Compassion instead of Power


“Understand first of all that you don’t want absolute power – you don’t want absolute control…you want some control, but not all of it. Why? Because we always love controlling something that’s not really under our control.

I gave you an illustration right at the beginning of this talk of holding a gyroscopic top…feeling sometimes you’re with it yet sometimes it’s alive in your hand. This sensation also goes with driving a car or something like that…it’s more or less under your control and yet on the other hand it isn’t. That’s the beautiful thing: when something is partly under your control but isn’t. This offers the same sort of relationship you have with someone you love. This is some other person partly under your control because they have agreed to live with you and experience life with you and so on, but also they are not under your control at all. So the measure in which others are not in your control is the same measure by which they seem alive to you.

So we ask the question: If the motivation of power gaining disappears — you’ve seen through it and you know that it’s not what you want — what other motivation takes its place as the origin to action? It seems to me the answer is compassion simply because when you want to relate to another living being, what you are really asking of them is that they be in the same situation that you are. We all want to meet and encounter someone else who has our problems, our fears, our delights…you don’t want a doll, you want another self, because that would be at least as surprising to you as you are.

The most interesting thing in the world is your relationship with these other people because you can see at once yourself in the situation of them. So you think, “I do not want to outright control these people, but I do want them to do the things I would like them to do. I want them to like the things I like, but I cannot force them because if I force them, they will not be happy.”

When you marry someone and have a family, you want your children, wife, relatives…to be happy to do the things for you that they do. So we ask, “Would you like to bring the washing in?” or the school teacher asks, “What nice student would like to come clean the blackboard for me?” We put questions that way because we always hope the things we do for each other will be pleasurable to both sides. These are simply methods we use to get voluntary cooperation. That’s what we look for.

There really is no greater satisfaction that you can imagine that the kind of personal relationship wherein you can trust a being who is other than you – and not under your control – to do for you what you want because they want to and like it. So, in the same way, you on your side would want to do something for them in that same ideal so as to give pleasure to them.

Compassion is really feeling with and through someone else. The whole trick is to lose control of the situation and throw the ball to the other person. This is what the Jewish or Christian theologian says about God. They say God did something called ‘Kenosis’ in the beginning. Kenosis is a Greek word which means to self-empty or self-sacrifice. Thereby God conferred freedom of will and the power to love at all upon human beings and angels at creation. Therefore in Christianity, God took a terrific risk by trusting a principal called other which is not under control…It’s the idea: the all powerful surrenders power.

The more you ‘other yourself’ by giving yourself away, the more of a human being you become because self and other are reciprocal. One finds that people through some discipline have emptied of ego, become tremendously strong personalities. You would think theoretically that they are all non-entities and lack entirely what psychologists call ‘ego strength”, but in fact these folks are nothing like that. They are all unique and quite different from each other and they are very strong characters.

They have realized the more they give up, the more they get it. The idea being to give in to everything including yourself as much as you can objectify…your stomach, your arms, your intestines, your liver… One says to all life, “Now its your turn. Let’s see what you will do.” Let it happen. You do this complete let off of control. And you get the sensation that everything else is living you. It lives you.”

~ Alan Watts


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