Last time we put out our program with Karen Armstrong, one of our producers wrote about Karen Armstrong’s call to build an international “Charter for Compassion.” In her speech, Armstrong states that “I think it’s time that we moved beyond the idea of toleration, and moved toward appreciation of the other.”

Now, we are once again replaying “The Freelance Monotheism of Karen Armstrong” one week before the Charter for Compassion itself is unveiled. In some ways, the charter’s mission is surprisingly simple — it’s essentially a call for everyone around the world to follow the Golden Rule. Less than a month ago, Armstrong articulated this mission in a letter co-signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“It is not simply a statement of principle; it is above all a summons to creative, practical and sustained action to meet the political, moral, religious, social and cultural problems of our time. In addition to participating in one of the many launch events, we invite each individual to adopt the charter as their own, to make a lifelong commitment to live with compassion.”

It seems a little serendipitous to me that the charter is being released on November 12, the same day we’re releasing our program with Buddhist thinker Matthieu Ricard to podcasters. Ricard is another person very interested in the idea of compassion. In his conversation with Krista, he offers the idea that compassion is a skill that we develop with practice: “You don’t learn to play the piano by playing 20 seconds a week,” he says, and much like we exercise to keep our bodies fit, we should also be practicing compassionate thinking to remain spiritually fit.

While the charter’s mission is to tell the world why we should be compassionate, Ricard is teaching how we can be compassionate.

I’m interested to see what happens after the charter is officially revealed. How will it be received? On what terms will it put forth its mission? Will anyone notice?

Share Your Reflection



I often wonder why it is people need to identify the "other" in ways that are about exclusion and inhumanity. It's an old, sad story, that has cost millions of lives and has produced such brutality and sadness. I know it's time to embrace again a clarity of vision and purpose that is about one's fellow man, this family of man, around the world. This video says it all.

It's an old message, this message of compassion. I am seeing this everywhere on the Web, namely, so many people working with the same heartfelt mission, to make this world a better place. For "crying out loud", let's Do IT!

I see, in my heart of hearts, in my fondest dreams, hands across the world. We can do it. We can do it now. If not now, then, when? Eliminate cruel and make a masterpiece out of our lives and create then, a master peace, as crewel is also for embroidery of the finest kind. And kind is for man kind, a mandate, a man date.

Life is a journey and I think the journey stops here, at the River. It's time to recognize why we're here and what this story is all about. Love is the answer. Love has always been the answer. Why should something this simple be so hard?

"For 'crying out loud,' let's Do IT!" That is the real challenge though, isn't it? It's not so much the understanding compassion, it's the practicing it on a day-to-day basis. This is why I find Ricard compelling. Stay tuned!

Hi Andy Dayton: Thanks so much for responding to me this DAY, following a deep discussion with a friend overseas about life's burdens and what we can do about this, individually and collectively.

It's nice to feel one isn't invisible in this vast sea of words.

In the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, a profound spiritual text, recently translated by Daniel Matt and others, there is repeated mention of: A River Flows Through it Out of Eden. We are meant to take note of this. There is a symphony that follows our days, running contrapuntally to all of our lives. To pick up the beauty of the strings, the percussion, the cymbals, this inchoate story, is to feel, deeply, that what is right is so clear in such videos as the ones above. If I were to characterize this video with a color I would say, violet, for that which is most spiritual.

I honestly believe this entire story is coded in the words we speak. Once you see it there is no going back. The keys are in the aleph bet. The letters.

Yes, words are so easy, and acts are so hard. Maybe the first ACT is over and now, it's time to move forward in the greatest act imaginable, to work, to truly work hard, to change this world in ways of peace, love, compassion.

And for this, we will need everyone. Anyone WILLing and able please apply.

Shakespeare: all the world's a stage...
maybe WILL was right and this is why we so feel his beautiful words.

My Irish grandmother knew well how to be compassionate. She practiced it every day from the moment she got up to go to early mass every morning, to the food packages she would make for the ailing neighbour, to the charity drives she helped organise to raise funds for children living in poverty. Since seeing Karen Armstrong's TED presentation last year, I have continually been thinking about my dear grandmother and how we tended to oversee the beauty and power of her actions because they were all expressed with grace and humbleness.

simply beautiful


So true, so well spoken !

I think we sometimes forget that words *are* a way of acting. As with any action, words can be simply and empty gesture, but they can also inspire, move, and uplift--as Armstrong indicated in the interview when she said theology should be more like poetry. How we talk to and about one another affects what we and others do in the world.

And in that vein, I feel a need to speak carefully and compassionately about those who approach religion in more fundamentalist and extreme ways. I am often tempted to make *them* the other who needs to be defeated or overcome, but their emotional and spiritual needs are no less valid than mine, and don't they also carry the creator within them?

One thing that fairly leapt out at me from the SOF interview was Armstrong's mention of creeds, which of course brought directly to mind the recent show featuring Jaroslav Pelikan.

Religions are forms of ethical alchemy: you behave in a compassionate way and this changes you. What keeps us from a knowledge of the divine--which has been called variously "God", "Nirvana", "Brahman", the sacred--what keeps us from this ultimate reality is our own egotism, our greed, that often needs to destroy others or denigrate others in order to preserve it's sense of self. Compassion makes us de-throne ourselves from the center of our world and put another there. And it's this, they all teach, that leads us into the presence of the divine. Not believing in creeds, not undertaking weird penances.

--Karen Armstrong

Religious faith needs creed. [Just] religious faith "in general," prayer addressed "To Whom It May Concern..," sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, has no staying power. It's OK to have that at ten o'clock on Sunday morning, when you're out with your friends somewhere. But in the darkest hours of life you've got to believe something specific. And that specification is the task of the creed. Much as some people might not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say "yes" is also to say "no." Clarifying what the "yes" is, and what that "yes" implies for the "no", within the boundaries of a particular religious tradition and in relation to other traditions... That task of setting up the alternatives and then finding a way to say what it is we believe [is the function of the creed].

--Jaroslav Pelikan

If only SOF could have gotten these two together! Now THAT would have been a show!

Personally, I come down on Armstrong's side far more than Pelikan's. I look forward to reading more about Armstrong's views on compassion and how it can stand, in some sense, in opposition to creeds and fundamentalism.

Nice connection! Unfortunately, Jaroslav Pelikan passed away in 2006, so it's a conversation that will never happen ... maybe you'll have to download the unedited interviews and cut together your own version ;).