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Friends of Compassion gathers diverse people, to help understand homelessness

Even after the Dalai Lama turned down an invitation to Spokane, John Hancock and several others continued to engage in conversations to promote his call for compassion.

John Hancock
John Hancock

John’s interest in Buddhism began when Venerable Thubten Chodron from the Sravasti Abbey near Newport spoke to his Rotary group in 2009.

He was intrigued that Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy, so it can be practiced by people for whom it’s not a religion. He also found Buddhist philosophy to be similar to the mission of Rotary: “Service above self.”

Along with others seeking to pursue compassion, he helped start Friends of Compassion, organizing gatherings for people of diverse religions, philosophies and points of view so they would become acquainted.

He listed goals of Friends of Compassion in Spokane:

One is to develop understanding of what the word, “compassion,” means and where it’s found in many faiths, philosophies, law and public policies.

“When we learn to emphasize what we have in common, differences fade and we can work on areas where we agree,” John said. “We can be a diverse group, if we stick to compassion and do not compare doctrines.”

The second is to find which organizations are already acting compassionately.

The group is meeting at different locations—such as the Spokane Islamic Center and Radha Yoga. To learn about homelessness, they met at Shalom Ministries at Central United Methodist Church and Volunteers of America (VOA). By introducing members to agencies working with homeless people, Friends of Compassion hopes some may volunteer and expand their awareness of urgent issues in Spokane. The group plans to go on an Urban Plunge into downtown services.

The third goal is to identify local issues for which compassion may offer new solutions.

Friends of Compassion has focused on the first and the second goals to elevate volunteerism and raise compassion to the public consciousness, John said. The group’s website at friendsofcompassion.com links to people engaged in compassionate practices and announces activities.

Friends of Compassion, which has a mailing list of about 300 and an average attendance at monthly gatherings of 45, involves Buddhists, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, people of other spiritual practices and people with philosophies rather than faith. It is a blend of lay and religious professionals.

“Our goal is to speak in plain English, not the shop talk of one religion or academic philosophical or psychological practice,” said John.

The three goals were developed as part of the process inviting the Dalai Lama around a focus on indigenous people, educational opportunities, business ethics and the natural environment in this area.

“We asked if the local institutions of education, government, health care and religious bodies can be compassionate, or if only people can be compassionate,” John said.

“The Dalai Lama adopted compassion as the foundation of public policy, education, commerce and diplomacy, seeing it as a public virtue, not just a religious virtue,” he said.

John added that locally at Eastern Washington University, the Compassionate Interfaith Society is the largest non-sports and non-Greek organization.

John’s father was a Methodist minister who served in a small town in Iowa. He was a liberal in a conservative place, having gone to theological school at Boston University with Martin Luther King, Jr.

“He had a pragmatic view that it did not matter what god one believed in, but what mattered was how we lived our lives,” John said.

Having read the Dalai Lama’s book, Ethics for the New Millennium, on Buddhist philosophy, hearing the Dalai Lama speak in Seattle in the spring of 2009 and then having Thubten Chrodon speak at Rotary started a chain of events for John.

“Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are my two life models and heroes,” he said, explaining that his faith pilgrimage has been outside any congregation.

“Other philosophies and other religions appealed to me,” said John who has worked four years with his own company, Deep Creek Consulting Company, doing grant writing and institutional development for nonprofits.

He came to Spokane in 1999 as the executive director of the Spokane Symphony. Previously he was a French horn player and musician, teaching at the University of Michigan and at Murray State University in Kentucky.

He earned a master’s in music in 1977 at Boston University and a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan in 1983. In 2002, he attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

John said that Friends of Compassion has been “informed by” the international Charter for Compassion, launched by Karen Armstrong, a former nun; the Universal Compassion Movement, led by Geshe Pelyge, a Buddhist monk who is a visiting professor at Gonzaga University, and by the work of the Dalai Lama.

“We are not sponsored by another organization, but remain affiliated with the Downtown Rotary and Sravasti Abbey,” John said.

For him, compassion is “the daily practice of being kind and generous.” As a Boy Scout, he said, he had tried to follow its motto to “do a good turn every day.”

“Now I understand being helpful as more than an activity,” he said. “It’s a state of mind, because there are opportunities to love others all around us. It becomes a habit, not an activity. That makes me a happier person.”

Friends of Compassion meets at 7 p.m. on third Wednesdays. Information on themes, speakers and locations is at friendsofcompassion.com. John said the group is “strategically disorganized, with a loose committee of leaders and advisors, a service committee and a communication committee.”

For information, call 244-8559 or email john.hank@me.com.