Question: Do you have advice on how to cultivate compassion?
Answer: One of the most important practices that we have is called ahimsa, non-hurting others. It is a very good practice. We can hurt others by what we think, by what we say, and by what we do.
Speech can be very hurtful. Violent emotions can be very hurtful. If we feel that a violent emotion is coming and we are not able to replace it with a positive emotion, we should just walk away. Drink a glass of cold water, take a nice walk in nature, and when we calm down, then we have to replace that thought, or that emotion, with an opposite thought. At any moment, we can replace thoughts. It is very easy to do.
But first, we should learn to refrain from hurting others — even if we are right. There are always methods to achieve the same goals without violence. Violence, always — even if you are a warrior (Kshatriya) — should be the last thing, not the first thing.
In our system, ahimsa is considered a universal vow. We should do everything in our capacity not to hurt others. Right now I am not talking about dramatic things; there are some very difficult situations. But I am talking about situations in which we judge someone — and again, we may be right. I am not saying that we are not right.
We think or say “This person is so egotistical … ” “That person is so …” and something comes from within us that may be hurtful. Once we are calm, then meditate. That person is not different from you. If you really meditate, you will find out that you are as selfish as that person. You are not less selfish. There are very few people who are ego-less. We are all selfish. We are explicitly selfish or implicitly selfish, but we are selfish — even those of us who practice Karma Yoga. It takes a very long time of practice to reduce this selfishness.
We are not so different from each other. Therefore, meditate: “That person is exactly like me. Would I like another person to judge me and hurt me?” Since the answer is no, it is the same for the other person. We need to meditate on this.
We also need to meditate on the short-term consequences of getting angry and the long-term consequences of getting angry. Whom does our anger benefit? Some people say, “Anger is good.” Oh, yes. Fire is also good. But it depends what you do with it. Of course it is good. Fire is a beautiful flame at the altar. But if you have a fire that burns the whole house, it is not as good. You see? So we need to meditate. We have to see the consequences of patience versus the consequences of anger.
Then, we need to understand that we have the capacity to change our thoughts. This power is there. All people, at any moment, can change their thoughts. They can think about anything they choose. It is not true that if a negative thought comes, you cannot change it to a positive thought. Any person can do it. It is just practice. Think differently.
But it is important first to meditate, even for two minutes.
Then, when we are calm and positive, then we can act. You want to say something to a person? Do not say it to them when you are angry. When you have energy that can hurt the other person, do not do it.
Patience is much better than anger. Love is much better than hatred. Non-violence is much better than violence. This is what yoga teaches.