Nalandabodhi Connecticut was the second stop on Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s 2013 North East tour of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. In Connecticut, Rinpoche taught on the Four Immeasurables: love or loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.
Compassion is the second of the Four Immeasurables. In this sense, compassion means noble heart connected to a certain concept of sadness, connected with the pain of self and others, with the real world, and real feeling. Because of pain we are inspired for freedom. It thus is a heart of making a difference and bringing change, like a grass-roots movement, not on the outside but inside. It is a beautiful experience. Rinpoche advised us not to mystify our concept of compassion into something very religious or glorious because it is connected to a grounded, human experience of life.
Therefore in the beginning, the practice of compassion is understanding our own pain, and wanting to be free from it. The real experience is feeling our sore heart, its sore spot. We then desire to be free from this pain. Once we experience that in ourselves, we can have a sympathetic attitude towards others’ pain, and develop a genuine heart and desire to help others understand that freedom from pain is possible. If we do not connect with our own suffering, our own pain, and wish to be free from pain, we cannot have compassion towards others.
Rinpoche explained that compassion here has a sense of openness or spaciousness, opening up to all situations that we encounter—good and bad. This means not just easy, mysterious, “spiritual” situations but also painful ones. It involves dropping our compulsive self-centered actions based on attitudes such as “how is this going to affect me?” That is a good question but asking this question again and again will not help compassion grow. We need to drop our compulsive actions in terms of judgmental mind. Then we need to sit back and relax, be open, relaxed and spacious, and then leap in. From the Mahayana point of view, our basic state of being contains the capability of limitless compassion. It is there. The basic state of our being is compassion. It does not come from outside. There is nothing to be adopted or acquired. All Mahayana teachings are aimed at helping us discover this noble heart of compassion.
Rinpoche went on to say that the terms “Buddha nature,” “enlightenment,” and “awakening” sound beautiful but at the end, it is compassion that brings our awakening. The heart of compassion and loving-kindness will do the job. In his usual humorous style, Rinpoche gave an example drawn from Western culture to explain this traditional teaching. He explained that it is like our large, seemingly limitless closets. We have many clothes but we end up wearing the same pair of jeans. Just like we have many practices, flashy deity yoga and so on, but what is really doing the job is loving-kindness and compassion. Thus compassion and loving-kindness are like our most beautiful soft jeans and t-shirts. They are very ordinary, but beautiful and functional. Thus it is love and compassion that achieve our goal at the end. Just as jeans are the basic fabric of our culture, compassion is the basic fabric of our minds. When you really need it, it is there. It saves the day. So the next time when you wear jeans, think about compassion.
Contributed by Susan Busby
Photo by Alisen Downey