Cosmological Roots of Compassion

by Christian de la Huerta


Ram Dass's Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service, is addressed to "those who feel called to reduce the suffering that surrounds us on the planet and who also feel that the deepest responsibility of each of us is to become more fully who we are, to live closer to the truth." The book reveals that both of these aspects are interconnected, occur at the same time, and energize each other. Karma Yoga, or the path of service, "uses as its vehicle for transformation our actions themselves; that is, we gain internal freedom through external action. . . . There is an elegance in the use of our acts of service for our spiritual work. It lies in the fact that the very acts that we perform to relieve the suffering of another being, be they through offering a glass of water, holding a hand, building a road, or protesting against injustice, can also serve as grist for the mill of our own spiritual growth, which, in turn, improves the effectiveness of our caring acts."

How can coming out fully--spiritually--through active engagement, develop your inner being and change your life? In my case, if I had to choose one of the yogic paths by which to categorize myself, it would probably have to be the path of service. I am definitely attracted to and fed by the Jnana path of wisdom, and thrive on learning and understanding. I enjoy Bhakti Yoga or devotional techniques such as chanting, and am frequently moved to spontaneous moments of love and gratitude when I experience innocence in people or beauty in art and nature. I am also drawn to movement and other body-based practices. However, what really drives me more than anything else is the desire to serve. To me, it is more than a desire, a neurotic need, or a compulsion. I feel passionately about the state of humanity and the world, and nothing else motivates me to action like our precarious condition, and my desire to help others and to support the unfolding story of the universe (which could all be translated as serving God). When I am actively engaged in service I feel connected and highly energized--I am "in the flow," and can feel and see the magic at work all around me. Service gives my life a sense of context and meaning.

Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist and author of The Universe Story and The Universe Is a Green Dragon, bridges science and spirituality and merges the mystic and the astrophysicist in his writings, while presenting an explanation of the universe in simple, understandable, and eloquent poetic language, which expands the mind and inspires the soul. Citing recent scientific evidence, he writes that in our times "mechanistic . . . science opened out to include a science of mystery: the encounter with the ultimacy of no-thingness that is simultaneously a realm of generative potentiality; the dawning recognition that the universe and the Earth can be considered living entities; the awareness that the human person, rather than a separate unit within the world, is the culminating presence of a billion-year process; and the realization that, rather than having a universe filled with things, we are enveloped by a universe that is a single energetic event, a whole, unified, multiform, and glorious outpouring of being." (Green Dragon, pp. 39-40)

What Swimme and others are calling for is the development of a cosmological perspective, a realization of our place within and our connectedness to the universe. Only that will save us from the ecological and social crises in which we find ourselves--all caused by what Swimme calls the "most terrifying pathology in the history of the universe," referring to the estrangement of the human from nature and the rest of the cosmos, the divorce of science from Spirit which has characterized modern Western culture for hundreds of years.

Once we reestablish our rightful place in relationship with nature and the rest of the universe, everything else will fall into place. We will learn to treat the Earth, its resources, and its other inhabitants with respect, responsibility, and a sense of stewardship. Once we begin to see each other as the "culmination of a billion-year process" and realize that we are not different or separate but actually made of the same stuff as the stars, we will learn to truly honor each other--and racism, sexism, homophobia, and other social and economic inequities will naturally fall by the wayside. The only appropriate response to this new understanding of our collective story is one of awe, and a humble, joyful celebration of all creation. What we desperately need is a real experience of awe engendered by a new sense of cosmology. For how can one harm, destroy, neglect, or abuse something, whether it's an ecosystem or another human, of which one is in utter awe?

Developing a sense of cosmology also helps put everything into perspective. It is easy to forget, or deny, that we inhabit this tiny planet--infinitesimal, compared to the rest of the universe--which at this very moment is hurtling at great speeds through a space so vast that our minds cannot even begin to comprehend it, while simultaneously rotating on its axis. And on this planet, the only one of its kind as far as our extremely limited capabilities and perspectives can identify, exists an amazingly complex ecosystem: oceans, mountains, rivers, clouds, volcanoes, and tornadoes; it is teeming with life, from the tiniest microscopic organisms living in the darkest depths of the ocean or inside slowly brewing volcanoes, to the thousands of varieties of plants and flowers, to the huge mammals roaming both plain and sea, to the colorful rainbow of feathered and scaled creatures. If only we could really see ourselves from the outside as this tiny, indescribably beautiful living planet, everything would change.

Swimme speaks beautifully and movingly of "generosity" as one of the cosmic dynamics--universal qualities that are evidenced throughout the cosmos. Planets, stars, solar systems, and life itself came about because of the cosmic generosity of a supernova which, in exploding, brought all of this into existence. Swimme reminds us that humans share that very generosity of being, for, in a real sense, our atoms, our blood, our bones, and our tissues are made of the same star stuff as the supernovas. That may be why we have a deep-seated desire to help, to make a difference, to serve, to give ourselves away like the exploding supernovas. Swimme writes that "the ground of being is generosity. The ultimate source of all that is, the support and well of being, is Ultimate Generosity. All being comes forth and shines, glimmers and glistens, because the root reality of the universe is generosity of being. That's why the ground of being is empty: every thing has been given over to the universe; all existence has been poured forth; all being has gushed forth because Ultimate Generosity retains no thing." (Green Dragon, p. 146)

It is time for queer people to tap deeper than we ever have before into that universal quality of generosity, evidenced in our age-old roles as healers, teachers, and caregivers. Even though we have been and continue to be rejected and maligned by many, it is time for us to shine forth as exemplars of service and compassion. In the process we will discover a source of self-respect and personal fulfillment. The respect of others will follow eventually, although, more than likely, having found respect in ourselves, we will no longer need it from others.


Christian de la Huerta is executive director of San Francisco's Q-Spirit. He is author of 1999's big gay spirituality book, Coming Out Spiritually, from which the preceding article was excerpted with permission. Coming Out Spiritually is published by Tarcher/Putnam, PB $14.95,