A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

Where ever you are, just start being more compassionate right now

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion,...

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, 16th century image from Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I talked about Ecobuddhism as a solution to the impending disaster, as I have started to call it, Ecogeddon. More on that tomorrow, I realized that whether it is the environment, problems with others, dissatisfied with ourselves, the solution is the same. The answer to all these problems, is to become more compassionate. Today people are desperate to help themselves, help their families and neighbors, and to help save the world. People are spending a fortune on self help books, attending costly seminars, purchasing the newest must have gadget in order to feel better about themselves. These methods were being used before The Buddha became enlightened. His own story of how his parents, did everything within their considerable power, to see to it he was not exposed to suffering. Let’s face it, if a wealthy king with the resources at his disposal, was unable to prevent his son from encountering suffering, what chance do us everyday people have? Whether it is ourselves, our families, or our neighbors, we all suffer. Accepting this fact is the first step on the path of discovering happiness. Even saving the planet, requires us to take small steps, which can quickly add up. However for today, I will forego the environmental problems, and instead focus onus as individuals.

I am a follower of Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion as the basis in all our interactions with other beings. Whether it is in our thoughts, our speech, or our actions, they all need to be based on compassion, or loving kindness. The Theravada approach has the same goals, and is equally valuable as a reference.

So you want to change the world? What do you want to change? Is the goal to make the world, more how you think it should be or is it to help each being achieve happiness as they define it, while ensuring no other being is harmed by your actions. I just realized today, that The Buddha does not define what happiness is, rather he just says to attain this in an ultimate form, we need to eliminate suffering. In his teachings there is no heavenly realm awaiting those who follow the middle path, nor is there an everlasting hell for eternity for those that do not. There are heavenly realms, and hellish realms, but they are impermanent, just as our lives are. For most of us when we feel pain, we shield our hearts. In our relationships, someone we trust hurts us, we close our heart, so as not to feel even more pain. We just got slapped on the face, and for most of us, we immediately want to strike back, to return the hurt. Those who are more compassionate may not strike back, instead they withdraw, so no further slaps may reach them. This is a very good step towards not hurting others, but it is not even half the solution. The Buddha told us we must love our foe as our friend. So that person who just hurt you, is to be forgiven, and treated with love and respect. I understand if you are saying, but I can’t. This is not a virtue that is granted us, rather it is one we must learn to develop. When we are capable of being compassionate to those who hurt us, then we are making compassion as the basis for our interactions. If our first thought is not one of anger, but rather love, then surely our speech and actions will follow. Within Buddhism there are many ways we learn to train the mind. Firstly we start with meditation and the three adjustments to our body. We adjust our body to be able to sit comfortably for an extended duration. As the Venerable Master at my temple points out, don’t worry if you can’t do a full or even a half lotus. Find a comfortable position to sit in, but no so comfortable as to fall asleep. Close your eyes, and think of your self as a molecule at the inside tip of your nose, concentrate on your breath, notice the cool dry air being inhaled, the warm moist air being exhaled, also was there a pause? Once you have your breath as your mental focus, just continue to focus on it, and if another thought arises, let it appear, then disappear, don’t linger on it, instead return to concentrating on your breath. After a period focus your thoughts, as all the love you have within you, then choose the person most deserving of all this love. Focus all these loving thoughts on yourself. For it is only once we accept who we are now, with love understanding and compassion, do we realize that who we are right now, does not have to be who we are next day or next year. Focus all your love, understanding and compassion on yourself, and perhaps not the first time but with practice you will soon find you smile easier, people will notice you seem happier. Now that you have been practicing on yourself, add your spouse or another relative to the practice, start with yourself, then expand this ball of love, compassion and understanding to include the other person. Over time you will expand this practice to include everyone, even your foes. I am going to leave this topic here, for to go further would require more background to be taught, and corrections to your practice to be made, and I don’t feel this is the place to do this properly.

If there is a Temple, Buddhist Church, or Wat  close to where you reside, see if they offer meditation classes.  Learning these techniques is easier if you have a teacher to guide you. Also being in a room where others are doing the same practice reinforces our own abilities. There are many other groups, associations and people who offer classes in meditation, some may be good some may not, but regardless of where you choose to go. listen to your inner feelings, does this feel like a place of love and compassion? Feeling a little nervous if it is your first time is expected, but if you do not feel a warm, loving sense, perhaps you need to continue searching for a place to learn. As the Buddha taught us, to test what we see, hear and learn, if it is agreeable then we should adopt it.

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