Turning the Wheel of the Dharma

Venerable Thupten Rinpoche teaches how to begin developing


The first in a series of teachings on developing Compassion and Love, given by Venerable Thupten Rinpoche at the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre, Dunedin, on 15 March 1997. It was translated from the Tibetan by Losang Dawa.
© Copyright Dhargyey Buddhist Centre.

Just as when you do gardening or farming it is very important to prepare the ground and have all the other conditions for a rich crop -- heat, water and manure etc -- in the same way it is important to prepare the ground for meditation.

We recite prayers at the beginning of any practice as a way of preparing the ground for later growth. If we then meditate on the chosen object of meditation we will have fulfilled the two prerequisites for development: first, the preparation of the field, which was done by praying to deities and doing the seven-part merit-gathering practices; second, by meditating on the actual topic of meditation. Through this we can hope to gain some realization, some fruit. The two, prayers and meditation, must go hand-in-hand. When they go hand-in-hand an effect will inevitably come about. If one of them is missing the result will not come about.

Meditation is not just for relaxation or having a good time. If someone just wants to have a good time there are many activities more entertaining than meditation. Meditation has a more important role: bringing about a change in one's mind that will bring lasting peace. This morning's meditation will be one that is good for our minds.

In previous Sunday meditation classes I have spoken about the need to shape our minds, to improve the quality of the mind and heighten awareness and so on. Good heart is not something that just religious people should have and that non-believers can do without. This is not at all the case. Anyone who wants to be happy, wants to be peaceful and to do well, must have kind-heartedness, good heart. Since we need good heart in order to have peace, if we want peace must make an effort in developing kind-heartedness.

There are two ways of developing kind-heartedness. The first way is self-analysis. One analyzes oneself by watching the way one behaves and the way one thinks. In this way one can bring about a very strong sense of self-discipline. I've told you a fair bit about this kind of analysis in previous talks.

This morning I'll talk about the second method, which is a meditational method. With this, one meditates on something by which one can hope to improve one's way of thinking. In other words, to bring about good heart, kind-heartedness.

In developing good heart we must first understand the importance of compassion and try to develop great compassion. This is definitely easier said than done. It is very easy to talk about compassion and the need to develop compassion and the benefits of compassion. But to make one's mind, one's heart, compassion itself, is quite difficult. Nevertheless we must try. It would be quite wrong not to try and develop compassion just because it is difficult. If you do not try at all, nothing will be achieved.

To develop true compassion, first we must know that suffering is real, and that sufferings hurt ...

We know we need to develop compassion, and we can if we want to. Now I will tell you how we can set about developing compassion.

At the moment it is difficult indeed for us to develop what is called Great Compassion. Great Compassion is an attitude wanting to free all sentient beings throughout space from whatever plight they are in. So first we need to work on developing a semblance of great compassion.

For this we need to focus our mind on a being -- a person or an animal -- undergoing agonizing suffering. We need to direct our attention to such a being.

Say we relate this point to animals. If you know of cattle or sheep being taken to the abattoirs, you can imagine how the animals feel going to a place where they will definitely be killed. Then you can imagine how the animals feel when they get there and see their fellows being killed: the terror is clear on their faces. Image such a situation and contemplate it.

It is quite possible that you might think, 'I really wonder whether the animals themselves know about it and care about it!' Thinking this you will begin to have less concern for and empathy with them. If that happens, imagine you are a sheep or cow at the abattoirs. Think, 'If I were a sheep or a cow about to be killed in a cruel and painful way, how would I feel? Would I be indifferent? Would I feel no pain?' Put yourself in the situation of the animal about to be killed. Imagine what great pain you would have when the knife falls on your neck, or they tear open your chest and take your heart out. Feel what great pain you would experience. Then, when you're half conscious, feel your skin being ripped off and your limbs being chopped into pieces. Would you ever be able to stand such pain?

If you visualize such an experience as if you were undergoing it, there is no difference between the pain you undergo and the pain the animal undergoes. The only difference is that as a human you might be able to articulate the experience whereas the sheep cannot.

As you visualize such a scene and feel the suffering and the terror of the sheep or the cow, you will feel, 'How can anyone dare cause such pain to another being?' A sense of compassion will involuntarily arise in your mind.

Another way to develop compassion through meditation is to imagine yourself as a person who is sentenced to be executed. In New Zealand people are not executed. It's a civilized society. But in other countries there is still execution by hanging and so on. What if you happened to be a person being taken to the gallows? Imagine that your life is about to end in this dreadful way. Contemplate the pain and terror. If you do this, even at the level of visualization you will feel so terrified that you cannot help standing up from your seat. This is another way of developing empathy and then compassion.

The next way of developing compassion is to imagine that someone you truly care for is experiencing great suffering or a great crisis in life. Maybe they're ill, or caught up in litigation. When you imagine this person in a suffering, miserable situation, then because of the love you have for them you will feel deeply touched by their suffering. You will not be able to help being moved by their plight. This will bring about compassion for them.

Imagine that one of your dearest friends has been caught by the law and taken to the gallows. You see your friend stumbling along in handcuffs. How would you feel? You couldn't help feeling terribly sad and distraught, because of your love for the person.

Now, in the same way that you cannot help being touched and moved when you put yourself in another person's miserable situation; in the same way that you cannot help feeling empathy and sadness when you visualize a very dear friend undergoing a terrible experience, if you can now shift this kind of empathy to a wider circle of animals or people -- beings literally undergoing the kind of suffering you have visualized -- it can be a great help.

In the initial stage, when you do these three visualizations -- putting yourself in another being's situation, imagining a very close friend undergoing great misery, and visualizing a third person undergoing such a situation -- your sense of empathy will obviously be much greater for a friend undergoing a terrible experience than for a neutral person, a non-friend, undergoing the same experience.

However although your empathy and concern is greater for one than for the other, for both beings themselves the experience is the same. Both experience exactly the same degree of misery and fear.

In all these contexts what is important is that we know that sufferings hurt. 'Suffering' is not just a word or an idea: suffering actually hurts people. So what we are doing is acknowledging that there are sufferings, and that sufferings are painful.

This is why the Buddha, when he gave his first teaching, began with the statement that there are sufferings. He began his teachings with the acknowledgement of suffering. If we can accept the reality of suffering and that sufferings are painful, we will see that we must be very careful in our actions. If we speak harshly to somebody, or beat somebody up, or kill an animal (not to mention a human), these actions cause suffering and any being with the ordinary aggregates from previous lifetimes will experience these sufferings as painful. If somebody were to speak harshly to us, or beat us up, or murder we would undoubtedly experience a great deal of pain. Therefore we should take this as a lesson. We should have the realization: If I speak harshly to others, injure them or kill them I will cause them a great deal of harm and pain. And this realization should motivate us to abstain from the actions that cause others suffering.

The many sufferings that beings in the world today experience are caused by people who have no concern, no sense of awareness, that the suffering they inflict on others would also hurt them. They are unaware because they have not put themselves in the situation of their victims. As a result of this, people in the world keep on inflicting great suffering on one another.

Initially it is important to realize one's own sufferings and difficulties, aches and pains and so on, and how one doesn't like to experience any bit of these. Realizing that sufferings are painful and undesirable when you yourself experience them will help you appreciate the suffering of others. Then you will find it very easy to empathize with them. This sense of empathy will generate a wish in you that they be free from their suffering, because you know the magnitude of pain the sufferings bring about. This will lead your mind to develop compassion.

Meditation: For this morning, I want you to recollect a terrible experience you have seen somebody suffer. If you have been fortunate enough not to witness such a terrible thing, then try to visualize somebody undergoing ghastly suffering and pain. Then feel, 'What if I happened to be that person, that animal. Would I be able to bear the suffering?' When you realize you would not being able to bear the suffering, relate this feeling to the person you are visualizing, and try to bring about an experience of compassion in your heart.

It is possible that there are people who are thinking, 'Gosh, I haven't seen anyone suffering so badly, so what should I visualize?' You must have watched TV shows and movies that had murder scenes and so on. Take that as a real experience that the victim is undergoing and visualize that. Although you know that it is dramatized and not real, say to yourself, 'What if that was reality? An actual occurrence not to the actor but to me?' Then you could have a great deal of fear for the suffering and relate that to what others are experiencing.

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