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Lions Roar : July 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2012 68 Adapted from the talks “Compassion” in The Complete Teachings of Mahayana, a seminar at Karme Choling, Vermont, March 1973, and “Sudden Glimpse” in Glimpses of Mahayana. Edited by Judy Lief and Carolyn Rose Gimian. Inviting all sentient beings as our guests is the starting point of applying compassion in the Mahayana. By viewing sentient beings as guests, the bodhisattva has a constant sense of the impermanence of the relationship, because eventually all guests leave. So we view the time with our guests as precious. Our guests come. We entertain and relate with them. Afterwards the guests thank us, we say goodbye, and we go back to running our home. There is a sense of the preciousness and the impermanence of the relationship. Our guest may be our hus- band, our wife, or our child—everybody is the guest of everybody, constantly. On a day to day level, all relationships for a bodhisattva are based on relating with guests. Of course, nobody lives up to these cre- dentials or expectations ideally. Rather, it is a journey. Compassion is a combination of maitri, or loving- kindness, and generosity. It is a journey outward, a journey of communication. On one level, compassion is feeling friendly toward ourselves. On another level it is experiencing a sense of richness, that we can expand the warmth we feel toward our- selves to other sentient beings. Compassion, from this point of view, is quite different from sympathy. Sympathy involves looking down on someone with the attitude that the other person needs to be helped: “You should be raised up to my level, helpless little person.” Unlike sympathy, compassion is the radiation of mutual warmth to our- selves and others. It is said in the scriptures that as fish cannot live without water, compassion cannot develop without egolessness and without the experience of emptiness, or shunyata. It may seem that this view of compassion is somewhat abstract, but in fact it is the heart of the practice of meditation in action. The presence of compassion is experienced as a sudden glimpse, a sense of clarity and warmth simultaneously. That glimpse is the notion of recollection, the awareness that we might experience after intense sitting meditation practice. During the sitting practice of meditation, we find that we are completely chaotic. All kinds of things are going on, and we try to swim through those overcrowded situations of this and that, subcon- scious mind, discursive thoughts, and so on. Physically, sitting meditation may appear quiet and simple, but psychologically, it is quite a nightmare. At the least, it is annoying and rather inconve- nient. We may discover hidden corners, and when we try to solve all the problems that arise, that only creates further problems. All of that is a result of holding on to definite ideas and not having enough maitri and compassion, enough security and warmth. When we sit, we may feel that we are attacking and dealing with problems. We are struggling to get something out of the practice. However, when the sitting meditation is completed, when the gong rings and we decide to stop, we find that we are experienc- ing better meditation! At that moment, all those struggles have gone and all the chaos is dissolved. There is a sense of relief. It is as if we were entering into nirvana by leaving the cushion—and our meditation was a samsaric act. At that moment, there is an absence of struggle, a sense of warmth and freedom. If we deliberately try to create that, it is impossible. Instead, we come upon it by accident. The crescendo created by sitting meditation practice brings that kind of release and freedom. The nature of awareness—the real meaning of sati- patthana, the practice of recollection—is that feeling of presence, that feeling of relief. At that point, we could say that compassion and the shunyata experience are happening simultaneously. In daily life we don’t have to try to create the experience of letting go, of being free, or anything like that at all. We can just acknowledge the freedom that is already there. Just by the mem- ory or the idea of it, there is a quick glimpse. A sudden glimpse. That sudden glimpse of awareness that occurs in everyday life becomes the act of compassion. It is just a quick glimpse, which goes on always, a sense of experience without time to label anything, without time to feel good or bad or compassionate or empty or whatever. Just that happens constantly. We could create that situation right now, at this very moment—a quick glimpse—just to see that there is awareness that is not watched or confirmed. Just awareness. A quick glimpse. The scriptures talk about bodhisattvas who develop compas- sion and awareness instantaneously. Even if they are about to go into the chaos of a samsaric situation where they may lose their awareness, they can correct themselves in the process. It’s like a person slipping on the ice, losing their balance. In the process of slipping, they can correct or regain their balance without falling. The force of the slipping is used as a way of rebalancing. It doesn’t require any mystical experience. It’s just one look, then let go. According to the scriptures, that glimpse, if you analyze it, takes one-sixtieth of a second. It is so fast and so sharp. The sharpness is the intelligence of the compassion. Compassion also means being open and communicative. It contains warmth. We could split that glimpse of compassion, that one-sixtieth of a second, into several parts. First there is a sense of warmth, or maitri, in oneself. Then there is a sense of cutting neurosis, and finally, there is a sense of openness. It’s a three-part process but it’s very quick and abrupt. This is highly powerful in the post-meditation experience, or meditation in action. When you are working with situations, there is no time to analyze, no time to hold on. At the same time, Compassion cannot develop without the experience of emptiness. This view may seem somewhat abstract, but in fact it is the heart of the practice of meditation in action.