Dharma Topic: Helping Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion

Dharma Topic: Helping Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion

Discussion date: Thu, Mar 24, 2005 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, March 24, our program topicwill be “Helping Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.”

This past weekend I attended a workshop and spent severalhours with Ann Kline, a guiding light of the Shalem Center’s group spiritualdirection program.

Based primarily in the Christian and Jewish faithcommunities, spiritual direction raises the question, “What is it that Godis asking of us in this situation?” Answers and reflections are sharedthrough mentorship relations, through spiritual friendships, and through smallgroup processes.

What I find attractive in the spiritual direction movementis that it asks practitioners to bracket their own desires, wishes, and whims,and consider, at least for a while, whether they can align themselves with alarger presence or force.

In our mindfulness tradition, deistic phrasing iscomplemented (or replaced) by other ways of talking about our spiritual groundof being. We may use naturalistic phrasing, such as the “creative vitalityof the universe” or we may use words from the Buddhist tradition, such asNirvana, Suchness, Dharmakaya, or Ultimate Dimension. We may speak of “BigMind” or “The Mind of Love,”

In the Mahayana tradition, the wisdom of the ultimatedimension is personified in the Bodhisattvas, the wise women and men who havechosen to stay in the world in order to relieve the suffering of everyone. Atpractice centers, the spirits of the Bodhisattvas are frequently invoked,especially the spirit of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

As part of our program this Thursday, we will blendspiritual direction and mindfulness. We will work with a modified form of aguided meditation Ann Kline offered at her workshop. There are four parts:

  • Bring into your mind consciousness a person you are closeto. It could be a someone dear to you who is having difficulties. It couldbe yourself. (Ann’s phrasing was “Hold a person you are close to in thelight.”
  • Ask how Avalokitesvara would hold this person. Fromthe deepest places of wisdom and love, what attitudes of mind arise? Whatintentions? What energy would Avalokitesvara be sending? (Ann’s phrase was:”Ask god what is your prayer for this person?”)
  • Then ask yourself: How can I align my actions withAvalokitesvara’s spirit? What can I do or say that would embodyAvalokitesvara’s caring and openheartedness. (Ann’s phrasing was: “Howwould you have me be part of that prayer? Anything for me to do or say?”)
  • And finally: Is there any thing I need to let go of inorder to act in this way with this person? What is holding me back? Whatkeeps me from acting from a place of deep love and acceptance? (Ann’s phrasing”Anything I need to let go of in order to enter your prayer for thisperson.”)

When we have completed this guided meditation, we will shareour experiences in small groups and together in the large group.

You are invited to join us for our meditation and programthis Thursday evening. The best times to join us are just before 7 pm; at 7:25,at the beginning of walking meditation; and, at 7:35, at the beginning of thesecond sitting. (To allow others to maintain concentration and continuity, weask that Thursday evening participants not enter during the walking meditation.)

Below is a related except from Thich Nhat Hanh onCompassionate Listening.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner 
Senior Teacher


Compassionate Listening
– From a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, Aug 4, 1996, Plum Village, France.

In order to be able to listen with calm and compassion, weshould train ourselves in the art of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindfulsitting, so that every time we hear things that shock our ears, that areprovocative, that go against our common sense, we will not get irritated.Because the moment when we show our irritation at the anger, the other personwill stop talking. So we have to listen in such a way that encourages the otherperson to continue to talk, because it’s very healing for him or for her. Youare the best therapist if you know the art of compassionate listening. Youlisten because you have compassion, you want to relieve him or her of thesuffering and not because you want to listen in order to analyze, or judge, orcondemn, or correct.

Because compassionate listening is just to give the otherperson a chance to empty what is in their heart. And because he has had no oneto listen to him, that is why he has become more and more like a bomb, ready toexplode; she also. So you are afraid of him, of her, you don’t want to approach,because you are afraid of the explosion. And as you try to avoid him or her,they think that we despise them, we want to boycott them and the suffering willincrease. So the only alternative is to train ourselves in the art of deeplistening, compassionate listening, and go to him or to her to help. If youcannot do that, who in the world can do? Because you may be the closest personto him or to her. So the Fourth Step of Training is about deep listening andusing loving speech.

How to practice that? Sit quietly, and maintain your mindfulbreathing, and nourish your compassion. Remind yourself that you are listeningin order to relieve him or her of the suffering and not for anything else. Andthen when the other person says things that are wrong, incorrect, full ofinjustice, misunderstanding, you can continue to listen with serenity. That isthe act of Avalokiteshvara. Many of us are able to do that after some time ofpractice and that is very healing. And if at some point you feel that yourcapacity of listening has come to a limit, you cannot go on for another fiveminutes, so you have to bow and say “Darling, could we continue later on, Ineed to do something right now, I would love to continue to listen.” Don’ttry too hard, because you should know your limit. I also practice that. I learnof my limits. I know that I should not do more than I can.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Mar 24, 2005


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