Best wishes for 2018.
This blog is by nature of its topic – in the wake of revelations of abuse in Rigpa – tied to what happens in Rigpa and how those affected are processing the revelations, so I don’t know where the journey will lead us. However, the moderators remain committed to a balanced and reformist approach to the issues raised by the letter written by the 8 students of Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017.
I thought to start the new year on a contemplative note that might be of benefit to us all no matter what our opinion on the issue of abuse in Rigpa. Hopefully it will help us to see each other with eyes of compassion.
Concern for others helps to break down the barriers that separate us and soften our obsession with ourselves, thus opening our heart and mind so that we are more able to see things as they truly are.
Compassion in Buddhism
In the Buddhist Mahayana teachings, which include Vajrayana and therefore Tibetan Buddhism, genuine compassion of the highest level is not separate from wisdom. Wisdom here doesn’t mean knowledge; it means a realisation of the nature of reality itself, an understanding of the way things are, the way appearances are empty of inherent existence, and yet nevertheless do appear. This realisation of the nature of reality is absolute great compassion (or absolute bodhicitta) because in that state of awareness, compassion arises naturally. Compassion dwells at the heart of wisdom. It is simply part of the realisation, inseparable from it.
On the other hand, the practices of relative compassion help to open us so we are more able to realise the nature of reality. The very essence of great compassion is wisdom. In this way, the two aspects of relative compassion and absolute compassion or wisdom go hand and hand on the spiritual path. Someone with true realisation cannot act in a way that is not compassionate, and great compassion is an indication of one’s level of realisation.
This great compassion or bodhicitta may seem like a very lofty ideal, but we can all bring whatever glimpses of wisdom we’ve had into our relationships with others, and we can all practice relative compassion. The teachings abound in instructions for ways in which we can do that.
What is particularly relevant to us here, though, in light of the topic of abuse by a Buddhist teacher and its effect on the Rigpa sangha, is to notice how easy it is to evaluate others’ level of compassion and forget to check ourselves. Certainly when one is publically calling out an organisation for its apparent lack of compassion, it can appear that one has forgotten to turn one’s mind in and evaluate one’s own heart and mind. That those speaking out here have forgotten to do so is an assumption, of course, since we can’t know what anyone else has in their mind or heart. Since I’m pretty sure that no one would be interested in hearing my evaluation of my own failings, it is not the topic of blog posts; that doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t regularly check myself with uncompromising honesty. It also does not mean that I have no compassion for those I appear to malign. My aim is to be of benefit, and yet, I am fully aware of how that was also Sogyal Rinpoche’s aim, and look how that turned out!
Delusion is an insidious beast, and that’s why wisdom is so vital. Wisdom is what gives us the insight to see more widely than the view that comes from our own emotional pain, it allows us to respond rather than react. Wisdom allows us to see the myriad of interdependent causes and conditions that contribute to any single situation, and that view allows us to go beyond ideas of blame. We see that we are all victims of our circumstances, victims of our habits, our karma, our beliefs, and our emotions. We are all in the same boat, all rocking on the ocean of samsara. Once we see that, compassion for all flows naturally.
Such a view doesn’t excuse any of us from any negative actions we engaged in, of course—we still need to take responsibility for our actions—but it does ease our emotional turmoil and help us to act in a wise and compassionate way. And why should we aim to act in a wise and compassionate way? Not because Buddhism says that’s what we should do, but simply because it makes the most effective action.
When we do need to check others
Judging is not the same as discerning. Judgement includes a value judgement of something being better or worse than something else. Discernment, however, simply discerns what is what and how this is different to that. We don’t need judgement because it keeps our hearts and minds small and tends to lead to harm, but we do need discernment. We need to discern whether it is safe to cross the road, whether that food is healthy for us, whether that person is someone we should risk accompanying on a date and so on. And we need to discern whether or not a spiritual teacher is someone we can trust, whether his words constitute the truth and when a spiritual community is a healthy one.
The single most important quality that a spiritual teacher should have is compassion, and the same goes for the community of practitioners around the teacher. It is vital not only for our spiritual path but also for our mental health that we discern whether or not a likely candidate for spiritual teacher and community have this quality or not.
But as we check the following aspects of what compassion looks like, let’s not forget to check ourselves as well.
What does compassion look like?
Absolute compassion is practiced and realised through meditation, in particular meditation on the true nature of reality. Relative compassion is practiced in two ways: in aspiration and in action. Someone practicing compassion aspires to treat all beings with love and compassion. They aspire to see everyone as a friend, and not see some as enemies and others as friends, not see some as worthy of their love and compassion and others as not. They aspire to bring happiness and the causes of happiness to all beings, to help them all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, and to rejoice in any happiness that anyone has. Aspiration is not easy to see in others, but it’s easy to check in ourselves. The first thing to ask ourselves is do we see everyone as equally worthy of our love and compassion? If our love and compassion are limited only to some, it’s better than having no compassion at all, but it’s expanding our love and compassion to all beings equally that will bring us closer to wisdom. It’s not easy to do in practice, of course, but we can at least aspire to treat everyone with the same love and compassion.
Aspiration is only a start, though. It’s easy to sit back on your cushion after a session of meditation on love and compassion and think that’s enough, to think that you don’t need to do anything other than feel compassionate, but the way to grow compassion and the way to see it in others is in action, in putting ourselves on the line for others – like the 8 authors of the July letter did – in actually putting yourself out for others. Compassion in action in Buddhism consists of generosity, patience, ethical discipline, joyful diligence, meditative concentration and insight or discriminating awareness wisdom. Once again, we see the importance of wisdom, of actually using our discriminating awareness in our action so that we make the best choices in terms of action.
These 6 perfections as they are known can be broken down into subsections and examined at length. They can also be simplified into one word – kindness. A kindness that genuinely cares for the well-being of others.
Remember the boat
Everyone, unless they are a fully realised Buddha, fail to live up to these ideals all the time, which is why humility is also considered an important quality for spiritual teachers and practitioners alike. If one has true humility, admitting one’s failings is not an issue, and seeing the failings in others is a reason for compassion not hatred, because you recognise your shared humanity; you recognise that you are in the same boat on the same ocean, subjected to the same swells, troughs and storms. When someone falls overboard in danger of drowning in the ocean of samsara, compassion isn’t just praying they’ll be safe, it’s reaching out over the waves, putting yourself in danger to try to pull them back on board.
At least that’s my understanding. I might be wrong, of course. What do you think?
Post by Tahlia.
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