You can’t save the world when you’re running on empty.
Aside from the toll it takes on your own body, mind and spirit, ignoring your need for self-care steals your capacity to be strongly, creatively, and lovingly present in the world.
This benefits no one.
The Four Thoughts that Change the Mind are meant to be just that: a specific study that really sinks into the deeper recesses of the mind why Dharma practise is the most important thing we can do with our lives. We are fortunate enough to be in the position to practise, and yet we don’t know how long this opportunity will last. Everything we do will have repercussions, and some of those repercussions are truly horrific.
I’m in the process of contemplating these things, and although I’ve spent many hours wrestling with this I am no expert. I recommend this excellent series on YouTube: Ken Holmes on the Four Thoughts
I’m holding back on a fundamental level. I don’t want to admit that my life will end. I don’t want to admit that I’ll probably end up in hell next time round. I don’t want to admit that there will be a next time round.
In one of the earlier videos, Ken mentions that really embodying these Four Thoughts is what differentiates a foolish person from a mature person. Therefore it is safe to say that I’m not maturing, that my deluded mind is insisting on staying deluded and not willing to take the plunge towards wisdom and maturity.
I guess the only thing to do is to accept that my mind is not ready. There’s a reason there are different levels of Buddhism for the different types of Buddhists. And if I’m only a Type 1, maybe I must focus rather on the advice given for Type 1: encouraging good ethics in my daily life. It’s so tempting to pretend to be a Type 3, especially since I’ve taken the Aspirant Bodhisattva vows, but the mind is where it is and there’s no sense in lying to myself about where I am.
I just want to be happy. Meditation helps me know where my mind is, and has helped me to let go of unpleasant events as they occur. But to ensure that I will have a happy life next time round, I need to create the conditions for that.
And maybe one day I will be able to turn away from Samsara fully and plunge into the Dharma wholeheartedly.
Type 1: Buddhism for people who just want to enjoy the world’s pleasures. These teachings focus on Ethics and Generosity.
Type 2: Buddhism for people who are tired of the world. This path leads towards long retreats and monasticism
Type 3: The Bodhisattva path of working tirelessly for the benefit of each and every sentient being.
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