Dear Still Water Friends,
In the Mahayana tradition of mindfulness practice there is a special term for the turning of our hearts toward compassion and enlightenment: Bodhichitta utpada.
Thich Nhat Hanh translates Bodhichitta as the Mind of Love. More precisely, Chitta is the mind consciousness that is the medium for emotions, cognitive functions, and attitudes. Bodhi means awake, enlightened, fully open. Pema Chodron describes the experience:
Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. (From The Places That Scare You)
Utpada means arising. Bodhichitta utpada is the subtle transformation that occurs in our deep consciousness when for a few moments, maybe a few hours, we feel blissfully at peace with ourselves, with those around us, and with the whole world. Many of us have had moments like this on retreats. It is not simply holding new ideas or new perspectives, it is a different consciousness.
In the Mahayana tradition the awakening of Bodhichitta is the most precious state imaginable. A bodhisattva, an enlightened being, is someone who is able to sustain Bodhichitta throughout his or her daily life, day after day. If we are practitioners, we are bodhisattvas-in-training.
How do we develop our Bodhichitta? The tradition tells us that the most direct route is through fully experiencing suffering, our suffering and the suffering of others. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
It’s like growing lotus flowers. You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them in mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. That’s why my definition of the kingdom of God is not a place where suffering is not, where there is no suffering .. I would not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I would not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. (From Brother Thay, A Radio Pilgrimage, June 4, 2009.)
However, as we all know, suffering doesn’t always lead us to growth and enlightenment. This Thursday after our meditation we will talk about suffering and enlightenment. When have we opened to suffering and felt stronger, more at peace? When have we pulled back from it, avoided it, and felt weak and agitated? What makes the difference?
You are invited to be with us.
Also, this Thursday is the first Thursday of the month. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will be offering a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community, followed by a guided meditation during the 7:00 pm sitting. If you would like to attend, it is helpful to let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
A related Thich Nhat Hanh excerpt is below.
Suffering Nourishes Compassion
By Thich Nhat Hanh, from Peace is Every Step
We have been practicing “engaged Buddhism” in Vietnam for the last thirty years. During the war, we could not just sit in the meditation hall. We had to practice mindfulness everywhere, especially where the worst suffering was going on.
Being in touch with the kind of suffering we encountered during the war can heal us of some of the suffering we experience when our lives are not very meaningful or useful. When you confront the kinds of difficulties we faced during the war, you see that you can be a source of compassion and a great help to many suffering people. In that intense suffering, you feel a kind of relief and joy within yourself, because you know that you are an instrument of compassion. Understanding such intense suffering and realizing compassion in the midst of it, you become a joyful person, even if your life is very hard.. . .
Meditation is a point of contact. Sometimes you do not have to go to the place of suffering. You just sit quietly on your cushion, and you can see everything. You can actualize everything, and you can be aware of what is going on in the world. Out of that kind of awareness, compassion and understanding arise naturally, and you can stay right in your own country and perform social action.