Friday, September 16, 2011

Compassion

"The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest of human relationships: the strength of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are and finding in you an unsuspected goodness. Everyone alive has suffered. It is the wisdom gained from our wounds and from our own experiences of suffering that makes us able to heal." -Rachel Naomi Remen

On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting outside the yoga studio while a workshop was taking place inside.  It was a gloriously beautiful day, the kind that makes you feel happy to be alive: sunny, blue sky with fluffy, white, cotton ball clouds, hawks flying overhead casting large shadows upon the parking lot, and a hint of autumn in the air.  Just beautiful!  As I sat there, reveling in the day and keeping watch over merchandise that was for sale at the event, I gazed down at the sidewalk and noticed a small, black beetle lying on its back, slowly moving its legs, trying to right itself, but clearly losing strength and the energy to do so. It was dying. The strong afternoon sun was slowly creeping towards where this beetle was struggling and I knew that its suffering was about to increase.  Filled with compassion and lovingkindness for this tiny being, I suddenly found myself in a quandary: do I step on it to end its suffering, or do I just leave it to die in misery?  The Buddha-nature in me could not bring myself to kill it. It just seemed too brutal to do so, but to watch this living being suffer also seemed unbearable.  

After a minute or so, I scooped the beautiful beetle up into the palm of my hand and held it. I decided to remove it from the hot, sunny sidewalk. I walked it over to a patch of woods near the studio and placed it in a shady recess beneath a jasmine bush, thinking that it would at least be closer to the soft, cool earth - a more comfortable place to die, I imagine. I wished it a peaceful passing and quietly walked away.

As I made my way back to my place on the sidewalk in front of the studio, I was filled with the sudden realization of how much practicing yoga and meditation have changed my life. Years ago, I either would not have even noticed the beetle suffering on the sidewalk, or I would have smashed it by stomping down on it out of fear or ignorance.  Following this spiritual path has opened my eyes to the fact that all beings deserve compassion and lovingkindness, that this beetle's suffering is no different than my own. I now firmly realize that my enlightenment depends on this beetle. 

A few weeks ago in class, I talked about lovingkindness and came across the following excerpt from "Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig".  My encounter with the black beetle reminded me of it: 

"Often we see other sentient beings as hassles: 'This mosquito is disturbing me. Those politicians are corrupt. Why can't my colleagues do their work correctly?" and so on. But when we see sentient beings as being more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, our perspective completely changes. For example, when we look at a fly buzzing around, we train ourselves to think, 'My enlightenment depends on that fly'.'This isn't fanciful thinking because, in fact, our enlightenment does depend on that fly. If that fly isn't included in our bodhicitta (compassion and wisdom), then we don't have bodhicitta (compassion and wisdom), and we won't receive the wonderful results of generating bodhicitta -- the tremendous purification and creation of positive potential.

Imagine training your mind so that when you look at every single living being, you think, 'My enlightenment depends on that being. The drunk who just got on the bus -- my enlightenment depends on him. The soldier in Iraq -- my enlightenment depends on him. My brothers and sisters, the teller at the bank, the janitor at my workplace, the president of the United States, the suicide bombers in the Middle East, the slug in my garden, my eighth-grade boyfriend, the babysitter when I was a kid -- my enlightenment depends on each of them.' All sentient beings are actually that precious to us."

In "Compassion, the Supreme Emotion", Sharon Salzberg states that:  "Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion... is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."

We can become so bogged down in our small selves that we lose our perspective and become hardened to the suffering we encounter around us.  The question is, how can you, in all circumstances, break the shell of indifference and open your heart?  How can you recognize that your enlightenment, your peace, depends on that beetle, flat tire, difficult co-worker, or bill collector?  If we cannot extend our compassion to the challenging things, how can we hope to find peace?  

Until next time...


"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it..." -Helen Keller

"The practice of compassion begins at home. We have our parents, our children, and our brothers and sisters, who perhaps irritate us the most, and we begin our practice of loving-kindness and compassion with them. Then gradually we extend our compassion out into our greater community, our country, neighbouring countries, the world, and finally to all sentient beings equally without exception.
Extending compassion in this way makes it evident that it is not very easy to instantly have compassion for "all sentient beings." Theoretically it may be comfortable to have compassion for "all sentient beings," but through our practice we realize that "all sentient beings" is a collection of individuals. When we actually try to generate compassion for each and every individual, it becomes much more challenging. But if we cannot work with one individual, then how can we work with all sentient beings? Therefore it is important for us to reflect more practically, to work with compassion for individuals and then extend that compassion further." -Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche







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