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Lions Roar : May 2006
When the Lotus Sutra was translated into Chinese, Kuan Yin, the “one who hears the cries of the world,” emerged as an embodiment of compassion that has occupied a central place in Buddhist teaching and practice ever since. Over the centuries Kuan Yin has been portrayed in a variety of forms. At times she is depicted as a feminine presence, face serene, arms outstretched, and eyes open. At times she holds a willow branch, symbolizing her resilience—able to bend in the face of the most fierce storms without being broken. At other times she is portrayed with a thousand arms and hands, each with an open eye in its center, depicting her constant awareness of anguish and her all-embracing responsiveness. Sometimes she takes the form of a warrior armed with a multitude of weapons, embodying the fierce aspect of compassion committed to uprooting the causes of suffering. A protector and guardian, she is fully engaged with life. To cultivate the willingness to listen deeply to sorrow wherever we meet it is to take the first step on the journey of compassion. Our capacity to listen follows on the heels of this willingness. We may make heroic efforts in our lives to shield ourselves from the anguish that can surround us and live within us, but in truth a life of avoidance and defense is one of anxiety and painful separation. True compassion is not forged at a distance from pain but in its fires. We do not always have a solution for suffering. We cannot always fix pain. However, we can find the commitment to stay connected and to listen deeply. Compassion does not always demand heroic acts or great words. In the times of darkest distress, what is most deeply needed is the fearless presence of a person who can be wholeheartedly receptive. It can seem to us that being aware and opening our hearts to sorrow makes us suffer more. It is true that awareness brings with it an increased sensitivity to our inner and outer worlds. Awareness opens our hearts and minds to a world of pain and distress that previously only glanced off the surface of consciousness, like a stone skipping across water. But awareness also teaches us to read between the lines and to see beneath the world of appearances. We begin to sense the loneliness, need, and fear in others that was previously invisible. Beneath words of anger, blame, and agitation we hear the fragility of another person’s heart. Awareness deepens because we hear more acutely the cries of the world. Each of those cries has written within it the plea to be received. Awareness is born of intimacy. We can only fear and hate what we do not understand and what we perceive from a distance. We can only find compassion Unlimited Compassion CHRISTINA FELDMAN offers this guided meditation on embracing all suffering. SETTLE INTO A CALM and centered posture. Breathe gently and sense the life of your body, mind, and heart in this moment. Sense your own yearning for peace, safety, and well-being. Feel too the way you defend against sorrow and pain. Invite into your attention someone you care for, sensing the sorrows in their life, and their longing for happiness, peace, and well-being. Notice how your heart can open to embrace those you care for, feeling their sorrow and responding with a natural compassion. Offer to yourself, to the one you love, the articulated intentions of compassion. May I find healing and peace. May you find healing and peace. Let your attention rest gently in these phrases for a time, and then allow the range of your attention and compassion to expand. Sense the countless beings in this world who in this moment have their own measure of anguish, their own longings for peace and healing. Imagine yourself seated in the center of a mandala, surrounded by the innumerable beings who at this moment are hungry, bereft, afraid, or in pain. Imagine yourself breathing in that immeasurable pain, the sorrow and the ignorance that causes sorrow. With each out-breath, sense yourself breathing out unconditional compassion. May all beings find healing. May all beings find peace. May all beings be held in compassion. Allow yourself to sense the countless beings in the world who are ill or dying, who are grieving, who are lonely and estranged. Embrace in your attention those who are imprisoned and those who imprison, those who are caught in the terrors of war and violence and those who war and inflict violence. Without reservation enfold all beings in a heart of compassion. May all beings be free from sorrow. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be free. Let your heart fill with the compassion possible for all of us, the compassion that listens deeply to the cries of the world. ♦ From Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World (Rodmell). © 2005 Christina Feldman. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 69