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This is the tenth teaching in the Cafh course "Sacrifice." The course expands our usual understanding of sacrifice by referring to the Latin roots of the word: sacer+facere, to make sacred. It discusses various aspects of life that we often consider painful and suggests how we can meet them constructively, in ways that will deepen our knowledge of ourselves and help us unfold spiritually.

The basic human problem is lack of compassion. As long as this problem persists, all other problems will persist. If it is solved, we can look forward to happier days.
                                                              Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet (1935 -)

Each one of us responds to human pain according to his or her personal characteristics and degree of spiritual unfolding. The more selfish we are, the more we separate ourselves from human hardship either by shielding ourselves with indifference or by reacting with sentimentality. We then quickly forget and continue living as if such hardships did not exist. Indifference plunges us into insensitivity and curtails our possibilities of unfolding spiritually. Sentimentality squanders our energy in vain; it is an emotional reaction that neither relieves pain nor awakens consciousness.

In the measure in which we unfold spiritually, our perception of the needs and suffering of those around us increases, and our response to pain gradually becomes more genuine and compassionate.

Well-intentioned people try to relieve pain through good works. Hospitals, shelters, and charitable institutions are organizations that respond to the human being's physical, economic and emotional needs. Although all of these efforts mitigate evil, they do not always have an impact on the root of suffering itself. At least some of us have to be willing to transmute suffering into compassion, understanding and participation so that the pain that can be avoided is avoided; alms are no longer needed as we develop the capacity to build more just societies; and each one of us learns to occupy just one place in the world and not two.

Compassion changes us. It makes us intensely feel the suffering of those around us and makes us ask ourselves, "Why do we human beings have to suffer so much? Why are we so blind and continually hurt each other?" Above all, it leads us to ask ourselves, "What can I do to alleviate the pain of others?" Answers to this last question may vary, but all of them, if genuine, lead us to commit ourselves and to give ourselves, not only our possessions.

A Buddhist legend says that when the Buddha's heart opens and he looks at the world, pain is relieved, sorrow is soothed, crying ceases, and for an instant happiness reigns. In the same way, although we can take the comparison only so far, in the measure in which we feel the suffering of humanity in ourselves, we are creating the foundation of a more harmonious and happy world, since that feeling makes us respond in a vital way by offering ourselves.

When we consecrate our lives to the good of souls, we begin to really alleviate suffering in the world. We alleviate it spiritually through participating inwardly, and in practical terms through perceiving the good we can do in our surroundings and the resulting action we take. Embracing the mystery of compassion, we thus experience one of the deepest aspects of spiritual life. 


The course "Sacrifice" is available in its entirety on the Cafh website: www.cafh.org. The teaching published here has been adapted slightly for the purpose of serving as a Feature on the Seeds site.