Bodhicitta and compassion
The practice involves both turning inward and openness to others. A genuine change must first come from within the individual, then he or she can attempt to make significant contributions to humanity.
If we want to be happy, then the important thing is to try to promote the positive and useful aspects in each of us and to try to reduce the negative.
Kindness and a good heart form the underlying foundation for our success in this life, our progress on the spiritual path, and our fulfillment of our ultimate aspiration: the attainment of full enlightenment. Hence, compassion and a good heart are not only important at the beginning but also in the middle and at the end. Their necessity and value are not limited to any specific time, place, society or culture.
Our positive attitudes, thoughts, and outlook can be enhanced, and their negative counterparts can be reduced. Even a single moment of consciousness depends on so many factors, and when we change these various factors, the mind also changes.
This is a simple truth about the nature of mind.
If we remember that not just we but everyone has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and our capacity to overcome troubles. By remembering the suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind, another opportunity for deepening our compassion! With each new experience, we can strive gradually to become more compassionate; that is, we can develop both genuine sympathy for others’ suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.
We all share an identical need for love, and on the basis of this commonality, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister.
On the Bodhisattva path, compassion is understood not merely as sympathy for the sufferings of beings, or even as the resolve to do something about it in practical terms (however admirable such work may be).
In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion involves, through the application of wisdom, the transcending of the notion of ego itself and the understanding that, in the final analysis, the existential barrier dividing self from other is totally unreal, a mere mental construction. Once this barrier has been crossed, and Bodhisattvas realize the unreality of the distinction between self and other, the sufferings of others “become as real to them as their own. Indeed, the sufferings of others are the Bodhisattvas’ own sufferings; and the urge to relieve them, both immediately and ultimately, becomes their primary impulse.
It is sufficient to emphasize here that the Buddhist teachings on compassion are grounded in the wisdom of emptiness.
Two types of meditation can be practiced
Meditation on the equality of self and other (meditation that consists in projecting oneself, through a feat of sympathetic imagination, into the position of an opponent. Also diminishing the ego’s strength and also of attenuating the illusory barrier between self and other).
Meditation on the exchange of self and other.
Through these techniques, meditators must target their own egos, generating the appropriate “negative” emotion of jealousy, competitive rivalry or pride, and getting a firsthand impression of what it is like to be at the receiving end of their own behavior.
The real experience of equality and exchange to occur, a true understanding of the wisdom of emptiness is indispensable.
There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.
To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and then ask him suddenly: 'What now?'"
The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.
"An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter," replied the monk somewhat poetically. "Nowhere is there any warmth."
The girl returned and related what he had said.
"To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. "He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion."
She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down