On this day, we considered the idea of circles of compassion. Over the Summer, we spent a bit of time during the Time for All Ages, as well as in the classrooms, expressing the idea of a “heart world” that can be explored. Just like our everyday world, the heart world is made up of a center and a periphery. We can imagine learning to love ourselves, then our friends and allies, then neutral others, then those we dislike, our enemies, etc. Part of the goal of our spiritual life is to find ways to grow our circle of inclusion and compassion, moving towards expanding horizons of deeper love for the world. We can talk about that explicitly. In Buddhist contexts, there is a practice called tonglen that helps us formally work with this process.
We sought to help the children and youth in the program to understand that nonviolence and compassion are always choices for us in our actions. We also want them to understand something about how to connect with the more-than-human world with compassion. Our 7th Principle calls us to this understanding. Indeed, our Common Read this year focuses on these issues, among other related topics.
In thinking about this, we also suggested paying attention to the animal and vegetable worlds, as well, and thinking about how we might respond to them compassionately. We talked to the kids about compassion and sought to help them feel confident in testing their own boundaries. Do we/should we feel compassion for animals? For plants? What about for bacteria and microbes and viruses? What about AIs and robots? We also mentioned UU organizations working with these issues. For example, the UU Animal Ministry. And, of course, many religions recommend or demand a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Here are some links to help this conversation:
- A recent vote at General Assembly that chose to exclude animal wellbeing.
- Articles in UU World: 1, 2. Also, an article relating to UUs: here.
- Thinking compassion for animals through the lens of intersectionality.
- Articles about UN recommendations: 1, 2, 3.
- Plant intelligence resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
- Recommended books: The Songs of Trees and The Hidden Life of Trees.
- The tree death crisis in LA: 1, 2.
- Microbial intelligence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
- Compassion for robots and AIs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
In addition, we invoked Thoreau as someone who thought about our relationship to nature as an important part of shaping one’s worldview. Thoreau, of course, pressed us also to consider nonviolent resistance as an approach to justice. Many environmental activists and animal rights groups find that their understanding of resistance is more in line with 20th century thinkers like Hannah Arendt who advocate for proactive resistance to injustice as an extension of models based on liberal conscience.
Some UUs are also pantheists/panentheists and/or animists. This might suggest that compassion and kindness are relevant even toward inert matter or toward things like planets and stars. Some, who believe in the paranormal, might argue for ghosts and aliens and the like deserving compassion, as well. See, for example, the Hills or Rev. Michael Carter.