Chautauqua Institution

Dayananda Saraswati: The profound journey of compassion

Filmed:

Swami Dayananda Saraswati unravels the parallel paths of personal development and attaining true compassion. He walks us through each step of self-realization, from helpless infancy to the fearless act of caring for others.

- Vedantic teacher
Swami Dayananda Saraswati is an acclaimed spiritual teacher and the founder of AIM for Seva -- a charitable trust that works to relieve poverty across India. Full bio

A human child is born,
00:12
and for quite a long time
00:22
is a consumer.
00:27
It cannot be consciously a contributor.
00:32
It is helpless.
00:44
It doesn't know how to survive,
00:46
even though it is endowed with an instinct to survive.
00:49
It needs the help of mother, or a foster mother, to survive.
01:04
It can't afford to doubt the person who tends the child.
01:20
It has to totally surrender,
01:33
as one surrenders to an anesthesiologist.
01:38
It has to totally surrender.
01:43
That implies a lot of trust.
01:49
That implies the trusted person
01:59
won't violate the trust.
02:06
As the child grows,
02:09
it begins to discover
02:14
that the person trusted is violating the trust.
02:18
It doesn't know even the word "violation."
02:24
Therefore, it has to blame itself,
02:29
a wordless blame,
02:35
which is more difficult to really resolve --
02:38
the wordless self-blame.
02:50
As the child grows to become an adult:
02:56
so far, it has been a consumer,
03:01
but the growth of a human being
03:05
lies in his or her capacity to contribute,
03:08
to be a contributor.
03:18
One cannot contribute unless one feels secure,
03:22
one feels big,
03:28
one feels: I have enough.
03:31
To be compassionate is not a joke.
03:37
It's not that simple.
03:41
One has to discover a certain bigness in oneself.
03:44
That bigness should be centered on oneself,
03:51
not in terms of money,
03:54
not in terms of power you wield,
03:57
not in terms of any status that you can command in the society,
04:01
but it should be centered on oneself.
04:09
The self: you are self-aware.
04:14
On that self, it should be centered -- a bigness, a wholeness.
04:18
Otherwise, compassion is just a word and a dream.
04:25
You can be compassionate occasionally,
04:35
more moved by empathy
04:40
than by compassion.
04:44
Thank God we are empathetic.
04:51
When somebody's in pain, we pick up the pain.
04:55
In a Wimbledon final match,
05:00
these two guys fight it out.
05:07
Each one has got two games.
05:10
It can be anybody's game.
05:15
What they have sweated so far has no meaning.
05:18
One person wins.
05:25
The tennis etiquette is, both the players have to come to the net
05:31
and shake hands.
05:41
The winner boxes the air
05:46
and kisses the ground,
05:49
throws his shirt as though somebody is waiting for it.
05:54
(Laughter)
05:58
And this guy has to come to the net.
06:01
When he comes to the net,
06:05
you see, his whole face changes.
06:08
It looks as though he's wishing that he didn't win.
06:13
Why? Empathy.
06:18
That's human heart.
06:23
No human heart is denied of that empathy.
06:25
No religion can demolish that by indoctrination.
06:31
No culture, no nation and nationalism --
06:37
nothing can touch it
06:43
because it is empathy.
06:46
And that capacity to empathize
06:49
is the window through which you reach out to people,
06:55
you do something that makes a difference in somebody's life --
07:03
even words, even time.
07:08
Compassion is not defined in one form.
07:13
There's no Indian compassion.
07:18
There's no American compassion.
07:21
It transcends nation, the gender, the age.
07:25
Why? Because it is there in everybody.
07:31
It's experienced by people occasionally.
07:42
Then this occasional compassion,
07:49
we are not talking about --
07:54
it will never remain occasional.
07:58
By mandate, you cannot make a person compassionate.
08:01
You can't say, "Please love me."
08:09
Love is something you discover.
08:13
It's not an action,
08:16
but in the English language, it is also an action.
08:21
I will come to it later.
08:26
So one has got to discover a certain wholeness.
08:30
I am going to cite the possibility of being whole,
08:37
which is within our experience, everybody's experience.
08:44
In spite of a very tragic life,
08:51
one is happy in moments which are very few and far between.
09:00
And the one who is happy,
09:10
even for a slapstick joke,
09:13
accepts himself and also the scheme of things in which one finds oneself.
09:21
That means the whole universe,
09:30
known things and unknown things.
09:34
All of them are totally accepted
09:38
because you discover your wholeness in yourself.
09:44
The subject -- "me" --
09:50
and the object -- the scheme of things --
09:54
fuse into oneness,
09:57
an experience nobody can say, "I am denied of,"
10:02
an experience common to all and sundry.
10:08
That experience confirms that, in spite of all your limitations --
10:14
all your wants, desires, unfulfilled, and the credit cards
10:23
and layoffs
10:28
and, finally, baldness --
10:33
you can be happy.
10:37
But the extension of the logic is
10:41
that you don't need to fulfill your desire to be happy.
10:46
You are the very happiness, the wholeness that you want to be.
10:52
There's no choice in this:
10:58
that only confirms the reality
11:00
that the wholeness cannot be different from you,
11:06
cannot be minus you.
11:13
It has got to be you.
11:17
You cannot be a part of wholeness
11:20
and still be whole.
11:23
Your moment of happiness reveals that reality,
11:26
that realization, that recognition:
11:30
"Maybe I am the whole.
11:35
Maybe the swami is right.
11:38
Maybe the swami is right." You start your new life.
11:41
Then everything becomes meaningful.
11:52
I have no more reason to blame myself.
11:58
If one has to blame oneself, one has a million reasons plus many.
12:02
But if I say, in spite of my body being limited --
12:08
if it is black it is not white, if it is white it is not black:
12:14
body is limited any which way you look at it. Limited.
12:23
Your knowledge is limited, health is limited,
12:29
and power is therefore limited,
12:33
and the cheerfulness is going to be limited.
12:36
Compassion is going to be limited.
12:41
Everything is going to be limitless.
12:44
You cannot command compassion
12:49
unless you become limitless, and nobody can become limitless,
12:55
either you are or you are not. Period.
12:59
And there is no way of your being not limitless too.
13:04
Your own experience reveals, in spite of all limitations, you are the whole.
13:13
And the wholeness is the reality of you
13:23
when you relate to the world.
13:28
It is love first.
13:30
When you relate to the world,
13:33
the dynamic manifestation of the wholeness
13:35
is, what we say, love.
13:40
And itself becomes compassion
13:45
if the object that you relate to evokes that emotion.
13:49
Then that again transforms into giving, into sharing.
14:00
You express yourself because you have compassion.
14:10
To discover compassion, you need to be compassionate.
14:16
To discover the capacity to give and share,
14:22
you need to be giving and sharing.
14:27
There is no shortcut: it is like swimming by swimming.
14:29
You learn swimming by swimming.
14:34
You cannot learn swimming on a foam mattress and enter into water.
14:38
(Laughter)
14:42
You learn swimming by swimming. You learn cycling by cycling.
14:44
You learn cooking by cooking,
14:48
having some sympathetic people around you
14:50
to eat what you cook.
14:53
(Laughter)
14:55
And, therefore, what I say,
15:03
you have to fake it and make it.
15:07
(Laughter)
15:09
You need to.
15:16
My predecessor meant that.
15:19
You have to act it out.
15:25
You have to act compassionately.
15:30
There is no verb for compassion,
15:37
but you have an adverb for compassion.
15:42
That's interesting to me.
15:46
You act compassionately.
15:50
But then, how to act compassionately if you don't have compassion?
15:56
That is where you fake.
16:00
You fake it and make it. This is the mantra of the United States of America.
16:03
(Laughter)
16:07
You fake it and make it.
16:12
You act compassionately as though you have compassion:
16:16
grind your teeth,
16:19
take all the support system.
16:22
If you know how to pray, pray.
16:24
Ask for compassion.
16:28
Let me act compassionately.
16:31
Do it.
16:34
You'll discover compassion
16:36
and also slowly a relative compassion,
16:38
and slowly, perhaps if you get the right teaching,
16:43
you'll discover compassion is a dynamic manifestation
16:47
of the reality of yourself, which is oneness, wholeness,
16:52
and that's what you are.
16:58
With these words, thank you very much.
17:00
(Applause)
17:03

▲Back to top

About the Speaker:

Dayananda Saraswati - Vedantic teacher
Swami Dayananda Saraswati is an acclaimed spiritual teacher and the founder of AIM for Seva -- a charitable trust that works to relieve poverty across India.

Why you should listen

Swami Dayananda Saraswati has been teaching the traditional wisdom of Vedanta for more than four decades, in India and around the world. His success as a teacher is evident in the successes of his students -- over 100 are now swamis themselves, and highly respected as scholars and teachers. Within the Hindu community, he has worked to create harmony, founding the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, where heads of different sects can come together learn from each other. In the larger religious community, he has also made huge strides towards cooperation, convening the first World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity.

However, Swami Saraswati’s work is not limited to the religious community. He is the founder and an active executive member of the All India Movement (AIM) for Seva. Since 2000, AIM has been bringing medical assistance, education, food and infrastructure to people living in the most remote areas of India. Growing up in a small, rural village himself, the Swami understood the particular challenges to accessing aid faced by those outside of the cities. Today, AIM for Seva estimates that they have been able to help over two million people in need.