Friday, December 10, 2010
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong is a book that is so practical and yet profound that I honestly feel speechless, unable to formulate an adequate way of singing its praises. Every now and again I read a book that makes me ache for a reading buddy or reading group that would share and discuss the ideas presented with me.
This is one of those rare books, a book that encourages the reader to not merely read the words but become engaged with the ideas presented in order to build a more compassionate world. If Gandhi is right and we need to be the change we wish to see in the world, Armstrong’s book is a clarion call to everyone. The world is urgently in need of change; let it begin with each one of us.
Armstrong’s ecumenical approach to the idea (ideal) of compassion begins with brief survey of religious history, focusing on how six of the major religions emerged out of the changing needs of their societies. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism all are represented and appreciated on the pages of this book for what each has to offer. From looking at the roots for these various religions, the author moves into looking at contemporary times, recognizing how history has informed our current circumstances. Then she unsurprisingly invites the reader to begin exploring compassion by offering compassion to the self.
This is not merely a book of principle or ideals but a practical guide for how to understand the need for compassion, the various streams in which compassion is taught, and then how to grow in compassion in an increasingly larger circle of influence. Early in the book she suggests that the reader go cover-to-cover, to know where the ideas are heading and then return to the beginning and this time around read each chapter with a commitment to put the ideas into practice. At the end of the boo, there is a bibliography that lists a broad range of books affording the individual an opportunity to explore more deeply, more fully, the tenets presented throughout. The recommended reading is as ecumenical as the book itself, offering disparate viewpoints that are bound to create dialogue.
How often does one come across a book that is both inspiring and practical? Not as often as one would hope. This is one of those rare treasures, a book I would eagerly and joyously recommend to everyone I know and love.