Former Catholic nun, world-renowned religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong discusses her memoir, "The Spiral Staircase." Karen discusses the details of her fascinating spiritual journey, which began when she joined a convent at the age of 17. Hoping to forge a deep connection to God, her inspiration was met with harsh disillusionment. Karen says she was deeply unhappy as a nun and unable to pray. Seven years later, she left the convent feeling like a failure, with her future in question. Karen says she avoided all organized religion for more than a decade, but then returned to the subject years later as a writer and scholar after experiencing an "awakening" while on assignment in Jerusalem. In our “perilously divided world,” we need to live more compassionately now more than ever, she says. In her book "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life," Karen outlines simple practices anyone can do in hopes of making a lifelong commitment to creating a more harmonious world. (Part 2 of 2)
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I'm over Winfrey welcome to supersede conversations the podcast I've leave that one of the most valuable gives you can give yourself is time taking time to be more fully present, your journey to become more inspired and connected to the deep world around us start right now. Welcome to part two of our conversation
This is how current Armstrong are superficial. Sunday guest today has been described, she's one of the most a regional thinkers on the role of religion. In the modern world and she's, arguably the most lucid wide, ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today, carbon is a former catholic none who has studied the world's great religions and she's identified the common thread that runs through all of them, and we talk about this once before, and that common thread is compassion, compassion. It took years and years of studying and research recurring to discover that common thread and experience that began at the age of seventeen when she decided to become a catholic none. Last time we sat down together, carbon revealed her painful struggles behind convent walls, terror
Lebanon is something that was the hard thing out, because we are not allowed to make friends. You weren't even allowed to have friends, because you're trying to get rid of ego at that is a hard struggle disillusioned with life as a non carbon ultimately made the difficult decision to leave religious life altogether, but passion for studying the world's religions remained fierce and today ass. She is one of the most acclaimed and prolific writers on the subject of faith. It was in the act math of September eleven, that current became a sought after expert having written extensively on Islam and the prophet Mohammed. In February, two thousand eight. She won the prestigious TED Prize for her groundbreaking. Dedicating her life to creating a more harmonious world. It is the subject of her two thousand ten book, twelve steps to a compassionate light,
if we all share this common thread of compassion. Certainly, if all religions teach the same thing Why do you think people are so afraid of others, fates and traditions? Well, I think the trouble is that people identify two closely with their own beliefs and doctrines. They project themselves into it too much so that when they find that other people do things differently, it seems to challenge there themselves. They feel themselves threatened in some way. The other yes and the other cannot possibly be right, because I'm right yeah and the point is that if you just get compassion right, you doc
It's not about being right. Religion is not about being right, but you get a lovely, warm self congratulatory glow when you feel right when the real purpose of religion is delighted to let yourself go what's Religions tell us that you are your best self. When you give yourself away when you give yourself away too The people religion is meant not just to get us to Heaven. I think Heaven is a bit of a red herring, but it is meant to propel us towards others in compassion. The Buddha said after enlightenment, you go back to the marketplace and their practice compassion living beings, you don't just sit congratulating yourself on you ve, achieving Nirvana you in April
oh you out in in charity and compassion and to make the world a better place, but they say you have to take responsibility for the pain of the world, not say that sound. Somebody else's problem the understanding of passion is that you say I am now going to do all in my power to assuage the suffering of the world and our idea of compassion is got so feeble that You think he's feeling sorry for people. Ah, it means it means to deal with the other com, pertain in Greek confederacy, o in Latin to feel and endure something with somebody else to add its summed up in what's often called the golden rule. Treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. So when you are feeling with others- Sometimes
others, because I've been able to do that. Will you literally put yourself any you can feel other people's paying you can well they're sadness and sorrow in you. It touches same space in yourself is that religion. Yes, that is religion that is really there a famous story by one of the great rabbi Hillel, who was an older contemporary of Jesus and a pagan, came to him and said that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could sum up the whole of jewish teaching the whole of the Torah. While he stood on one leg- and he now said that which is hateful to you- do not to you do to your fellow man that is the Torah and everything else is only commentary of at last. So it's a provocative statement, but if you get compassion, you get the rest, and that is true whether you are we must or jewish Buddha. So a hindu they do or confucian yes,
I can work Christian or Christian. Yes, Confucius was the first person to to formulate the golden rule. As far as we know five hundred years before Christ, and they said his disciples said, must which of your teachings? Can we put into practice all day and every day? And he said never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. I think that all the fates have come to tell us this, that this is what works, that a few people have found that if you do, all day and every day look into, as the golden rule says, look into your own heart discover what gives you pain then refuse under any circumstances whatsoever to inflict that paid or anybody else, somehow you achieve new capacities of mind and heart, just as a dancer who practices in practice is incorrect.
This is a year. So, if you're not practising it end you're not putting it into action, it's not real. Once you do it, everything falls into place. You see, and I think the pact, that every single one of the world Faiths has developed this ethos of the golden rule separately for one another independently and said this is what brings us to Navona what god they did it because it work. That's why you feel better when you see someone as yourself or when you are giving of yourself when you lose yourself and what the Buddhist say is that it's up identification occasion with ourselves that gives us such pain, yes when you wake up three in the morning annually, through all these miserable thoughts like. Why has I have I not got what so, and so has wise always me this all this self pity we lash ourselves out. We think we have a hard time. No one understands no one loves us as well, that we should be love. It's all me wit and that's what makes us missile
the world according to meet yes, and when you remember that everybody else has this Paden too. The one thing we know in the world of every human being, however, fortunate or happy he or she is has paid, and that that is the great thing that brings us together. So What's your take on where we are right now with the state of religion in the world, it seems to me a great tragedy that the world religions, which have got this this recipe foot to heal the troubles of our time. The main task of our time is to build a global society where people's of all persuasions, all at this, it is can live together in mutual risk.
The religions have got this, and yet you don't hear about it. When do you mean they got? They got it. They ve been killed in the golden rule. Ok, so they ve got it, but everybody doesn't seem to understand that that is that is it, that is what we're supposed to be doing, is one of the things is the people who really want to be compassionate. We depend upon pet hates. Likes. They give us, because one cell updates us makes us feel like we are. If you can feel like you're better, Say are yes, they like it gives you a bit of a buzz and a sense of self, and so yes, we depend upon it. We almost addicted to our pet hatreds. Have we always been that way? Yes, we ve got brain. We ve got several kinds of brain Adele, reptilian brain that is all about me for survival, getting
genes are running a waves if, if a tiger comes in to the studio was supposed to run for our lives to flee right to fight? If, if someone comes not territory, if we hadn't thought those urges wit, we wouldn't have survived ass, a species, we need it, but we also develop these other capacities that helpest a mother to care for her young that make a mother get up every. To her crying child. However exhausted she is so we need to tap into more of that part of our brain and and work hard at it and work at it. It's it's not call. It doesn't come easily organise. You were saying in our last conversation that religion is really work and if there isn't action than there isn't, I think that's. Why so many people refer to themselves as spiritual and not religious, because the idea of not having the doctrine
the order, and you must and the exclusiveness and the exclusion appeals to a lot of people. It gives the best people a sense of security, but it's a false sense of security. People. One's religion is not about giving people certainty. And in our very unsafe, think that that's what it is for so many people, big idea, is that they think this is the way My way is the way we don't have certainty in this life. If you let it go and just act in this compassionate way all day and every day, you begin to lose your fear. Don't go anywhere more to come after this short break is episode is supported by hallmark cards. We say I love you too. The people we care about all the time, so much so that sometimes it can start to feel a little bit like a habit. If you're
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now a hunger for change and on on the show we talk often about what I call this yearning for something more. What do you think that is people? I think we realise that we are heading for a real mess. I think be look it up. Look at them, Vermont we're doing said for things to our environment. Yes, our economy is a disaster. All the things that we thought we were set about ass a shaky, and we are whether we like it or not, linked to the other markets. Fool in one out of the world. It affects us all around the globe that day the stocks planet right, that's our internationally. What happens in Afghanistan today can have repercussions politically in New York or London tomorrow. We all face the same environmental catastrophes. We can see that
We can all see that I think everybody watching by areas now our perceptions happened put up with it. We still think where this special separate category or that the other that's his. Problems, even when we see it on the news we watch it on our compassion fatigue. I think they see not another earthquake, Yedo or or ass. These people deserve what they get, and I think that the news should be a spiritual opportunity, because we are confronted with images of suffering from all over the world, like no other generation, but you know This is what you just said. It should be a spiritual opportunity. I have often thought that, and I'm not quite sure, even how do you bring it into reality, for people to see it and have your heart open and then wanted us to take action in. It's a constant flow and flood.
Rights of sound bite of what went wrong, and I can't even understand why we are being told we live in an each of information We know everything. Yes, the way we talk about, one another is omniscient. They. The trouble with her is yeah, so you could see all shows about it. I'm the trouble with her is Yes, so you could sum up the entire complex mystery of another human being in a single sentence. I now assuming they say about whole cultures and whole peoples, the pro
with them, the travel with Islam is yes, I'm really what they actually know about. Islam could be comfortably contained on the back of a smooth postcard, and we need to nutrient asked that ignorance of other people to realise their pain and to realize I've had such a privilege, life unbelievable privilege compared to the vast majority of people on this plan on our planet. And that means you, if you have had a privilege in your life there, we must give something back. I must do something for my from ice. Which is the purpose of every human being being on the place we couldn't when to lift somebody else up. If we were, we die, we come to die and weakens say that perhaps the world has been a little bit better because,
did it then its then that's, that's! The maiden was another step, as it was obvious that Mr Purvis tell me what, in all of your research, you're study your embracing of the world's religions, have you most come to know? I think that we must be imperilled from our spirituality. We must get out there and experience the pain of the world and realise what we don't know. We think we know it all. Religions tells us we don't know That's not offer the weights portrayed. We are often told we know this, that of the other, a mountain religion and be, and so we want dancing shoes s you you're saying earlier is that you know if religion is it is not certain tat could not be the opposite of certainty, but often it is past. To us in a way or administered to us in a way
We are told that it is certainty and then people get disappointed. It doesn't give them that pits seventy and pay. But they were so in that way. Is that what you mean, what you say: religions been hijacked. Yes, I pay, and it's been hijacked by by hardliners. I think, and also by kindness, I think often reality is not kind and that this is What we can understand in why so many people can understand? I have a lot of friends were gay. How can you call yourself religious and then say if you're gay, you can't come here. The point is: if it is the golden rule, would you like it own sexuality mocked derided. No, then dont do it to other people. So I can't when people Just people use the Bible, they use their religious text, they use other things to justify well being gay people out at one point in this country was to keep black.
The wound, slaves or delay master has actually these tat these we are reading scriptures today with a literal this that has no parallel in history. It's because of our little mindset before people listened to their scriptures boast of people could read and before the invention of printing you couldn't have on your own bible, it would be impossible to bandy all these texts arises. It s, you hear them. The Koran means recitation and you listened to it. That means that you have a quite different attitude to you. You're, not taking up these little bits, you read the whole of it at its holding the whole thing in your mind, but in a loose away. You ve written twelve steps
compassionate life and making the world a more compassionate place. In that that's become your life's work yup. I won the TED Prize in two thousand and they give you a wish for a better world. We say we'll make happen and I got. I was getting frustrated that bears the world in the state. And here the religions talking about homosexuality or you dead or doctrines, and we should they should. This is what they should be talking about, the ethos of compassion, which has the task of our time. So I it's the task of time, so I asked TED to help be right. A charter for compassion, it was written by leading activists and thinkers in six major world, face
Oh, it's becoming a sort of global movement to bring compassion back into proper public and private life. You ve said in our perilously divided whirl compassion is in our best introduce yes, we can't we can't go on like this. Are we can't afford to go on treating other peoples in the way we have done for short term goals, not working? It's not working, not working and if we want, if we want, is a viable world, it means we have to listen to one another and respect one another. Otherwise, with the global world we ve created with the weaponry we ve created, we can survive as a species. So what you talk about than the twelve steps to a compassionate? Why, ultimately, if we're not able to forgive our enemies and ultimately, we were not able to
The others as ourselves. The world, as we know it is not viable, is not viable. If I just come back to this point about forgiveness, sometimes we give other p but we ve often don't understand the we ourselves are at fault. It takes two to tango. Bad situation has come about in personal life, because two people are doing the right thing right and so that its not just a question of giving but loving our enemies. Now, when Jesus said that he did not mean affection, or tenderness. We debased the word love. How do you know? I love ice cream, ninja love that movie. I now we ve debases the right turn in the ancient world. Tickets, says love your neighbour and the word love was used in international treaties to Things who may have been enemies promised that they would love each other and that that didn't mean
they would fall into one another's arms and become best friends, but that they would look out for one another's best interests and also understanding that pain they, the pain of of all of that is lies behind a lot of this its hardened into rage, and this is something that no society can safely ignore it's. True with countries and communities, and it's true our own lives in personally, because what is true here is also true out. There are we cannot not understanding and other persons pain. That pain turns into rage, and we see it all around us in our own families, yes and our own families, and we cannot, in all honesty and integrity, expect other social elements to be more tolerant and compassionate. If we ourselves give way to unexamined pay,
justice or bigotry whom we have to work on ourselves first and try being a light to the people. We meet every they make their lives easier. That is our job in life and we must develop a more global out. Look so that we treat respect all others as we would wish to be respected. I love this quote from the TED talk that you gave after receiving the TED Prize said in compassion when we feel, with the other we thrown ourselves from the centre of our world, and we put another person there. Yes, we dethrone ourselves.
The other person anomaly that road at so good once we get rid of ego, then we're ready to see the divine cash, and this is our task day in day out and it's the only thing that is is worth doing. It is what the world needs. It's what we need as human beings, all the things that plague us about hate. Sudden you did that we were so much time on the genesis and envious. Stop, because you say we all have a dark side. We all have a dark side. Every single one of us has flaws, look and Martin Luther King, yes candy. Yes, they were flawed. Individuals, look what one person can do
yes and that's what we must say to ourselves, we can all be that one person, as Gandhi said you must yourself become the change you wish to see in the world, and we all have this dark aside, not just that interesting, big sins, but little meannesses and fantasies and self pity that we would want anybody to know about because it so petty answer and dimes small, that everybody has the same. We're all like that, and so that that is the task. Don't be put off being a compassionate person because you ve got, you feel you just ordinary, implement real you ve said also you say also, Twelve steps to a compassionate life that identifying evil as the devil does
praxis from its real source. Explain that please well what we do if we, if we just push out own able, we make evil inhuman, we people often say it's inhuman, what's been done. Unfortunate is all too human thought it's what we do, unfortunately, and so we have to acknowledge our own potentiality for evil, not push it outside to the devil, but take responsibility for it when we feel sometimes murderous anger. We all do. You know from time to time say that look. This is this. Is this? Is me its part in my brain, and it will have these it passes their job is to control it and to somehow turn it into something more productive. Tell me this
I'm inspired by what you said here today watching in where a part of the world I am, how do I began to activate compassion within myself? I do I take these words and make them live within me. Take it a little practice. You can do all day every day when you in the office or in at home or going to work on the commuter train, look at the person sitting next to you and say what do I know about this person? What do I really know about this best? I may see them every day, but do I know what makes her cry and the night? What do I know about the girl whose checking out in the supermarket
and sometimes I am impatient and its actions wouldn't stupid, shit so slow. What do I really know about that? Woman circumstances has suffering just get bad habit. That is also why the what were you, what you were saying earlier current? That's why the gossip blogs in the culture. We ve created of you, know the gossip magazines, and summing. Somebody's life up in because of one incident is, is so flawed it very flawed behind each person lies a whole history of associations, of joy, of happiness of events that will never know and to have that utter reverence, but that unknowing this street that we encounter in everybody. We meet its. Why be Hindus when they greet one another who will bow and joined their hands there, acknowledging the divinity that their encountering in the other person that absolute? Mr, that's, how I loved bring him in
that experience of every single person you meet having that kind. Yes, Seeing of you, I will acknowledgement of that and that somehow in our russian society, where we're so always a busy and go oriented, we need to do to remit remind ourselves of that that Supreme value the sanctity, the supreme value that exists in every single human being or we're gonna, have all twelve steps from your book on offer dot com. But let's talk about some of the fundamentals, you say you must first call debate, compassion within yourself. Yes, everything starts right here. Yes, yes, and that means, as as we were saying you, you have to take responsibility for your shadow side, accept what you ve got, which is not so good about. You say The way I am I'll do my best to improve, but I'm a flawed person. Nevertheless, I can I can live this compassionate life.
So to start nourishing compassion today we need to see ourselves in the other. Yes, we family first family for used ethic It's a good idea to think in terms of Confucius thought. In terms of concentric circles. Look around your own family is the somebody there that is distressed or left out, or you know, We could do with a phone call. How can we make this family a more compassionate place, more compassionate home and then think about city and then on nation will use
that's a supreme test. You talk about on one. Eighty five is what we are talking about earlier, and that is the ability to love your enemy is and to put that love in the context of not now, you must come over to my house, but in the context of I want what's best, for you is not just what I can get out of here, not just where I think about what I want your well thus I put this prayer. Let all beings be happy. Do you practices yourself because the idea of loving your enemies- that's really tough, it's really tough raw. You're as most people want their enemies to that's so well, that's it, but you see a that makes you a smaller person when you are so wrapped up thinking, let's just now, even think of blue we'll enemies, but the people we don't like in our own lives. We ve been doing us down or of injustice in the past. I wait we Meditate on these people, we think about
on their bad qualities. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and and- and this makes us small an vile and unless a lesser he- and I cannot emphasise enough- I mean that that really struck me. I think that by nature or by something I am not, I feel like I'm. Naturally, a compassionate person. That's been a part of my my my being in my actions, but you saying it here today has really enforced and reinforce it in a way that I never thought of before that that use arch and purpose as other human beings, and if we don't get that message, we are not going to survive. Windows gave when it is in our countries. They not. I was not I'm not in they naturally compassionate person. I have to say I got a very sharp tongue. I've got a cruel sets of Cuba that I inherited from my grandmother,
people used to say to me. I would hate to be your enemy, I was so angry a man who was all those dark years, as I hadn't and you work on yourself and you become happy that covers its hard work and a lot of people are going to be. Like me saying: well, that's that's not for me and you can do it and it in riches, your life and it's the only thing that's worth that's worth doing in the world is to make the world a kinder place where people can live
grow and thrive, and not only the only thing worth doing in this field is, is to make the world a kinder play. Well, there's nothing more important than kindness. I feel that I feel that what is your definition of God? I refuse to define God, God can? God cannot be defined because the word define means to set limits on something God is more than we can conceive. God is, as the bustling say under who bought means, God is ways greater than we can imagine or think so. There are no words for it. There's no words. It's like the end of a symphony. When that then Snoopy die away and there's a prayer
beat of silence in the who, very often before the applause begins, and when we talk about God, waves bested need people into that beat of silence way. You say nothing to be said. That's it fool. A sort of significant silence. Theology should push us into that moment into the sign into the silence. Where you realize you're at the end of what words in thoughts can do. Do you believe that we have souls, I'm not really interesting in the soul. I feel there's something in me, but when I die we'll go and where I don't know where it will go That was my next question. What happens when we die? I have no idea I much happier for it by
religious life was ruined as a young girl. By concentrating on getting into Heaven me that what we have is now. The only thing we can be absolutely certain about is that we have this moment now. Just live intensely in moment living for others that thronging yourself putting other people on that. Then you, then you are living transcendent life, when do you first remember: first recall the connection to that which is called died, What I was a very little girl we used to go to the woods. Sometimes that sense of being in the world
man's blue. As far as you can see, beech leaves some light. My parents there on everything sort of coming together. I think that's a sensible sacred, is what bodies. Where do you find it now in my study? For me, it's at my desk. I think I see that is by where I work all day to try and explain things to learn more and I get moments of all and wonder when I'm just lifted from myself. Isn't it interesting that You went into convent to try to find God, and it is only when you, we need to study other people's religions and it all came together. Yes, that you actually around it and use yes, and that I was a track each one I've been, I love the buddhist emphasis on practice rather than dogma. Yes, I love the pluralism of the Koran. The Koran says we're not also
to be in one religious community, Judy Am I not because you never stop asking questions, and I. Love that openness and that ability to question, even even God at and not to give up. Can you finish these sentences forming the world needs compassion, the world become more compassionate when, when we learn that we are not the center of the universe, diver ourselves as vigils nor on nation, Nora culture that we who we are, what all gods children and we all have needs and pains. Desires of we will live, will stand together, will fall on the last page, You say a true
compassionate person touches a chord in us resonates with some of our deepest yearnings. People flocked to such individuals because they seem to offer a haven of peace in a violent, angry world. This is the ideal to which we aspire ended. Not beyond our capacity, but even if we achieve only a fraction of this enlightenment and leave the world marginally better, because we ve lived in our lives will have been worthwhile. There's no more to be said. Thank you, keep beautiful! Thank you. I'm over Winfrey and you ve been listening to supersede conversations podcast you can.
Hello, supersonic on Instagram, twitter and Facebook. If you haven't yet go to apple podcast, unsubscribe rate and review. This podcast join me next week for another super, so conversation. Thank you for listening.
Transcript generated on 2020-01-15.