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The Buddha

Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan master who created the Shambhala lineage in the United States, used to talk about idiot compassion.

Pema Chodron, who is popular because she translates Tibetan Buddhism into a modern, psychological idiom that people in the United States can easily understand, calls idiot compassion “enabling,” a term most people know.

At first glance, giving people what they want looks like compassion. In many cases, it may be. But take the example of a recovering alcoholic who wants a drink. Buying a drink for that person is idiot compassion because you are enabling an alcoholic. Giving that person what they want will only harm them in the long run.

Another example of idiot compassion is trying to take care of everyone to the point of running yourself ragged. If you are exhausted and sick, you are no use to anyone. As the flight attendant always tells you, put your own oxygen mask on first. You never have any obligation to sacrifice yourself for someone else. If you choose to do so knowingly, that’s your choice, but it is not a requirement.

Idiot compassion is closely related to another concept Trungpa is famous for, spiritual materialism We have this problem a lot in the United States. Spiritual materialism is using your “spirituality,” whatever that is, as a status symbol.

Americans are nothing if not pretentious, and practicing the right religion or going to the right church can be very important to some people’s idea of their status.

Happily, this is not much of a problem for Buddhists, since Buddhism is not a high status religion in the United States. It might become such in the future, but we can worry about that if it happens. One source says that all Buddhists start out in spiritual materialism, but gradually give it up as they progress along the path, so Buddhism militates away from spiritual materialism.

If you keep up your meditation practice, you will find it very difficult to worry much about your status. Not Self is not consistent with status consciousness. Buddha mind is not consistent with status consciousness. Buddhists don’t care.

So, keep meditating and working on recognizing Not Self, and don’t worry about impressing your neighbors.

Please help spread the word.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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