HEAVEN AND HELL
There’s another story that you may have read that has to do with what we call heaven and hell, life and death, good and bad. It’s a story about how those things don’t really exist except as a creation of our own minds. It goes like this: A big burly samurai comes to the wise man and says, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.” And the roshi looks him in the face and says: “Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?” The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi won’t stop, he keeps saying, “A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?” Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he’s just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, “That’s hell.” The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell; he was deep in hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, “That’s heaven.”
To me, the Tibetan Buddhists have been the most thorough and insightful masters and practitioners of compassion. Everything I have come to discover about it resulted from various Tibetan Buddhist teachers, namely Pema Chodron.
If your compassion is soft and weak, simply coming from “fuzzy” feelings, then you could wind up getting walked all over. This is humorously known in Tibetan Buddhism as “idiot compassion.” It is called that because such a form of compassion not only harms you but also poses no help to others.
Letting people do whatever they want is not compassionate because the ramifications of those actions can be harmful to themselves and the people of this world. But giving people what they need is the essence of compassion and the catalyst toward enlightenment.
In this modern society, there are two general ways in which life impacts us. We either let life to harden our hearts or we allow life to soften them.
When your heart is hardened, you don’t need real bravery nor is real bravery possible. A hardened heart lives in its own little cocoon and plays its own little games. It needs silly inventions like self-esteem to keep it happy.
A softened heart is a legendary challenge. You feel for others. You feel for a little snail making its way across a leaf. You feel for a struggling stranger or a disturbed friend. You feel for the universe’s unknowable movements and motives.
At first, coming out of the cocoon of a hardened heart can be very painful. It’s like unwrapping a wound that has festered for several years. The slightest breeze may cause searing pain.
That is when real bravery is possible. It isn’t about doing. It’s about feeling and being willing to feel. Because this isn’t so easy, we are given many practices in order to encourage it. Tonglen is one such practice. Many others can be found in the book The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron.
In a practice such as tonglen, you willingly expose yourself to the suffering and pain of others. In fact, you inhale that suffering into your being. Then you exhale love, spaciousness, acceptance, and clarity. That is compassion.
With practice, you discover how much suffering you can let in and yet how much compassion you have available to give. You stop fearing all the feelings that confuse you: insecurity, embarrassment, stuckness, sorrow, anger, awkwardness, whatever.
There are no boundaries when it comes to the practice of compassion. But the practice must be going on inside you just as much as outside through outward action.
A good mother will be compassionate to her children and yet she will not simply allow them to walk all over her. Why? Because in the long run that will not be of benefit to anyone, especially the children. They must grow and mature if they will survive to live a sane and happy life.
Compassion therefore does not mean you must say yes to everyone or do nice things for them or feel nice feelings toward them. Instead, it requires you to feel for them, to appreciate their hang-ups and pains, and to genuinely wish for them to be free of those things.
Compassion knows that without the confusion resulting from pain, this world would be a cosmic playground. Pain may be unavoidable at times but that does not mean that peace and love are no longer possible. That is where the work of compassion arises.
I hope this helped but definitely check out that book and take up daily meditation as well as tonglen.
Namaste :) Much love