Practicing Compassion

Practicing Compassion

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisatva of Compassion, is able to listen to the cries of the world with an open heart.

For the rest of us, it is usually not so easy. Most of us have a hard time being around suffering, whether it is our own suffering, the suffering of the people around us, or the suffering of the world. I know that I’ve related to suffering by distancing from it (it’s not my problem), by numbing to it (I didn’t see anything I could do about it), by being outraged (because of the seeming unfairness or injustice of it), or by becoming anxious around it (it’s too close to one of my own deep fears).

This Thursday evening we will practice together an early Mahayana guided meditation that helps us to hold suffering with equanimity and to offer love. Some people know it by its Tibetan name, Tonglen. It is a practice of of opening ourselves to the raw suffering of others, taking it into our hearts, transforming it there, and returning it to the world as healing, love, kindness, and beauty. It is a bodhisattva practice: with Tonglen we can liberate ourselves from our greed and self-centeredness and allow the energy of loving action to naturally and joyfully flow from us.

For most of us, Tonglen is the exact opposite of our everyday response. Pema Chodron explains:

People often say that this practice goes against the grain of how we usually hold ourselves together. Truthfully, this practice does go against the grain of wanting things on our own terms, of wanting it to work out for ourselves no matter what happens to the others. The practice dissolves the armor of self-protection we’ve tried so hard to create around ourselves. In Buddhist language one would say that it dissolves the fixation and clinging of ego.

Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. (From When Things Fall Apart)

You are invited to be with us.

Related excerpts from Thich Nhat Hanh and Lorne Ladner are below.

Peace and joy to you,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

The Rising Tide
Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Miracle of Mindfulness

When your mind is liberated your heart floods with compassion: compassion for yourself, for having undergone countless sufferings because you were not yet able to relieve yourself of false views, hatred, ignorance, and anger; and compassion for others because they do not yet see and so are still imprisoned by false views, hatred, and ignorance and continue to create suffering for themselves and for others. Now you look at yourself and at others with the eyes of compassion, like a saint who hears the cry of every creature in the universe and whose voice is the voice of every person who has seen reality in perfect wholeness. As a Buddhist Sutra hears the voice of the Bodhisattva of compassion:

The wondrous voice, the voice of the one who attends to the cries of the world
The noble voice, the voice of the rising tide surpassing all the sounds of the world
Let our mind be attuned to that voice.

Put aside all doubt and meditate on the pure and holy nature of the regarder of the cries of the world
Because that is our reliance in situations of pain, distress, calamity, death.

Perfect in all merits, beholding all sentient beings with compassionate eyes, making the ocean of blessings limitless,
Before this one, we should incline.

Practice looking at all beings with the eyes of compassion: this is the meditation called “the meditation on compassion.”

The meditation on compassion must be realized during the hours you sit and during every moment you carry out service for others. No matter where you go or where you sit, remember the sacred call: “Look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.”

Genuine compassion for others never harms
Lorne Ladner, from The Lost Art of Compassion

For some people, the tendency toward guilt underlies a lack of self-care. We may assume that being compassionate means that if someone else in the world is hungry then we cannot enjoy eating, if someone else is poor we cannot enjoy wealth, if someone else is sad we cannot be happy. We may feel that we cannot relax because there is so much to be done. We may feel that if others are stressed out and miserable then we cannot in good conscience be happy and take care of ourselves. This is simply incorrect. It’s an approach based on guilt rather than love. Our being unhappy doesn’t benefit anyone. Buddhist teachings note that our practice of patience is perfected not when all difficult people are eliminated from the world but when all anger is eliminated from our minds. Our practice of generosity is perfected not when all poverty is eliminated from the world but when all grasping at “I” and mine” is eliminated from our hearts. The ideal of compassion is not feeling bad for what we cannot do; it is joyfully and energetically doing all that we can for others in any given moment. Genuine compassion for others never harms and only benefits us.


Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 30, 2009


This week
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Sun, April 14 Mon, April 15

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Friends in Different Places

Tue, April 16

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Tuesday Evening Gaithersburg Group

Wed, April 17

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Spanish-Speaking Online Practice

Still Water Kent Island

Thu, April 18

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Fri, April 19

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Sat, April 20