On Compassion

On Compassion

A reflection on practice by Marcia Rose

My continuing passion is to part a curtain — that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”  — Eudora Welty,  American author and photographer

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  — Dalai Lama

There is an image in Tibetan Buddhism that represents the awakened energy of unconditional, boundless compassion. It is an image of a Bodhisattva often depicted as having 1,000 arms outstretched and 1,000 eyes — an eye painted in the palm of each outstretched hand, 1,000 eyes to see all the suffering in the world, and 1,000 arms reaching out to help.

Compassion is the heart beat of the Buddha’s teaching. It may be experienced as the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to pain -one’s own pain or another’s. Compassion is a very tender, open state and at the same time a place within us of great strength — tenderness, openness and strength — enabling us to stay present with whatever is happening within our own bodies and minds and with what is going on around us without becoming overwhelmed.

The practice and the unfolding of compassion are challenging, which means that we take to heart the Buddha’s words, “I teach one thing and one thing only – suffering and the end of suffering.” The practice of compassion asks us to gently maintain our awareness of suffering. Most of us are strongly habituated to sweep discomfort away, to sweep dis-ease “under the rug“, to hide it away in a metaphoric closet. Or, we hide ourselves away by shutting off, going to sleep or distracting ourselves. We might ignore or trivialize suffering so we don’t see the pain of others in the world — or experience our own pain and suffering.

Through the purification of the heart and mind that practice brings, we gradually turn our developing capacity for heart-full, unconditional acceptance towards suffering. We are then able to open to it with understanding and courage and move towards its alleviation. Unconditional compassion, our heartfelt connection to beings and our way of being in this world, arises out of a clear, deep seeing and understanding of suffering, its root cause and the way of its end.

Unconditional, boundless compassion is one of the wings of awakening with which we fly free.

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