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April 09, 2009

Love & Compassion in Life & Spiritual Practice

I have been continuing to read the book, "Words Of My Perfect Teacher", by Patrul Rimpoche, which, again, is considered to be a seminal book on the basic principles of Tibetan Buddhism.

The section of the book that I am going to speak about now is the section entitled, "Arousing Bodhichitta", which concerns the topic of the importance of love and compassion in spiritual practice and life.

The main source of all our suffering in this life is our own mind. Our basic attitudes and beliefs about life is what shapes what we experience and how we interact with the world. It shapes how we see others and how we see our own selves.

When we believe that we are separate and different from others, we naturally set up an adversarial relationship with the world and with life. In this way of relating to the world, we are mostly either fighting with others, being judgmental of others or defending ourselves in one way or another.

These basic attitudes in which we are fighting with others and/or with ourselves is at the core of what prevents us from truly being happy or at peace with ourselves. As long as we hold these kinds of beliefs, we can never fully develop any kind of deep spiritual wisdom.

Thus, for the Tibetan Buddhists, as with other wisdom traditions, the importance of developing a loving and compassionate heart and mind is one of the foundational and essential parts of the entire practice.

Typically, the mind that is not fully conscious is a mind that is continually defining itself as an entity that is different and more special somehow than others. Most of us are forever trying to prove how we are somehow more unique or more deserving of attention than the person that is standing next to us.

Or, there are others of us who feel that we are not as deserving or inferior in some way from other people. This may look like on the surface as it is different from those who feel superior, but, in fact, it is nearly the same activity. In both cases, there is tendency to try to prove that we are more different from others, as opposed to, seeing that we are more the same as others in more ways that we can know.

What is known as arousing bodhichitta in Tibetan Buddhism is the practice of awakening the awareness of just how we are connected to all things and all beings. When we develop a deep sense of love and compassion for other beings, we can begin to have a greater experience of the essence of all life. The essence of life and reality is that there is no real division between ourselves and life and others. Any difference we think we see and experience is merely a projection from our own minds.

Real spiritual practice allows us the opportunity to begin to remove this deep seated illusion from our minds so that we can perceive and interact with reality and others as they truly are and not just as we imagine them to be.

Simply put, the practice of awakening love and compassion involves constantly looking for all those elements in life that connect us with others and not for those aspects which separate us.

The most common element that connects us all is that no living being wants to suffer and every living being wants to be happy.

We also want to protect and comfort those that we love. We all feel pain when those close to us are hurt in any way.

In the process of awakening love and compassion, it is important to meditate on these facts each and every time we come into contact with another living being. It is important to remember that in everything that anybody does is the desire to be happy and to avoid suffering.

Of course, most people that we come into contact today are not very happy. Most people have a lot of suffering in their lives and do not have the sense or the wisdom to escape the suffering that they have created for themselves. To be happy in this life is not an easy or a simple matter for most people. In fact, most people in this world, in trying to be happy only make themselves more miserable. Not only that, but they also make many others miserable as well.

When we don't actively develop love and compassion for other living beings, we end up spending a lot of our time fighting and resisting others. Thus, we produce an atmosphere that does not support spiritual evolution either for ourselves or for others.

Without a minimal understanding about the fundamental causes of suffering, there can be no real happiness, no real spiritual growth. And, as long as we basically see other living beings are more different than us than the same, we can never understand how suffering actually occurs.

We suffer when we identify ourselves with the more superficial aspects of reality.

We suffer when we get attached to our physicality. We suffer when we get attached to our possessions. We suffer when we get attached to our own personalities, our own opinions, our own likes and dislikes. We suffer when we get attached to what makes us different than others. We suffer when we put ourselves above or below or apart from others.

Now, this does not mean that we need to stop taking care of ourselves or that we need to stop actively managing our lives. It just means that it is ultimately important to see that our life is not any more intrinsically important than any other living beings life. It means that that a big part of spiritual practice and growth is the investment of our time and energy into working for the well-being and happiness of others, as well as, ourselves.

So, when you encounter another living being, no matter how small or how large, no matter how easy or difficult, see if you can develop some measure of love and compassion for them. See if you can identify with them in any way. See if you can try and imagine in what ways they must be suffering in their life. Once you begin to feel any kind of connection with them, see if there is any way in which you can alleviate their suffering and contribute to their ultimate happiness.

The more generous you can be with them, the more powerful the spiritual aspect of the experience can be. Try to give to them in a way that is genuine and honest. Do not just give to another in a way that is superficial or fake in any way. In those situations where you feel like the giving is forced or superficial, it is probably better not to give of yourself. However, wherever you can, give of yourself freely and fully.

For many people, this practice of developing love and compassion is extremely difficult or even seemingly impossible. Take whatever time you need to build up your capacity for this practice slowly and steadily. Over time, you will begin to see that the practice will become easier and easier and your capacity for building genuine and powerful love and compassion for others is immense.

You will see why this very basic and powerful practice is considered the cornerstone of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. You will see why the cultivation of the highest kinds of spiritual growth is dependent on your own heart's capacity for the love and compassion of all living beings. Even with the smallest kinds of progress in the area of the development of love and compassion, you will find that your capacity to realize some powerful kinds of spiritual understanding and wisdom will expand tremendously.

I whole-heartedly invite you to try and see for yourself.

Hari OM!

Govinda

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Reading from "Words From My Perfect Teacher", Part 10
Love & Compassion in Life & Spiritual Practice
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