Thich Nhat Hanh often said that “compassion is born of understanding,” but it wasn’t until I read In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by the physician Gabor Maté that I actually experienced what Thay was talking about. Maté’s book looks at addiction through the lenses of psychology, neurobiology, trauma, social policy, patients’ stories, and the author’s own compulsions. It was Maté’s self-inquiry that pushed me to become more honest with myself, to lean into understanding my pain instead of trying to meditate it away. In conflicts, I started asking myself: How do I do this too? When I was no longer outside looking at the cruelty or ignorance of another, my heart just opened.
Among all the stories I’ve heard of the bodhisattvas and the lessons I’ve received on karuna, including during my nine years in robes, Maté’s human and humane example of understanding was what awakened true compassion in me.
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