How to Awaken Love and Compassion
From The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
By Sogyal Rinpoche
Before you can truly practice Tonglen, you have to be able to evoke compassion in yourself. That is harder than we often imagine, because the sources of our love and compassion are sometimes hidden from us, and we may have no ready access to them. Fortunately there are several special techniques that the Buddhist "training of the mind" in compassion has developed to help us evoke our own hidden love. Out of the enormous range of methods available, I have selected the following ones, and have ordered then in a particular way so as to be of the greatest possible use to people in the modern world.
1.Loving Kindness: Unsealing the Spring
When we believe that we don't have enough love in us, there is a method for discovering and invoking it. Go back in your mind and recreate, almost visualize, a love that someone gave you that really moved you, perhaps in your childhood. Traditionally you are taught to think of your mother and her lifelong devotion to you, but if you find that problematic, you could think of your grandmother or grandfather, or anyone who had been deeply kind to you in your life. Remember a particular instance when they really showed you love, and you felt their love vividly.
Now let that feeling arise in your heart, and infuse you with gratitude. As you do so, your love will go out naturally to that person who evoked it. You will remember then that even though you may not always feel that you have been loved enough, you were loved genuinely once. Knowing that now will make you feel again that you are, as that person made you feel then, worthy of love and really lovable.
Let your heart open now, and let love flow from it; then extend this love to all beings. Begin with love who are closest to you, then extend your love to friends and to acquaintances, then to neighbours, to strangers, then even to those whom you don't like or have difficulties with, even those whom you might consider as your "enemies," and finally to the whole universe. Let this love become more and more boundless. Equanimity is one of the four essential facets, with loving kindness, compassion, and joy, of what the teachings say form the entire aspiration of compassion. The inclusive, unbiased view of equanimity is really the starting point and the basis of the path of compassion.
You will find that this practice unseals a spring of love, and by that unsealing in you of your own loving kindness, you will find that it will inspire the birth of compassion. For as Maitreya said in one of the teachings he gave Asanga: "The water of compassion courses through the canal of loving kindness."
2. Compassion: Considering Yourself the Same as Others
One powerful way to evoke compassion, as I have described in the previous chapter, is to think of others as exactly the same as you. "After all," the Dalai Lama explains, "all human beings are the same made of human flesh, bones, and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings."
Say, for example, you are having difficulties with a loved one, such as your mother or father, husband or wife, lover or friend. How helpful and revealing it can be to consider the other person not in his or her "role" of mother or father or husband, but simply as another "you," another human being, with the same feelings as you, the same desire for happiness, the same fear of suffering. Thinking of the person as a real person, exactly the same as you, will open your heart to him or her and give you more insight into how to help.
If you consider others just the same as yourself, it will help you to open up your relationships and give them a new and richer meaning. Imagine if societies and nations began to view each other in the same way; at last we would have the beginnings of a solid basis for peace on earth and the happy coexistence of all peoples.
3. Compassion: Exchanging Yourself for Others
When someone is suffering and you find yourself at a loss to know to help, put yourself unflinchingly in his or her place. Imagine as vividly as possible what you would be going through if you were suffering the same pain. Ask yourself: "how would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?"
When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. So exchanging yourself for others is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.
4. Using a Friend to Generate Compassion
Another moving technique for arousing compassion for a person who is suffering is to imagine one of your dearest friends, or someone you really love, in that person's place. Imagine your brother or daughter or parent or best friend in the same kind of painful situation. Quite naturally your heart will open, and compassion will awaken in you: What more would you want than to free them from their torment? Now take this compassion released in your heart and transfer it to the person who needs your help: You will find that your help is inspired more naturally, and that you can direct it more easily.
People sometimes ask me: "If I do this, will the friend or relative whom I am imagining in pain come to some harm?" On the contrary, thinking about them with such love and compassion can only be of help to them, and will even bring about the healing of whatever suffering and pain they may have gone though in the past, may be going through now, or have yet to go through.
For the fact that they are the instrument of your arousing compassion, even if it is only for an instant, will bring them tremendous merit and benefit. Because they have been responsible, in part, for the opening of your heart, and for allowing you to help the sick or dying person with your compassion, then the merit from that action will naturally return to them.
You can mentally dedicate the merit of that action to your friend or relative who helped you to open your heart. And you can wish the person well, and pray that in the future he or she will be free of suffering. You will be grateful towards your friend, and your friend might feel inspired and grateful too, if you tell the person that he or she helped you to evoke your compassion.
So to ask, "Will my friend or relative I am imagining in place of the sick or dying person come to some harm?" shows that we have not really understood how powerful and miraculous the working of compassion is. It blesses and heals all those involved: the person who generates compassion, the person through whom that compassion is generated, and the person to whom that compassion is directed. As Portia says in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice:
The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: It is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes . . .
Compassion is the wish-fulfilling gem whose light of healing spreads in all directions. There is a very beautiful story that I love that illustrates this. Buddha once recounted one of his previous lives, before he became enlightened. A great emperor had three sons, and the Buddha had been the youngest, who was called Mahasattva. Mahasattva was by nature a loving and compassionate little boy, and thought of all living things as his children.
One day the emperor and his court went to picnic in a forest, and the princess went off to play in the woods. After a while they came across a tigress who had given birth, and was so exhausted with hunger that she was on the point of eating her little cubs. Mahasattva asked his brothers: "What would the tigress need to eat now to revive her?" "Only fresh meat or blood," they replied. "Who could give his own flesh and blood to see that she is fed and save the lives of her and her cubs?" he asked.
"Who, indeed?" they replied.
Mahasattva was deeply moved by the plight of the tigress and her cubs, and started to think: "For so long I have been wandering uselessly through samsara, life after life, and because of my desire, anger, and ignorance, have done little to help other beings. Here at last is a great opportunity."
The princes were walking back to join their family, when Mahasattva said: "You two go on ahead. I will catch you up later." Quietly he crept back to the tigress, went right up to her, and lay down on the ground in front of her, to offer himself to her as food. The tigress looked at him, but was so weak that she could not even open her mouth. So the prince found a sharp stick and cut a deep gash in his body; the blood flowed out, the tigress licked it, and grew strong enough to open her jaws and eat him.
Mahasattva had given his body to the tigress in order to save her cubs, and through the great merit of his compassion, he was reborn in a higher realm, and progressed towards his enlightenment and his rebirth as the Buddha. But it was not only himself he had helped through his action: The power of his compassion had also purified the tigress and her cubs of their karma, and even of any karmic debt they might have owed to him for saving their lives in the way he did. Because it was so strong, in fact, his compassionate act created a karmic link between them that was to continue far into the future. The tigress and her cubs, who received the flesh of Mahasattva's body, were reborn, it is said, as the Buddha's first five disciples, the very first to receive his teaching after his enlightenment. What a vision this story gives us of how vast and mysterious the power of compassion truly is!
5. How to Meditate on Compassion
yet, as I have said, evoking this power of compassion in us is not always easy. I find myself that the simplest ways are the best and the most direct. Every day, life gives us innumerable chances to open our hearts, if we can only take them. An old woman passes you with a sad and lonely face, swollen veins on her legs, and two heavy plastic bags full of shopping she can hardly carry; a shabbily-dressed old man shuffles in front of you in line at the post office; a boy on crutches looks harried and anxious as he tries to cross the street in the afternoon traffic; a dog lies bleeding to death on the road, a young girl sits alone, sobbing hysterically in the subway. Switch on a television, and there on the news perhaps is a mother in Beirut kneeling above the body of her murdered son; or an old grandmother in Moscow pointing to the soup that is her food for today, not knowing if she'll even have that tomorrow; or one of the AIDS children in Romania staring out at you with eyes drained of any living expression.
Anyone of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don't waste the love and grief it arouses; in the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don't brush it aside, don't shrug it off and try quickly to return to "normal'" don't be afraid of your feeling or embarrassed by it, or allow yourself to be distracted from it or let it run aground in apathy. Be vulnerable: use that quick, bright uprush of compassion; focus on it, go deep into your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance, and deepen it. By doing this you will realize how blind you have been suffering, how the pain that you are experiencing or seeing now is only a tiny fraction of the pain of the world.
All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous and immeasurable compassion, and direct the compassion, along with the blessing of all the Buddha's, to the alleviation of suffering everywhere.
Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, and a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of "I'm glad it's not me." As Stephan Levine says: "When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion." To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honour all those who suffer, and to know you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.
So your first response on seeing someone suffer becomes not mere pity, but deep compassion. You feel for that person respect and even gratitude, because you now know that whoever prompts you to develop compassion by their suffering is in fact giving you one of the greatest gifts of all, because they are helping you to develop that very quality you need most in your progress towards enlightenment.
Keywords: How to Awaken Love and Compassion, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Meditation, Sogyal Rinpoche, Intuition, Intuitive, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town