close family deaths (both parents + others) and various health related crises with family members over the last five years. I find that being able to put the internal dialog, angst, worry and freaking out aside and really just be with the people in my life, to listen, to share, to experience it all clearly, is a major benefit of my mediation practice.

I have similar experiences! I too have recently been through a death in family. The clarity of experience due to meditation practice was evident.  And I really felt I could connect to other family members and help them in the process by just being openly present and not creating walls or blocks or additional things for them to worry about. I was able to accept the process of sudden sickness and death 5 weeks later without being the slightest bit cynical or nihilistic about it. I was accepting and experiencing it all, emotionally to the fullest, but not sticking to it and not suffering, weirdly enough... I feel that I was able to offer a dose of that to my family members when we were talking or being together, as if my presence with full openness was a mirror that allowed them to reflect on the situation and achieve a similar accepting clarity as I did. Or maybe my family is just cool that way emoticon

I see colleagues at work, who are emphathetic towards another colleague who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. While they are full of empathy it seems to me that acceptance is lacking. Instead it has been replaced with additional twisting of hands and wallowing on the undesirable circumstance of fatal cancer.  And I can't help but reflecting that that is a suboptimal situation for all involved.... 

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 5:04 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
I find that a large part of being compassionate is just being present.


This rings true, certain troubling relationships in my family have been much more smooth lately. Previously I was very aversive to a particular family member because of their behaviour (they were incredibly clingy and pushy). Giving up that aversion and just spending time with them anyway, talking with them via email etc has caused some interesting changes. The most significant being that they're actually far less clingy and pushy with me now, I was expecting the opposite result lol.

So many great replies in this thread, thanks everyone.

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 5:08 PM as a reply to Lars.
Isn't it amazing how often what we thought were their problems turn out to be our problems?

emoticon

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 5:11 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hah, yes that was one of the other things I noticed, which is making it easier to continue the process. It's enough to make you laugh.   emoticon

RE: The grey areas of compassion
Answer
4/20/18 5:35 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I find that the dog whisperer has alot of wisdom about dealing with humans.  He sees dogs as having "modes" and he can put a dog into a different mode by interacting with it in particular ways.  I find the same thing with humans.  We seem to have mental modes as well and when approached with loving presence, people tend to go into a more loving and present mode.