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Cultivating the Compassionate Heart

25 Apr 2016 10:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

We come to the Dharma through many doors. Some of us come seeking stress reduction or emotional healing, while others may be looking for greater clarity, connection, wisdom, and/or deeper insights into the purpose of our life.


We sit down on the cushion and find that even in silence our brilliant minds can fill the space with planning, rumination, anxiety and more. However, with diligent and consistent practice, we soon begin to notice some settling of the mind, a little space between the in breath and the out breath, a small gap between thoughts.


As the dust settles and the mind becomes more clear, our natural wisdom and clarity begin to emerge. We come to understand that by practicing mindfulness we can learn to stop, look deeply, and respond wisely to life, rather than automatically reacting in our conditioned ways. We develop equanimity so that the many ups and downs that occur with the unfolding of life are accepted with more ease, enabling us to eliminate so much self-created suffering. Yet, the small voice of "self" still remains in the background (or foreground!), continuing to create suffering by making it all about "me." 


The Buddha taught that just as a bird needs two wings to fly, the cultivation of an enlightened mind requires two wings: wisdom and compassion. If we neglect to nurture the compassionate heart, we may continue to be enmeshed in self, and our spiritual progress will be limited. 


Under Fred's guidance at FCM's spring retreat this past weekend -"I am Here for You: Living an Altruistic Life," retreatants had the opportunity to cultivate the wing of compassion through experiencing the essential Buddhist teachings and practices of altruism. During the retreat we practiced seeing all beings as interconnected and equal in wanting happiness and not wanting to suffer. We "stepped into others' shoes" to cultivate empathy, which - when combined with an aspiration to help all beings - supports boundless loving kindness and compassion. We generated loving kindness in our hearts for those we love, those we are indifferent to, those we have difficulty with, as well as for ourselves. And we performed the ancient "alchemical" practice of tonglen, taking in the suffering of another and breathing out whatever healing might be needed, realizing that this exchange does not increase our suffering but actually breaks up the self-cherishing in our hearts, creating joy and openness instead.


These wonderful practices can be found in many Buddhist writings. Students in the current Lojong Intensive will recognize the concepts of "Absolute Bodhicitta" and "Relative Bodhicitta," with clear instructions for cultivating, respectively, wisdom and compassion, both essential on the path of enlightenment. Texts by Shantideva and commentaries and instruction by the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Sharon Salzberg and many others are readily available to help support our understanding and cultivation of the compassionate heart.


Through these practices of altruism, in being there for others instead of being there for the self-cherishing self, we discover the second "wing" needed for true transformation, and a pathway to true happiness and ease.


Submitted with metta,

Angie Parrish


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