The Importance of Compassion in Assessing Our Dharma Progress

Steve Goodheart Essay

Steve Goodheart Essay

Never condemn your past from the standpoint of some new spiritual understanding or breakthroughs. Never look down on who you once were. Never disparage “the old man” or the “old woman,” to use a biblical phrase, who you may now feel was so wrapped up in illusion, in grasping needfulness, in impossible yearnings and beliefs.

Gaze upon yourself and your past with kind eyes. Gaze upon yourself and your past with eyes of compassion. Gaze upon yourself with gentle eyes, eyes enlightened by the understanding that life is a process, a flow, a great learning, an great awakening from ignorance and limitation.

Were you once a great striver but now have let that go? Then honor that great striving, which led to your moral or spiritual breakthrough―a breakthrough born of the very failure of that striving or perhaps by the very power of that striving.

Path to FreedomWere you once an earnest seeker but now no longer seek? Then honor that earnest seeking, which led to a letting go of seeking, for you now realize what you sought was always at hand and within, and closer than your breath itself.

Were you a courageous questioner, doubting all certainties and seeking answers to the perhaps unanswerable? Then honor that courage to accept nothing you could not see the truth of for yourself, even if at times you may have stumbled in error and pride and in the shadow side of doubt, which resists truth.

Were you a big-hearted lover, always seeking to love, even if sometimes foolishly and many times without wisdom? Then honor that great heart, which was perhaps broken again and again as it learned how to love without harm to itself or others and with less grasping and needfulness.

Be kind! Do not judge or condemn yourself or others because you or they needed space and time to grow and learn to get to a better place. Do not scorn aids and helps that you may now feel you have outgrown. If you needed some moral or spiritual aid and support, or some “transitional object” to hold on to, or the structure of formal practice, just realize that these are what you needed in order to help yourself live and grow spiritually. And if you still need them (and most of us do!), that’s OK too!

Chinese Scroll - Man on RaftDoes the adult scorn the child for what she does not know yet or has not learned yet? No! Then why would you look down upon or judge that spiritually younger you? In the same spirit of understanding and compassion, do not scorn or judge or talk down to others who may still need spiritual aids and supports, telling them from the standpoint of your new spiritual vantage point that they don’t need what you most surely did when you were in their place! That would be like someone who has made it across a great flood by a raft, standing safe on the far shore and telling those still crossing that they can abandon their rafts in the midst of the flood! Where is the wisdom or the compassion in that? Whatever we may know about the safe shore, which we may now realize has been the truth all along, is something another has to see for herself, and it doesn’t become true for another just because we know and assert it!

What’s more, if in your new place of spiritual freedom and breakthrough, you still see skill and ways to unbind yourself by striving, then strive! If you see still spiritual purpose and gain in inquisitive seeking, then seek! If you still see spiritual power in questioning and in “is that so?” doubt, then question and doubt! If you feel the call to love and know you’ve only begun to learn the ways you can express and be love in the world, then love, with all your heart!

Carved Buddha PanelThe big idea is to let all of these old ways and means be informed by new wisdom and compassion that have been learned. Let go of what is no longer helpful in light of new insights and wisdom. Use the heck out of what is still useful and skillful!

If you strive, let striving become wise effort, which knows when to work and when to stop and when to let go. If you seek, let seeking become a humble, deep curiosity and interest in all things. If you question, let questioning become a deep trust in our ability to know the true nature of things if we are willing to look deeply into what is, letting go of assumptions and preconceptions. If you love, let your love become more wise, cultivating the ability to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, with clarity and fearlessness, and thus avoiding harm.

With this spirit of compassion and wisdom, our practice of the dharma will then be “good in beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.”


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

6 Responses to “The Importance of Compassion in Assessing Our Dharma Progress”

  1. gabrielgill907 Reply 2013/04/08 at 11:21 AM

    Thank you for these kind and gentle words.

  2. Many Little Drops Reply 2013/04/03 at 9:58 AM

    Always good to be reminded to have compassion for who & where I was:) This helps me to also remember to have compassion for where I am now, because I am still one the journey……..

  3. This post really spoke to me today in regard to some of the struggles I am facing. Thanks so much.

  4. thank you, another great post. I am my own worst critic, Buddhism is helping me show loving kindness to myself, something that I have never done before.

  5. I like the compassion in this piece. You’re so right about how judgmental we can be of ourselves.


  1. New Learning - Mutual Spiritual Affinity - 2013/04/08

    […] The Importance of Compassion in Assessing Our Dharma Progress […]

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