“Compassion without action is just sterile,” keynote speaker Mathieu Ricard told a packed hall at the Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism on Tuesday, August 10. “When people see suffering in the street and say, ‘It’s not my job,’ I don’t see that. If something comes your way, engage in compassionate action.”
Ricard, a Buddhist monk for nearly 40 years at Schechen Monastery in Nepal, a close student of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and personal interpreter for the Dalai Lama, is also well-known as a photographer, a trained scientist (with a Ph.D. in cellular genetics) and a bestselling author. Less well-known, as Zen Peacemakers founder Bernie Glassman pointed out when introducing Ricard, are his donations of money to serve the poor.
Ricard does not advocate simply giving money, however. “Compassion is about removing suffering in all its forms,” he told the Symposium, “in the world, in the street.” To undertake such work, he said, requires having “inner strength — emotional strength — and balance.” He also invoked the image of a wounded deer, seen as one’s mother and begging for help, as a technique for awakening compassion.
“Compassion without wisdom is blind,” he emphasized. And when a situation arises that requires compassion, he said, the response is clear: “You just need to do it.”