The Buddha’s Smile

The Buddha’s Smile

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 22, 2007 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, after our meditation period, we will practice together the Five Touchings of the Earth, a guided movement meditation that helps us connect with our ancestors, our spiritual lineage, our country, those who we love, and those who have made us suffer.

Our discussion will focus on the fourth and fifth touchings, especially on developing our compassion. In Teachings on Love Thich Nhat Hanh explains that the Buddhist notion of compassion, in Sanskrit karuna, is similar to but not exactly the same as the English language notion of compassion. In the tradition of mindfulness, it is possible to relieve the suffering of another without joining in or being overwhelmed by that suffering. It is possible to be one with the suffering of others, and yet still feel light and joyful. It is possible, but not necessarily easy. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

[Karuna is] the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as ‘compassion’, but that is not exactly correct. ‘Compassion’ is composed of com (‘together with’) and passion (‘to suffer’). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. . . .

To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practice mindful breathing, deep listening, and deep looking. The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshvara as the bodhisattva who practices ‘looking with the eyes of compassion and listening deeply to the cries of the world.’ Compassion contains deep concern. You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep communication, deep communion with her, and that alone brings some relief. . . .

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calm, and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

You are invited to join us this Thursday. The full text of the Five Touchings is available at www.StillWaterMPC.org under “Articles and Resources” and then under “Still Water Ceremonies.”

Below is a related excerpt by Thich Nhat Hanh on the transformation of suffering.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


The Transformation of Suffering
from 19 Sept 2003 interview with Thich Nhat Hanh
(Available at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week703/interview.html .)

Buddhism teaches us not to try to run away from suffering. You have to confront suffering. You have to look deeply into the nature of suffering in order to recognize its cause, the making of the suffering. Suffering is the First Noble Truth, and the making of the suffering — namely, the roots of suffering — is the Second Noble Truth. Once you understand the roots of suffering, the Fourth Noble Truth — the path leading to the transformation of suffering — is revealed. And if you go on that path — namely, the path of right thinking, right speech, and right action — then you can transform your suffering.

If you practice in a community, you help the community to transform suffering. And if you practice as a nation, you help the whole nation to transform suffering.

The Buddha spoke about suffering in terms of food. Nothing can survive without food, even your love. If you don’t feed your love properly, your love will die. Your suffering is there because you have been feeding it. If violence, hate, despair, and fear are there, it is because you have been feeding them by your unmindful consumption. Therefore, if you know how to recognize the source of the nutrients of your suffering, and if you know how to cut off that source of nutrition, then the suffering will have to vanish.

This is a very important teaching for our time, because the amount of violence and craving in us and in our children comes from our practice of unmindful consumption — watching television, reading magazines, having poisonous conversation. We bring a lot of poisons and toxins into our body and into our consciousness. If you don’t stop producing these toxic items, and if we don’t know how to protect ourselves by mindful consumption of these items, there’s no way out.

Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 22, 2007


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