In this teaching, Mingyur Rinpoche teaches how to meditate on loving-kindness and compassion, a profound practice that allows us to open our hearts fully to the world.
Location: Halifax Shambhala Center, Nova Scotia, Canada
Date: January 21, 2004
Translator: Tyler Dewar
Transcriber: Ed Van Damme
Editor: Judith Smith
Download: Loving-kindness and Compassion PDF [364 KB]
Loving-kindness and compassion protect us, and protect others as well. The Buddha taught that these qualities spontaneously bring benefit, just like a wish-fulfilling jewel, and that if our minds are filled with aggression and anger, not only will we be unable to help ourselves, we will not be able to help anyone else either. We will not be able to benefit ourselves in this life or in future lives.
For example, if you are someone who always thinks about the people you don’t like, and how you can get the better of them, you will never be happy and peaceful. During the day, you will not be able to eat your food well. When you are sitting down, you will want to stand, and when you are standing, you will want to sit down. You won’t be able to sleep well either. In other words, you will never be content.
This isn’t the only problem with anger. When your mind is filled with anger, your enemies will increase, not decrease. The mind of anger or aggression thinks about enemies and about how to overcome them. It considers the enemy to be someone who is harming us or will harm us, and therefore thinks about how to overcome the enemy, obtain victory over the enemy.
The opinion of this attitude of anger is that we actually can overcome our enemies by way of anger. But actually we find that if we follow after this mind of anger, if we follow after those thoughts, we can notovercome our enemies at all.
It is possible to inflict some levels of harm upon our enemies. The ultimate level of harm of course would be to kill them. But if we killed someone, then two enemies would rise up behind that person we killed. Then if we killed those two people, we would then have four enemies that rose up behind them.
If we killed those four enemies, they would multiply into eight, and eventually that would lead to having a hundred enemies, and eventually the whole world would be filled with our enemies.
We can see how this mind of aggression cannot really overcome enemies.
Translator: Rinpoche is going to give another example to you, and then will ask you a question - it won't be a hard question, so you shouldn't have too many worries [laughter].
Rinpoche: [in English] Don't worry, really [laughter].
There was a nomadic people who lived more than two or three thousand years ago. Everywhere they went they had to go by foot - they couldn't drive anywhere, so they had to walk up and down mountains and through plains and so forth. Sometimes they encountered roads on which there were very small, sharp stones and thorns that pierced through their feet.
They thought that to get around this problem was to cover the ground with leather. In that way the thorns and stones would not pierce their feet. So they gathered together all the leather they could find and were able to cover about fifteen or twenty kilometers of road. After that all of their leather was gone.
The question for you is: What could they really do to ameliorate the situation? Student: Make shoes.
Rinpoche: So we have one suggestion, that they could make shoes out of leather. Does everyone agree with that? Even if you don't agree, you should speak up. You could come up with other suggestions. [There was much laughter throughout this section. ]
S: Sweep the roads.
Rinpoche: [in English] Okay. Good idea.
S: Walk beside the road.
S: Go back from where they came from [laughter].
S: You could make a new road, without thorns and the sharp stones.
S: Re-use the leather.
Rinpoche: Thank you all for considering this topic well [laughter] and providing your answers.
If you take just enough leather to cover your feet, then it will protect your feet no matter where you step. It is equivalent to covering the whole earth with leather. This is the best idea, even though this was a time two or three thousand years ago when there was not good machinery to make sneakers, and there weren't good plows to make new roads.
If we take just enough leather to cover our feet, it becomes the same thing as covering the whole earth with leather. In the same way, if we tame our mind from within, it becomes the same thing as taming all enemies on the outside.
If we imbue our mind streams with mindfulness and with loving-kindness and compassion, what will appear to us will be happy experiences. How we appear to others will also be pleasant. Things will be pleasant both for ourselves and for others. In this way we accomplish both benefits.
How They Differ
To give another example:
If our minds are filled with aggression, hatred and other kleshas or mental afflictions, then our minds are never relaxed and never open - they are always tight and stuffy.
If our minds are tight, we won't have any self-confidence. If we are devoid of loving-kindness and compassion and lack this wish to benefit others we won't feel brave. When our minds are this way, this is mirrored in external appearances. Things that appear to us externally will also seem to be unpleasant.
If we had two people standing before this assembly tonight, and one of them had a mind filled with loving-kindness and compassion, a very open and relaxed mind, and the other person had a mind that was very disturbed, very tight and only concerned about their own benefit, they would see two different pictures as they looked out into the audience.
I am not talking about myself and the translator in this case [laughter]. I'm saying, if there were two other people [laughter].
The person with the disturbed mind filled with aggression would be looking at everyone and thinking badly of them. They would look at each person and say, "That's not a very good person, that's not a very nice person. " They seem to have a lot of pride, fixated on their own concerns.
The person with loving-kindness and compassion in their heart would look out and see nice people, good people. They would look and say, "Oh, what a nice person, what a good person. "
They would be able to keep company with anyone and be harmonious with anyone in any situation.
The narrow-minded person with a mind filled with pride would not be able to get along with many people because they would see faults in everyone. Not only that; they would see small faults as very big faults - for instance, when we get into fights over very small, menial things.
We could take this cup and put it neatly right here on this table in front of me. Someone else might think it is better to put the cup over there. [Rinpoche demonstrates two people arguing over the precise placement of his cup. ]
"No, it's better to put the cup here. "
The two people would fight.
The fight would become greater and greater until it became a huge fight.
But the whole issue of where to place the cup isn't really a great one to begin with. We need to recognize that this is the case. If our minds are filled with aggression and concern only for ourselves, it is very hard to recognize when that happens.
We Are All Interdependent
In this way when we get into fights through having such a narrow mind, we do not accomplish our own benefit, nor do we accomplish the benefit of others. How is it that we don't accomplish any benefit?
Because everything is interdependently arisen. Everything comes into being by depending on something else.
For us as humans to experience goodness or benefit, we have to depend upon others to experience that goodness, benefit or happiness. Without depending on others, it is very difficult for anything good to happen to us.
Since we all live in a human society on one single planet, we have to depend upon each other. The best way to depend upon and communicate with each other is through having loving- kindness and compassion. If we have these qualities, we will be able to relate with each other, we will have connections with each other, and we can depend upon each other. But if we don't have any loving-kindness and compassion, the entire path of depending upon, communicating with and having connections with each other will become destroyed.
If we have loving-kindness and compassion with an attitude that we are contributing to this interdependence of humans, things will come along well for ourselves, things will come along well for others and the whole world will benefit.
When that happens we will not need armies or a lot of laws or police.
Take the example of bees working together, and see that one bee by itself doesn't have much power at all to accomplish anything. But when you have a whole hive of bees working together, look at the beautiful house they can make. Even if humans tried to make a house that beautiful they could not succeed.
It would be pretty hard for humans to try to make a house like bees have. And the honey! Look at the honey they make. The bees do not have any army or any security or police, or even any law enforcement.
We also could use an historic example of how being without compassion and loving-kindness leads to one's own demise. Hitler was filled with such hatred and aggression in his mind, and this hatred and aggression brought the ultimate result of his own demise. He destroyed himself. We can see how he did not gain any benefit from all of his hatred and aggression.
Mr. Gandhi, on the other hand, thought only about his fellow country-people of India. He had only about five rupees worth of clothing that he kept as personal possessions. (Remember we're talking about five Indian rupees, not five American or Canadian dollars. ) Mr. Gandhi worked tirelessly only for others. In the end not only did he accomplish the benefit of his country-people, but also he himself became foremost among his citizens. He was revered as the best citizen in India. So we can see how this altruistic attitude accomplishes both benefits of self and other.
Benefits of Compassion
This is the way of the relative truth - the interdependence of everything. This principle has the two main qualities of loving-kindness and compassion. If we ask what qualities or benefit is brought about through having loving-kindness, loving-kindness makes our mind open and spacious, brings confidence into our mind, and pacifies the anger in our mind.
What happens when we have compassion? When we have compassion, we have exertion, or delightful diligence, and are free from being lazy. Not only that; we gain wisdom because the objective of having compassion, what we think about when we have compassion, is accomplishing a certain goal. That makes us have diligence and wisdom.
Some people think that if everyone had loving-kindness and compassion the world would be a really boring place - everyone would be like sheep, just kind of idling about with nothing to do.
That might be the case if we had a lot of laziness on the one hand and a little anger on the other, but if we have loving-kindness and compassion in a genuine way, becoming like sheep is never possible.
When we have loving-kindness and compassion, we focus on accomplishing a certain benefit, a certain goal. We have diligence and wisdom, prajna. To accomplish any goal, we need to have a method. Working with the method involves working with our wisdom because method and wisdom come together. Therefore, by having compassion and loving-kindness we overcome our aggression and our laziness.
We could look at the example of herbal medicine and how, if we have low blood pressure, the herbal medicine brings our blood pressure up, and if we have high blood pressure, the herbal medicine brings our blood pressure down.
Translator: Good herbal medicine.
Rinpoche: [in English] And organic [laughter].
In the same way, it is very important for us to understand the reasons why it is important to have loving-kindness and compassion - what their function is, and what benefits come from having loving-kindness and compassion. If we undertake the practice of generating these qualities while endowed with the knowledge of the reasons, we will be able to actually bring them about.
Meditating on Loving Kindness and Compassion
We proceed through the stages of view, meditation and conduct. Up to this point we have been discussing the view, the wisdom aspect - what the benefits are of having loving-kindness and compassion, what the faults are of not having those qualities, what we want to be free from and what we want to accomplish when we're trying to train in loving-kindness. We have been discussing this up to this point. Now I will explain how we should go about meditating - how we should actually go about the process of generating these qualities.
Begin With Ourselves
In the practice of loving-kindness, we first consider ourselves.
It is important for us to think about our attitude, our basic being, what it is that we want and what it is that we don't want.
If we think about who we are in terms of our basic being, we find that we are good: both our body and mind are good in their basic being. From the perspective of our body, we have what is called a precious human body. From the perspective of the Buddhist teachings, it is something very good and very precious. If we look at our minds, according to the Buddha we all have buddha-nature. The Buddha taught extensively that the essence of our own mind is no different from the essence of the mind of the Buddha. So both our body and mind are extremely positive in their essence.
The Sanskrit word for a human or person is perusha, which has an etymological sense of something that possesses power - being a human being means that we have the power to accomplish anything we want.
When we think about what we want and don't want, we find that we want to be happy and we do not want to suffer.
We can see how this is true for everyone. Is it true for you?
In Europe, some people say that they enjoy beating themselves, and they get money for doing that. Actually they go so far as to give money to other people to beat them, and set aside special times to be beaten.
Do you think they want happiness?
Yes, they do. It is very important to understand that happiness and suffering are created by one's mind - they do not exist in the external world.
People who desire to be beaten definitely want to be happy, but the way in which they want to be happy is different from other people. The way in which people want to be happy can be different, but the desire to be happy itself is always the same.
In the practice of loving-kindness, we consider ourselves first. We generate an appreciation for how our basic nature is positive in this way and think, "How wonderful would it be if I were to enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness. "
In the same way we generate joy and appreciate this basic goodness of our body and mind.
Recognizing Our Basic Nature
By not recognizing our basic nature, we come under the influence of ignorance and behave in many ignorant ways. Then we contemplate how we suffer because of ignorance and have the aspiration, "May I be free from such suffering. "
At first we do not recognize the goodness of our basic nature and engage in activities that do not accomplish good for others or ourselves. Compassion comes about when we realize that even though we have this basically good and positive nature, we don't always recognize it, we are not always aware of it.
For example: Take this watch. It's a very expensive watch and it keeps two different times: Halifax time and Indian time. The watch is made of gold and silver and has diamonds. I am the owner of the watch.
What if I were not aware that I am the owner, did not know how expensive the watch was, did not even know that it is a watch.
I could look at it and put it on my wrist, but I would not be able to tell the time from it.
Someday someone might approach and tell me that this is a watch, and then I could look down and recognize it. "Oh, this is a nice watch! It has Halifax time and Indian time. " I could tell the time from it and the watch would be helping me. It would accomplish my aims.
The fact of my ownership of the watch never changed. I was the owner beforehand, still the owner now and still possess the watch.
It is the same way with our basic nature. It is always with us, we are always the owners of it but we don't recognize it. Because we do not recognize it we do not know how to put it into practice.
Loving Kindness and Compassion For Others
If we consider these points well for ourselves, it will be easy for us to apply the same thinking to other people - how they want to be happy and don't want to be suffering, and how they are just the same as we are.
When we consider this situation and aspire that they be free from suffering and enjoy happiness, then the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion arise.
We will be able to understand how other people think and will not get into fights about small issues like where cups should be placed, because we will know that they're just coming from a place of wanting to be happy and not wanting to suffer. In the same way we will not be frightened of other people. The only reason why we become scared of other people is through not understanding that they only want to be happy and free from suffering just as we do.
When we're beginning to meditate on these qualities, it is very helpful to do so thinking of people with whom we can easily generate loving-kindness and compassion, like our relatives, friends and parents.
When we familiarize ourselves well with them, then we can extend loving-kindness and compassion out to neutral beings and finally to all sentient beings. It is really true.
A neutral sentient being means someone who is not an enemy and not a friend.
All of these people are the same - they want to be happy and do not want to suffer. They are the same as we are.
Once we understand that well, we can even meditate on our enemies.
Our enemies are also just the same as we are - they want to be happy and don't want to suffer.
We can reflect on how our enemy is under the influence of their own aggression and disturbing mental state and, therefore, are not happy.
When we think carefully we can see how our enemies are actually very good. It is very good to have enemies because we can cultivate loving-kindness and compassion much more effectively. Having enemies will actually force us to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion and cultivate patience. Patience is a quality that is impossible to train in if we do not have an enemy.
But we are not saying that we need to go out and make enemies [laughter].
Practicing Loving Kindness and Compassion
One time in Tibet Patrül Rinpoche was teaching in Kham at the Kahthok Monastery, and he was teaching the people there about the importance of meditating on loving-kindness and compassion.
There was a monk attending the teachings, a student of Patrül Rinpoche's, who was very prideful and thought that he didn't need to meditate on loving-kindness and compassion. He thought that he already knew about that.
The student said to Patrül Rinpoche, "This loving-kindness and compassion stuff is really easy. I already know all about it and it's not going to be a problem for me to meditate on it. " Patrül Rinpoche said, "Well you should be careful and not be so prideful, because when you meet up with your enemy, you will find out how well you can cultivate loving-kindness and compassion.
That will be the real indication of how much loving-kindness you have. "
One day this monk was meditating by a stupa made of stone to the east of the Kahthok Monastery, just like Rinpoche is demonstrating [laughter] with his shawl over his head.
He was meditating on loving-kindness and compassion.
[Rinpoche speaks in Tibetan and makes gestures and moves his eyes around eliciting laughter from the assembly. ]
And he was moving his eyes around, just like Rinpoche was demonstrating, back and forth. He wasn't looking at any particular thing but just letting his eyes kind of flutter about.
Patrül Rinpoche always dressed very humbly and made himself out to be an ordinary person. So when Patrül Rinpoche arrived on the scene, it was very hard to tell that he was a lama or anything like that.
He came to the stupa and began circumambulating it.
The monk continued meditating in the same way and Patrül Rinpoche approached the monk in a very respectful manner with his hands folded and said, "Oh, venerable one, what are you meditating on?"
The monk didn't recognize Patrül Rinpoche as being a lama. He said, "I'm meditating on loving-kindness and compassion. "
Patrül Rinpoche folded his hands and said, "Oh, how wonderful," and continued on his circumambulation.
When he came around for another lap around the stupa, he stopped and bowed down with his folded hands and said, "Venerable one, what are you doing?"
"I'm meditating on loving-kindness and compassion. "
"Oh, how wonderful!" and Patrül Rinpoche kept circumambulating.
He came around for his third lap and stopped again and said, "Oh, venerable one, what are you doing?"
[Rinpoche speaks gruffly in Tibetan with exaggerated gestures eliciting great laughter.]
The monk replied, "Why are you bothering me? You've asked me for the third time now, I'm meditating on loving-kindness and compassion!" When the monk got angry in this way it made him open his eyes wide and look clearly, and he suddenly recognized Patrül Rinpoche's face.
Patrül Rinpoche said to him, "Is that what your loving-kindness and compassion is like?"
The monk was very embarrassed and apologized to Patrül Rinpoche, and later on his loving- kindness and compassion became genuine.
If we do not have loving-kindness and compassion, it creates problems for the world and for our own individual lives. We get into fights over very small and meaningless things, which disturbs our relationships with our friends, with our studies, with whatever it may be that we are trying to accomplish.
If we don't have any loving-kindness and compassion, but instead have a mind full of aggression, then we become overly sensitive to everything that happens to us, we get very irritated at the slightest provocation, and it is impossible for us to have pleasant experiences.
We need to familiarize ourselves with the loving-kindness and compassion we already have, and improve upon and expand what is already there. If we do that, our lives will be happy.
If we effect change in a small part of our life we will be able to effect a great amount of change. Our minds work in the exact same way - if we effect a little bit of change in our mind, we will be able to transform our mind in a very great way.
Please keep this in mind.
If there is anything about this presentation that does not make sense, that you didn't understand, then it's fine to forget about it [laughter].
Tonight we discussed the basic forms of loving-kindness and compassion, and tomorrow evening we'll talk about limitless loving-kindness and compassion along with bodhichitta, the awakened heart. Are there any questions?
Student: When ones comes across his or her enemy, how is that enemy tamed through loving- kindness?
Rinpoche: When we first encounter an enemy, we think about how they want to be happy and be free from suffering just the same as we do. After we contemplate that, we try to put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak - we try to exchange ourselves for our enemy. We try to look from their point of view, try to see what it is that they are thinking about.
If we look at the situation from their perspective, we will be able to see very clearly who is wrong, who has the mistaken idea, and who is at fault in the situation. We will be able to see our own faults clearly as well as their faults.
If we examine this person from their own perspective and still find that person clearly at fault and acting in a confused way, we will still be able to see that situation with compassion - we will see how the person is desiring happiness but is confused about how to accomplish the happiness that they desire. They might be harming us and they might be harming many other people as well, and we can see that their behavior actually is harming the happiness that they are trying to achieve. At that time if it is possible for us to challenge that person in a way that will stop this negative action - in a peaceful way having loving kindness - then because of our good motivation it is okay for us to do that.
When we challenge our enemy by trying to stop them from negative action, we should do so in a way that will not upset them further. We should not call them names or anything like that, but rather try to explain to them clearly the reasons why what they are doing is harmful, why it is harming themselves as well as other people. Whether or not this benefits the enemy in the end is not really up to us. We can just simply try our best.
If through this contemplation we find that we are the ones at fault, then we can begin to remove those faults in ourselves.
If it is over a very small issue, like the placement of a cup on a table, then we can simply let go of the whole thing and let the other person have their way. It is important to cultivate patience at times like that.
If we treat our enemy harshly by speaking harshly to them, that will not give them any chance to see their own faults. It will just perpetuate their anger and elicit more aggressive responses from them. But if we have patience towards our enemy, even if they are treating us aggressively, we give them the space to see the faults of their own aggression. After they are finished venting their aggression on us, there is space for them to stand there and say, "Oh, maybe I was wrong in saying that, or wrong in doing that. " If that happens they are going to have more respect for you and more loving-kindness towards you in the end.
S: I have many questions, but I think I'll just pick one. First, I wanted to say thank you - you're a great storyteller. The one question I would really like to ask is: Will there ever be that Utopia of loving-kindness where we will have no more enemies and where everybody has loving-kindness towards each other?
R: If we practice in this way, then yes, it is possible. S: Yes, it is possible?
S: Okay [laughter].
R: If we practice, we can accomplish anything.
S: Are you basically saying that compassion is a result of understanding the meditation's action?
R: Yes, you could definitely put it that way. The understanding is understanding your basic essence, your basic nature, and the basic nature of others; understanding your basic desire and the basic desire of others, and then engaging in actions that accord with those basic desires. When we engage in actions that way, we're engaging in actions that accord with these basic desires, not our immediate desires. Our immediate desires can be causes of disturbance, but if we act in accordance with our basic desires, then those are causes of peace. Wishing to enjoy happiness is loving-kindness, and wishing to be free from suffering is compassion.
S: Would you say that to have loving-kindness and compassion for other people [indistinct]?
R: It is said that it is easiest to train in these qualities if you start with yourself first. But it is also possible to end up having compassion and loving-kindness for yourself on the basis of first experiencing it toward others.
It is also said that if we think well of others, it is easy for us to have compassion for ourselves, that compassion for ourselves will be automatic.
If there are no more questions we can conclude now. Okay, goodnight. Bon soir.
Loving Kindness and Compassion PART II
Tonight we will continue our discussion about loving-kindness and compassion.
The basic character of all sentient beings is that of basic goodness. Loving-kindness and compassion come about in complete harmony with basic goodness, and they completely fit together. They are not at all opposite or antithetical to basic goodness.
These qualities of loving-kindness and compassion refer to the attitude or motivation to accomplish the benefit of oneself and others in a way that harmonizes with one's basic nature that is basic goodness.
Between the two forms of benefit - the benefit for oneself and benefit for others - we're normally preoccupied with accomplishing benefit for ourselves, for the most part. How is it that we go about trying to accomplish benefit for ourselves? We do this habitually through an attitude of great self-centricity - being concerned only about ourselves, and being very tight.
The attitude of being tight, of binding up our minds with such fixation, does not harmonize with our basic nature.
For instance, let's say that the goal is to pick up the cup and drink water from it. There are two ways you could go about it. The first is to grab the cup very tightly and stiffly. [Rinpoche demonstrates holding the cup very tightly. ]
Oh! I need - water. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh, it is hard [laughter]! Another way to do it is to be relaxed. The first approach of being very tight involves a tremendous amount of difficulty, hardship and suffering. Sometimes our hand might not even be able to pick up the cup properly. Or sometimes we could spill water all over the place. But then again, sometimes even though we hold ourselves so tight, we can still accomplish the goal. The second approach of picking up the cup while being relaxed accomplishes the goal of drinking the water, but it does not create any difficulty. No suffering is involved.
The first approach illustrates the opposite of loving-kindness and compassion. It involves being very tight and focused on our own benefit alone, not thinking about the benefit of others - in fact, being focused on victory for ourselves and defeat for others. When we operate in that way, sometimes we accomplish our goals; but the accomplishment entails a lot of hardships and suffering for us. If we speak about this from the perspective of the dharma, we can say that if we take this tight approach we might be able to accomplish some benefits for ourselves in this life, but we will not be able to bring about any good for our future lives.
The second approach of relaxation is very much in accord with the practice of loving-kindness and compassion. Loving-kindness and compassion are opposite to the approach where we are tight and fixated upon our own concerns. When we have loving-kindness and compassion, we automatically have a sense of relaxation. At the same time, we are free from laziness because we want to accomplish something for ourselves as well as for others, and that attitude frees us from laziness. That helps us to have exertion and wisdom about the method we use to accomplish what we desire.
This has been a brief review of loving-kindness and compassion and their opposite qualities.
Last night we talked about our own basic being: Our own basic nature is one of goodness. We talked about how the basic nature of our body is goodness and the basic nature of our mind is goodness. We talked about our basic desires, how we want to be happy and free from suffering, and how that is the same for all other sentient beings. We described the process of first contemplating oneself, one's own nature and one's own desire, then extending that out to contemplate others, initially encompassing neutral sentient beings and finally including even our enemies.
Limitless Loving Kindness and Compassion
Tonight I would like to talk about how we can go about engendering limitless loving-kindness and compassion.
It is very easy. If you understand the first stage, the second is very easy.
All sentient beings, every creature that has a mind, is exactly the same as oneself - they want to be happy and they do not want to suffer. If you can think of all sentient beings in this way, as being the same as yourself, and if you can make the wish that they be happy and free from suffering, then this in itself is limitless loving-kindness and compassion. That's it.
It's easy, isn't it?
We have the teaching on the four immeasurables:
May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
These first two lines describe limitless loving-kindness and compassion.
A neighbor-friend of mine had a dog that was very vicious and always biting people.
Sometimes this dog would enter my friend's house and try to bite him, even in his house, and my friend got very angry at the dog. One day the idea came to my friend that he should beat the dog.
So he put a heavy object on top of the door and left the door slightly ajar, so that when the dog came into the house he would cause the heavy object to fall. My friend set up this rig to squish the dog, and then returned to his quarters and began his practice of the dharma [laughter]. What were his evening chants about? The four limitless ones.
[Rinpoche chants in a solemn voice in Tibetan]:
May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
Then it dawned on him, "Wait a second, what am I thinking about here? If I'm wishing for all sentient beings to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, that dog is a sentient being. . . "
First he thought that he should meditate on compassion for the dog, but that didn't seem attractive to him at all, so he said, "No, I'm not going to meditate on compassion for that dog. " He just kept chanting, "May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. " Then he realized, "If I'm chanting in this way, I'm basically sitting here lying. So I should just set aside this chant altogether. "
But chanting is something that makes him feel good, so he did not want to stop. He had to think of a way that he could keep chanting, but still not meditate on compassion for the dog [laughter]. After thinking about it for a little while, he found a way that he could keep chanting but to slightly amend the chant to accommodate his situation. "May some sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. Maysome sentient beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering. " [laughter]
"Oh! That's nice!" he said. "Feels better. " Then he continued with his evening chants for another two hours, but the dog still didn't show up.
After he concluded his chanting, he waited around for the dog, but the dog still did not show up. He eventually forgot about his plan to squash the dog with this big, large object. Later he thought that he would go for an evening walk after his evening chants [laughter], and had forgotten about the dog and the rigged door. When he opened the door, down came the big, heavy object on top of his own head. He had not put a very dangerous object up on top of the door, just one with a little bit of a weight to it. He thought to himself, "I made up this scheme in order to harm someone else, but the result of it came back to myself. I need to go about things differently. What I should do is to make friends with the dog. "
The next time the dog showed up to bite him, he offered food to the dog, and kept feeding the dog every time it came around. After about a week, he and the dog became really good friends, and instead of trying to bite him, the dog was very gentle and would lick his knees.
So he wasn't harmed anymore by the dog, and the dog wasn't harmed by anything falling on top of it. Both of them were happy and peaceful.
Benefit For Oneself and Others
If we can act from a motivation of wanting to benefit others, this will accomplish benefit for ourselves and others. It will cause us to help people, and will cause those people to help us in return. That is even true for a dog. Dogs have enough intelligence to know that someone is helping them, and they have enough intelligence to know how to help them back. Human beings are even more clever than that.
Conversely, if we act from a motivation of pride, being very tight and only concerned with our own well-being while maligning others, eventually others will want to harm us in return. Even if we act that way to a powerless little puppy, being mean to it or beating it, as soon as it gains enough strength it will find an opportunity to bite us.
Therefore, if you take your own opportunities in a prideful way, of having more power than someone else, and try to use that power to overcome them, then you are not going to accomplish your own good. As we discussed yesterday, everything arises in dependence upon something else. Therefore if we accomplish benefit for others, the natural result of that would be to receive benefit for ourselves. We only want to be happy and free from suffering. The same thing is true for everyone else.
If we do not recognize this, if we do not keep this in mind when relating with others, then it comes about that we have completely different perspectives from others and they will not understand where we are coming from, and we will not understand where they are coming from.
That is where all of our struggles and disputes originate. Take, for example, two people, one of whom likes to eat hot chilies and is very concerned about themselves and does not think much about others. They could go to a restaurant with the other person and, because of this person's fixation on their own perspective, they will think that the other person will want to eat hot chilies too. When the other person doesn't eat hot chilies, that upsets the first person. They say, "Why are you not eating these chilies?" Then they get into a fight.
The real situation is that one person likes hot chilies and the other person does not. There are two different perspectives, and it is very important to understand that. If you only understand yourself and are centered on yourself, then you will never understand the other person's perspective. When this happens, you cannot have any confidence or space and relaxation in your mind.
There's a story from China from forty or fifty years ago. A couple had just been married. The bride moved into the man's household and immediately began fighting with her mother-in-law.
The bride looked at the husband's mother and thought that she was an awful person. The husband's mother looked at the bride and thought that she was an awful person, evil by nature.
Their fighting escalated into a huge fight. The whole thing originated from a big misunderstanding, and there was no real reason for them to fight at all.
The wife got very upset with the mother-in-law because she thought that the mother-in-law was completely incorrigible, and was just such a bad person that she had to do something about it. She went to the doctor and asked the doctor to give her some poison, planning to put the poison into the mother's food so that she would die.
The doctor said, "Okay, that's fine. I'll give you some poison, but I am not going to give you the harshest poison; I will give you a gentle poison that will take a little while to take effect and she will die a little bit later. If the poison were to work right away then everyone will immediately point their finger at you and say, "You poisoned your mother-in-law," and that you got the poison from such-and-such a doctor, and that would not be good.
The doctor further advised, "While you are giving her the poison, you should treat her very well. You should offer the food with a smile, and say, "Please enjoy your food. What more can I bring you?" That is how you should give her the poison. The bride said okay, and became very delighted, and carried the poison back home with her.
The doctor told her to treat her mother-in-law well because, he said, "If you treat your mother well in that way, then no one will suspect you of killing her. "
She went home and began that very evening to put poison into the mother-in law's food, and then very graciously and politely offered the meal to her. The mother ate the food, and immediately thought, "Oh, what a good daughter-in-law I have. Isn't she a nice person?" The mother-in-law started treating the bride very nicely in response. After a few days of this treatment, the daughter-in-law started thinking, "Isn't my mother-in-law so nice? She's so great!"
This continued for the next month or so and they became very good friends - everything was very harmonious between them, and at a certain point the daughter-in-law stopped putting poison in the mother-in-law's food. But she started to become really worried because she realized that she had put so much poison in her mother-in-law's food and thought, "If I don't do something about this, my mother-in-law is going to die. I have to go to the doctor now and find an antidote for the poison. "
She went to the doctor and said, "Okay it was a mistake. My mother-in-law is a really nice person, I should not have poisoned her and I am really sorry. I want to keep her alive. Please help me out and give me an antidote to the poison I gave her. " The doctor said, "There is no antidote. "
The daughter-in-law became really upset and started to cry and said that she is going to kill herself. The doctor asked her why she would kill herself, and she answered, "Because I feel terrible. I've poisoned such a nice person and she is going to die now. So I should take my own life because of that. " The very wise doctor said, "Well, there is no need for you to worry. There is no antidote to the poison because there was no poison to begin with. "
What we can see in this story is a transformation of experience. At first the two women started off hating each other. From the perspective of the daughter-in-law the mother-in-law was awful; and from the perspective of the mother-in-law the daughter-in-law was awful. Then after a while, due to changes in their relationship, they each saw the other as good people and they liked each other. The people didn't change at all, only their perspectives changed.
Bodhichitta, the Awakened Heart
So this concludes our discussion for now about limitless loving-kindness and compassion, and Rinpoche would next like to talk about Bodhichitta, the Awakened Heart.
After we go through the stages of meditating on ordinary loving-kindness and compassion, we cultivate limitless loving-kindness and compassion: We train in bodhichitta. Bodhichitta was praised by the Buddha as being foremost among the causes of enlightenment, and the supreme remedy for all negativities and obscurations.
It is very consistent with the nature of things that if we plant a good seed we get a good result in the end: if we plant a medicinal seed, we get good medicinal fruit as the result. The causes we need to attain enlightenment are method, or skillful means, and wisdom. In terms of skillful means, loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta are the most important.
The Buddha taught that the attitude of open heart, courageous heart, confident heart is needed to give rise to enlightenment. The best way to bring about these qualities is by cultivating bodhichitta.
What is the essence of bodhichitta? The essence of bodhichitta is the heart that thinks, "I alone, personally, will establish all sentient beings in the state of complete enlightenment. "
This is quite a great heart, isn't it?
Whether we are or are not able to establish sentient beings in enlightenment in that way does not matter. It is first important to think that we are going to do it. By giving rise to this heart we reflect on the essence of sentient beings. If you give this an attractive name, you could call it "buddha-nature. " But you could also call it "sentient-beings-nature. " It is the same thing. Sentient-beings-nature is buddha-nature. It is free from confusion and impurities from the beginning. Buddha taught this as being primordially free from all suffering and endowed with all happiness. Isn't it true that we all want happiness and want to be free from suffering?
And, according to the Buddha, this desire that we have is itself a sign that our true nature is free from suffering and completely endowed with undefiled happiness, undefiled bliss.
The Buddha taught that this desire that is present in all beings is a sign of what our true nature is. What we are doing when we have that desire to be happy and free from suffering is trying to rise to meet our true nature, to be one with our true nature.
We could look at the example of a mother bird that has a nest filled with little chicks. No matter how far away she flies from the nest, she will never be satisfied by staying away from the nest - she will always have in her mind the thought of returning. No matter how far she goes she won't ever think, "I'm going to stay here. " She always thinks, "I'm going to go back. " She gets homesick.
All sentient beings have a very vivid presence of desire, wanting to be happy, wanting to be free from suffering. That very strong desire is a clear sign that the nature of sentient beings is free from suffering and is possessed of happiness.
Since that is the case, we give rise to bodhichitta to help all sentient beings. "I alone, and personally am going to help all sentient beings connect with their true nature. I am going to help them to go home to their true nature that is endowed with happiness and free from suffering. Home to that true nature is called Buddhahood, and so I am going to establish them in the state of Buddhahood. To bring that about, I will practice meditation, will do chants and whatever other types of virtuous practice there are. "
If we bear this motivation in mind, it will become a completely perfect attitude of bodhichitta. It will include aspiration bodhichitta and application bodhichitta. "I will establish all sentient beings in Buddhahood" is aspiration bodhichitta; "In order to do that I will practice the path" is application bodhichitta. That's what bodhichitta is like.
Isn't it easy?
Training in Bodhichitta
There are various reactions to bodhichitta. Some people find it difficult and some people find it easy. When some people are beginning to familiarize themselves with the qualities of loving- kindness and bodhichitta, they have more doubts arise in their mind. They feel more uncomfortable, they have more confusion. But that is actually a very good sign. The first experience of training in these qualities is like water falling from a steep cliff. So, you shouldn't think that your mind is bad if that happens.
When water falls from a steep cliff it is very violent, very active. That is what our mind is like when we start training it.
To illustrate the first experience of training our mind, we can look at an empty cup that has some dry dirt in it. If we have dry dirt in an empty cup, it is not always easy to see - it looks like the cup is clean. But if we put a couple of small drops of water in the cup and mush those drops of water around, then the dirt becomes very evident. It gets darker in color and we can see it clearly, and it seems like the cup has become dirtier. But the cup hasn't really become dirtier at all - we are just seeing the dirt. In fact the cup is closer to being clean than it was when we started. So training our mind in the beginning is just like that.
When we begin training our minds in bodhichitta, if we have more doubts, more thoughts and more confusion, we should rejoice because this is a sign that we are actually starting our training.
Then again there are people who do not have any problems like that; things go smoothly for them from the beginning of this practice. There are all different types of people.
This also is good.
Bodhichitta is also the supreme way for purifying misdeeds and obscurations, and the supreme method of confession.
This is true for all the three qualities of loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta. Ordinary loving-kindness and compassion help us to purify our negativities and obscurations, and limitless loving-kindness and compassion help even more than that. The most powerful of all is bodhichitta.
All three qualities also help us to accumulate merit. Everything we do will become a cause for our accumulation of merit. This is echoed in the Bodhicharya-vitara, a text by Shantideva, where it says that from the moment one engenders bodhichitta, even when one falls asleep or becomes careless, one's accumulation of merit will grow to equal the vastness of space, the vastness of the sky. Even neutral actions that we undertake, such as walking or talking to other people, become a cause for our merit to increase.
How do we practice bodhichitta when we're particularly afflicted in our minds, stricken by kleshas or mental afflictions, or stricken by various types of suffering?
These are excellent conditions to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta. If we can train in these qualities even a little bit during times of intense suffering, then that will exponentially increase those qualities in us.
You can compare one situation of being completely happy and having everything you want - a nice house, abundant food, heat in the wintertime, air conditioning in the summertime and have everything perfect. You could spend all of your time in the same perfect place meditating on loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta. On the other hand, you could have intense suffering and intense mental afflictions, and meditate for a few seconds on loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta. This latter is the best way to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta. You will develop more loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta by going through intense suffering than you would by years of practice in perfect conditions.
Enemies and Anger
What do we do and how do we practice when we have intense mental afflictions, intense kleshas?
Consider that you could meet up with an enemy and feel intense hatred towards them, wanting to beat them up, overcome them.
The first step is to recognize the aggression - recognize that aggression has arisen in us.
It is very important to have recognition as our first step, even if we cannot stop the aggression immediately. If we can simply recognize "I'm feeling aggression now," that is very important.
The second stage is to reflect on how our aggression causes suffering for ourselves. If we feel aggression, we cannot be happy, we cannot feel peaceful. It feels like a fire is burning in our stomach so we cannot enjoy our food, we cannot get a good night's sleep. We recall all of these disturbances that come about from aggression, and we recall that aggression is really not good to have at all. In the very same way that aggression causes us suffering, it causes suffering to other sentient beings too. And in the same way that we cause ourselves suffering through aggression, other sentient beings cause themselves suffering through their aggression.
At that point if we can think, "May my anger include the anger of all sentient beings. If sentient beings are suffering from their anger, may this anger that I am feeling right now include the anger of all sentient beings, and through this may they be free from suffering. May they enjoy happiness. " If we can think that way, then that very anger will become a virtuous state of mind.
Peacocks eat poison and it makes them beautiful. In the same way, if we can embrace our mental afflictions with skillful means, those very mental afflictions can become virtuous.
Even if we are not able to stop the momentum of our aggression right away, the power of it will gradually decrease, and there will be a greater sense of joy present right along with the anger.
The practice is the same for all the other kleshas - pride, jealousy, ignorance and so on.
Isn't it great how all of our kleshas can become friends to enlightenment?
There are various stages of fruition that can happen when we begin practicing this way. First, if we can bring these recollections to mind when our anger arises, then even though the force of our anger will still be there, the negativity and the unbearable quality of the anger will not. There will be a sense of spaciousness and joy right along with the anger, so it will not do harm to us. When we train further, we can completely pacify our anger. Anger can arise, we can do the contemplations we've been discussing and our anger will disappear completely. Finally, the result of practicing like this is that anything nonvirtuous associated with anger will not happen anymore. The arising of anger will be simultaneous with the arising of bodhichitta.
Anger arises in the first moment, and in the second moment there is the bodhichitta. Therefore arising and liberation are simultaneous. Where is the anger liberated? It is liberated into bodhichitta. When we talk here about simultaneous arising and liberation, we are not talking about something being liberated into emptiness or liberated into the essence of mind or anything like that; but that it becomes liberated into bodhichitta.
When we begin practicing, strong feelings of anger can arise. We continue to meditate, and maybe after ten, twenty or thirty seconds we can transform that anger into a more virtuous quality. Our anger might come back again in a very strong way. When this happens, we again apply the antidote of meditating on bodhichitta and recalling these contemplations, and the anger will be pacified. We continually reapply these methods. When we familiarize ourselves with practicing in this way, these states of transformation will be sustained for longer periods.
Eventually we will be able to arrive at a point where our anger arises and bodhichitta arises the very next moment.
Brave and Vast
If you persist in this practice and get good at it, one day you will become a bodhisattva - changchup sempa in Tibetan. The syllable chang means to be purified, to have all of your negative aspects of mind purified; chup means to have all of your wisdom and good qualities blossom. sempa means brave heart, or brave-minded, courageous. So you will have this very brave and courageous attitude.
You will not get worried or upset about where to place your cup.
When mind becomes brave and vast in this way, we will understand the past and the future very well - we will also have a very good idea about where to place our cup [laughter].
When we experience intense suffering - such as being depressed, being lonely, being sick and so forth - our practice of bodhichitta becomes tremendously enhanced. No matter how intense the suffering, that much more intense will be our bodhichitta and our accumulation of merit.
When we react to our suffering and our hardships in that way we will actually be able to overcome all of our negative karma and suffering.
It is said that in terms of benefiting oneself and benefiting others, suffering is even more beneficial than kleshas for bringing our negative situations to the path.
It is also said that bringing our kleshas and our suffering to the path and transforming them into bodhichitta in this way is even more beneficial than making offerings to the Buddhas and giving generously to everyone.
There is a story about some lamas in Tibet who choose not to stay up in the mountains in retreat because there are not enough unfavorable conditions there to bring to their practice. So they go down into the cities and villages and look for unfavorable conditions. They wear strange clothes, behave very strangely and say strange things to whomever they meet. This causes people to be upset with them. So people beat the lamas and say bad things about them. When this happens, the lamas experience suffering and kleshas. They like that very much because they then can bring everything to the path.
Some lamas even go to charnel grounds and make various whooping sounds and weird noises in order to generate fear in others. These weird noises call forth all the demons of the charnel ground, and when the demons come, one becomes filled with hope and fear. That hope and fear benefits their practice even more.
Through making aspirations and dedicating the merit of their practice to the demons with whom they make a connection, everyone receives benefit.
In your daily life, if kleshas and suffering happen to you, without even having to call upon them, then that is a very fortunate circumstance. You definitely should not let the precious opportunity go to waste.
It is very important to take whatever happens and bring it onto the path.
Are there any questions?
Question: I am a student at Dalhousie University. I'm studying international development, and I am constantly learning very negative things about the world. There are always contradictory and conflicting information. Very often in the classroom, there tends to be a very ideological topic - and everybody there, deep down, wants to make a positive change on the world, and they are just doing the best they know how. But at the same time, everybody is so attached to their beliefs that you always see a lot of conflict, a lot of tension in class. It is really hard to listen sometimes and it becomes very overwhelming. Sometimes I say to myself, "Well, this isn't the way to go at all. I should just go about my daily life and maybe meditate some more. " But that doesn't really work when I think about all these other people in the world who don't even know what meditation is because they don't have enough money to buy food or get water. So I'm wondering if there's some middle ground for right action between meditation and the type of violent protest that is happening a lot these days.
Rinpoche: It is very helpful to be even-minded and try to be as balanced as we can in our minds and attitude when we go about trying to help the world. We should definitely try to help the world by trying to bring as much wisdom and as many skillful means as we can. We should have all the enthusiasm we can muster to do this, but we should be very open and relaxed in our minds, not so focused on the result. Because when we bring all the effort we can into trying to establish certain forms of benefit, sometimes we will be able to accomplish the result we desire, but sometimes that result will not come about.
Whether the result comes about or not is not something we should particularly worry about. Just think, "I'll try my best," and try to be balanced in your mind, try to have an evenness in your mental approach and not be so tightly fixated on the result. Just have enthusiasm for trying. That would be very good.
We have already talked about ways to bring benefit without struggle inside ourselves, and without having to struggle against others. We have at least a little bit of the wisdom of loving- kindness and compassion. We are very much invited to share that with others. You can share it with your friends. Even if you just tell them a little bit about it, that will help them a little bit. If there are one hundred people here tonight, and each one of us talks a little bit about these things to someone else, then it is very easy for us to benefit two hundred people as a result of that. It would be good for all of us to keep this in mind.
Q: Thank you.
Q: First I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your wisdom, your humor and your experiences. Sunday was the first time I've experienced a temple - I was at the St. Margaret's Bay Centre. Then I came to hear your talk last evening. I feel very honored because I know a lot of people who have not had the opportunity to experience such wisdom from a person such as yourself.
When I left after your talk last evening, I went home with a euphoria that I've never experienced with anything natural [laughter]. Thank you!
I live in an environment with a bunch of women who are very sick at this moment, and so I wanted to go home and share this good experience with them as I have with my bad experiences at other times. I am trying to give them examples of your stories. You said that most people want happiness, but I find that some people relish being negative - that negative is their happiness - and they like to suck you into their vortex of their unpleasantness and pridefulness and of all those words you used. I kept telling them the stories and kept saying, "love and compassion, love and compassion. " It wasn't working [laughter].
Then I remembered the story about the nomads, and I equated that to my life's journey. I equated the nomads to the thorns and the stones in the road [laughter]. Then I thought that I must treat these people with kid gloves.
My question is, how long do I try to share my goodness with them and let them take my happiness from me? How do I judge who I should share this with and how? I truly believe everyone deserves happiness, but how long do I give them mine, to let them take it from me. That's my question to you.
Rinpoche: Good. Thank you.
So your kid gloves are like your loving-kindness and compassion?
Q: Yes, but I don't want them to have my kid gloves if they don't seem to want them. If their happiness is staying negative, do I let them stay negative because that is what seems to be what they languish in?
Rinpoche: First of all, it would be good to try to share these things with them, like you were describing. Try to teach them about these qualities very slowly, a little bit at a time, and share almost indirectly, rather than going straight at them with loving-kindness and compassion [laughter]. Give them little pieces here and there that can relate to their experience.
They seem to have a lot of experience of going through struggles with themselves and with other people. They get involved in situations of aggression with other people, and are harmed by others. You can use those experiences of theirs by sharing with them small pieces of teachings about loving-kindness and compassion, teaching by way of example, and teaching about results that come about through loving-kindness and compassion here and there. That will give them a chance to examine these teachings with their experience in a gradual way.
Q: Okay, thank you. I guess the thing was I kept saying, "love and compassion, love and compassion". I forgot kindness [laughter].
Rinpoche: You can do as much as you can from your own side and not be so focused on whether the result comes about or not. By doing that you will be able to help some people immediately. It might take them longer for the others to come along and change. But you can just try your best from your side, and let whatever happens happen as a result of that.
You definitely should have some focus on accomplishing something, but not have so much fixation towards that.
I have a friend in England who once had a very big problem with one of his neighbors. The neighbor kept coming over to his place and harming him in one way or another. The neighbor kept doing bad things to him, and my friend didn't know what to do about it because he wasn't doing anything whatsoever to provoke the neighbor. My friend finally asked me for advice. Basically I taught him about loving-kindness, compassion and bodhichitta, and all the things we've been talking about. In response, my friend said, "No, that is not going to work, because I asked this person why he is harming me, why he is giving me such problems, and the person said, 'I like harming people. It makes me happy. '"
But then my friend said that there really doesn't seem much else for him to do, so he would try to practice what I was teaching him. He said, "I'll give this loving-kindness and compassion a try. " When I returned to England a year later, this person came again to where I was teaching and said, "Thank you so much. I actually tried to practice what you had taught, and it really worked. "
He found that by putting these teachings into practice, he was able to relax more and be more even-minded in the face of his neighbor's harmful actions. A year before, he had been filled with fear about his neighbor, wondering what he would do next. Sometimes he would get very angry at what the neighbor had done, and had a lot of anxiety. Sometimes he tried to scare him away with aggression; sometimes he tried to do reverse psychology by kind of smiling at him and acting like he was really happy. But always there was this anxiety and unevenness - his reactions were always up and down when trying to deal with his neighbor.
Gradually through practicing loving-kindness and compassion, he was able to be even and relaxed all the time without going up and down, and so he became able to meet his neighbor with confidence and relaxation whenever the neighbor came to harm him. After a while, his neighbor gave up and said, "I'm sorry for giving you such a hard time all this time. It was a mistake for me to do that. "
If we have a narrow mind, any kind of harm someone does to us is going to have a very strong effect on us. If someone pokes us a little bit, then we will freak out in response. But if we have loving-kindness and compassion, we will be relaxed have confidence in our minds, so no matter what someone might do to us, we will not freak out in response, and they will just end up tiring of trying to hurt us.
When we have loving-kindness and compassion we can even challenge people who are harming others. When we see someone harming someone else, we can confront him or her, challenge them and even fight with them to try to stop them from harming others. That type of fighting is not the same as when we have a narrow and aggressive mind. If we struggle with someone with an attitude of loving-kindness and compassion, we will not hurt ourselves and we will help them.
We will conclude now for this evening.
[Dedication of merit]
Loving-kindness and Compassion PDF [364 KB]
© Copyright 2004 by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche