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Lions Roar : January 2013
going to make this kind of compassion the cornerstone of my religious life, I will soon be exhausted. But if I see the bound- arylessness of me and you, and recognize that my suffering and your suffering are one suffering, and that that suffering is empty of any separation, weightiness, or ultimate tragedy, then I can do it. I can be boundlessly compassionate and loving, without limit. To be sure, living this teaching takes time and effort, and maybe we never entirely arrive at it. But it’s a joyful, heartfelt path worth treading. In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion is often discussed in terms of absolute and relative compassion. Absolute compassion is compassion in the light of emptiness: all beings are empty, all beings are light, all beings are, by virtue of their empty nature, already liberated and pure. As the sutra says, suffering is empty, and relief from suffering is also empty. Everything is inherently all right and taken care of—even the pain. Reality is inherently merciful. It’s okay to suffer, because through that very suffering we find release. The old adage “time heals all wounds” is more profound than it sounds: time, every moment, actually is release, freedom, and healing. In the light of absolute compassion, reality itself already is compassion. Nothing more is needed. This point of view sounds nice at first but could also be quite monstrous. Carried to its logical conclusion, it might inspire us to ignore wars, natural disasters, illnesses, and deaths: since everything is perfect as it is in emptiness, what’s the point of grief, sorrow, or helping? But this would be one-sided and distorted. Relative compassion—human warmth and practical emotional support—completes the picture. Absolute compassion makes it possible for us to sustain, joyfully, the endless work of support- ing and helping; relative compassion grounds our broad view of life’s empty nature in heart connection and engagement. Either view by itself would be impossible, but both together make for a wonderfully connected and sustainable life. Two sides of a coin, two wings of a bird. This is what I sensed without knowing it on first hearing the Heart Sutra. And I am not the only one: many others have told me they too have experienced this uncanny sense on first hearing the sutra. Its matter-of-fact strangeness, even absurdity, seems to invite such a response. It’s what I sensed as a child was missing in the world around me. Life simply couldn’t be as small, as dif- ficult, and as dull as it seemed. Somehow I was sure there must be another way. But the Heart Sutra is more than an inspiring vision or under- standing. It is also a practice, a course of action that relieves suf- fering and transforms lives. Practicing the Heart Sutra is training in the feeling for life that arises when we have fully internalized its teachings into our body and emotions. The emptiness/bound- lessness of all dharmas is not only something we would like to believe; it is also a way we can hold our lives lightly and joyfully, a texture we can palpably feel at the center of our awareness. Bodhidharma is the legendary founder of Zen. Once, his dis- ciple Huike begged for his help: “My mind is in anguish, please help me find peace.” Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 83