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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life [Paperback]

Karen Armstrong
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
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Book Description

6 Jan 2011

Drawing on a wide range of material - ranging from the spiritual character of the world religions to the findings of contemporary neuroscience - Karen Armstrong argues that compassion is hardwired into our brains, yet is constantly pushed back by our more primitive instincts for selfishness and survival. Since time immemorial religion has enhanced our altruistic tendencies: all faiths insist that the Golden Rule is the test of true spirituality - 'Always treat others as you wish to be treated yourself'.

Taking as her starting point the teachings of the great world religions, Karen Armstrong demonstrates in twelve practical steps how we can bring compassion to the forefront of our lives. These steps both reveal the inadequacies of our knowledge of ourselves and others and enable us to unlock our potential for understanding, empathy and altruism that can be translated into acts of kindness and charity.They culminate in the most radical and challenging of all religious maxims - love your enemy. Yet in today's world, compassion in no longer a luxury but, in the words of Martin Luther King, 'an absolute necessity for our survival'.

Practising these steps will not change our lives overnight and turn us into saints or sages: the attempt to become a more compassionate human being is a lifelong project. Yet Karen Armstrong argues that compassion is inseparable from humanity, and by transcending the limitations of selfishness on a daily basis we will not only make a difference in the world but also lead happier, more fulfilled, lives.


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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life + A History Of God + The Case for God: What religion really means
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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; Reprint edition (6 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847921582
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921581
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 13 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne's College, Oxford. In 1982, she became a full time writer and broadcaster. She is a best-selling author of over 15 books. An accomplished writer and passionate campaigner for religious liberty, Armstrong has addressed members of the United States Congress and the Senate and has participated in the World Economic Forum.

Product Description

Review

"A profound and lucid mixture of philosophy, theology and self-help. It's a perfect detox for the soul... Spry, eloquent, pacy.... Armstrong has a knack for grappling with complex ideas in the lightest of ways" (The Times)

"It sees Armstrong combine in this brief volume both her usual high quality historical scholarship and an explicit self-help programme that echoes her rousing lectures... Challenging, persuasive self-help book that seeks to distil the very best of religion" (Independent)

"Straightforward without being simplistic...frequently fascinating" (Metro)

"Flashes of sheer brilliance" (Scotland on Sunday)

"One of the charming things about Armstrong's book is its deliberate descents into bathos. We move from the high thoughts of the old sages to the demands of everyday life...from an exquisitely intelligent exposition of Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus to a meditation upon how we might overcome a personal dislike of a colleague or family member" (Financial Times)

Book Description

After the bestselling The Case for God, Karen Armstrong makes the case for compassion - an urgent appeal to establish empathy and altruism at the centre of our private and public lives.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring start to 2011? 7 Jan 2011
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Karen Armstrong will be familiar to many readers as a historian of religion, but with this new book she is trying something new - a project, long dear to her heart, to create a 'twelve-step" style programme (à la Alcoholics Anonymous etc) to return spiritual practice to the centre of life. In particular, she is interested in how the world could change if everyone practised compassion on a daily basis.

Each chapter of the twelve in the book ask the reader to focus on something different to develop this body of compassion - meditating on someone you dislike, for example, or thinking about which of your most dearly-held beliefs are simply knee jerk, and could be less tightly-held-onto. I like the fact that she combines such deep knowledge of religious history with these practical exercises, and her suggestion that the book be read week by week in a discussion group seems a good one.

Although in Chapter One she argues that the focus on compassion is common to all the world's religions, the overall idea feels most heavily influenced by Buddhism, and mentions of mindfulness and meditation add to that impression. She clearly hopes that the book will still appeal to Christians Jews and Muslims, though, and is careful to detail how each of these traditions values compassionate thinking.

The one part of the book I found the least convincing was the introduction, which spent a lot of time discussing our evolutionary origins and the place of altruism in our lives in a way that I thought didn't strictly hold with much current scientific thinking. Lots of stuff about reptile brains that jars with The Evolution of Co-Operation (Penguin Press Science)Get past that, and there's lots to think about. Now acting on it is the next task...
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Never before has compassion in religion been so sorely needed, we are reminded by this one time Roman Catholic nun, best selling religious historian and passionate campaigner for religious liberty. It would be difficult to disagree with this statement. But this is a book not just for the faithful religious. As she quotes the Dalai Lama as saying in his Ethics for the New Millennium (New York, 1999), p. 19: "whether a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being."
And this book sets out to help us all be just that.
The book starts with a promotion of the Charter for Compassion, the brainchild of Armstrong, created and launched by her in 2009 with the help of TED (Technology Entertainment and Design known for its "Ideas Worth Spreading" conferences - and if you are not familiar with TED you should rectify that straightaway!). The Charter's aim is to bring compassion back to the heart of moral and religious life, and in involving the major faiths in its creation the Charter demonstrates that despite their differences the religions can work together for justice and peace. The Charter thus counters the voices of extremism, intolerance and hatred.
We are all invited to sign up to this Charter, to pledge our selves to a compassionate way of life, (although again this does not insist on us being religious, just compassionate) and this book is here to help us achieve this, to help us to translate the Charter into practical and realistic action across the globe.
The book is a self-help book that is very far from the self-interest genre that justifiably comes in for some criticism.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassion - the heart of every religion 21 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
Karen Armstrong's 'Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life' is a hopeful book that helps us to navigate life when we come to realise that: 'Suffering is a law of life and it is essential during this step to acknowledge our own pain.' (From the third step: Compassion for yourself'). Drawing on a range of faith traditions Karen draws out the 'Golden Rule' and other common threads between the faiths that show us how to become more compassionate with ourselves and each other in our multicultural, ever more complex world.

It is in recognising the pain in our own lives and realising and integrating it that we can then reach out to others. In Step 11: Recognition - Karen shows how a woman called Christina Noble came to recognise her own devastating pain as a child in Ireland when she looked into the eyes of a street child in Vietnam. The recognition flashed across her consciousness that there is no 'us' and 'them' and that all humans suffer and everybody is in pain. Living a compassionate life is acknowledging this pain and working with it understanding that we are all one and have the same needs whatever our circumstances.

The author draws on many faith traditions showing that all of them at the core are pointing to the same way of being and acting in the world. As we become increasingly multicultural we need to find a way of living together that is compassionate.

The exercise on 'Maitri' (loving-kindness) from the Buddhist tradition on pages 34 and 76 is one that anyone from any tradition can usefully take up as a daily practice and one I learnt many years ago in Nepal and it fitted in well with my own tradition. Karen shows how we might fruitfully learn from other traditions and thus learn to empathise with all.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Really inspiring book
Heard Karen Armstrong speak so well before reading this wonderfully inspirational book. It did not disappoint and I would recommend this to anyone in all walks of life and those... Read more
Published 9 months ago by earlyriser
5.0 out of 5 stars Karen Armstrong at her best
I enjoy Karen's research and presentation of theological subjects very much. I have become increasingly frustrated by the increasing violence in the world that is described as... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. M. Mallinson
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight to several world religions froma Christian perspective
From the staring point of her Christian background and commitment Karen sympathetically outlines aspects of other faiths in how they differ and what they have in common
Published 12 months ago by Martin Snellgrove
4.0 out of 5 stars Learn about compassion
a Good guide though it spends rather too much time considering the role of compassion throughout history for my liking. Read more
Published 13 months ago by M. Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational
Great read having seen Karen speak at UEA recently. Have signed up to the Charter for Compassion
and have plans to build into work with schools in the UK.
Published 15 months ago by Helen Banks
3.0 out of 5 stars We can learn to overcome hate with compassion
A well-structured and systematic programme encouraging people of all faiths to practice conscious compassion in the same way we would learn any new skill. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Judy Croome
5.0 out of 5 stars Twelve steps to a compassionate life
This is an important book. Karen writes with her usual vigour and scholarship. She challenges the reader to re-examine the way we treat others in everyday life, citing The Golden... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Rosemarie
4.0 out of 5 stars Self-improvement summary
Like all her books there has been a great deal of research and there are many interesting quotes to support her statements. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ms. C. Wetwood
4.0 out of 5 stars A very important philosophy of life
Karen Armstrong is a great writer on religious themes. Her point that compassion is the most needed outlook for our modern world is hard to dispute but I doubt that many people... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mr. David G. Burton
5.0 out of 5 stars 12 CREATIVE STEPS
Karen Armstrong writes another winner. As thoughtful as ever - and practical. Much that is quotable from the very first page. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Brian King
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