Issue 16: Winter 2011/12

Dharma Talk Reb Anderson Roshi

Continuous Compassion - February, 2010, at No Abode Hermitage

By Reb Anderson Roshi

Transcribed by Frances Collins
Edited by Devin Ashwood

I’ll begin with a story that I tell many times. It’s a story that occurred supposedly in China maybe 1200 years ago. Two noted Buddhist teachers were talking. One is the teacher of the other. The teacher is named Gweshan and the student is named Yangshan. Gweshan says to Yangshan if someone comes and says all sentient beings just have karmic consciousness boundless, unclear and disorienting with no fundamental to rely on, how would you test that in experience? The student Yangshan says, if someone comes I would say, hey you! If she turns her head I would say, what is it? If she hesitates then I say, see, all sentient beings just have karmic consciousness, boundless unclear and disorienting and there’s not even any fundamental to rely on. Without going over this story too much I just want to point out that when we say that this karmic consciousness, this thinking mind which is all we have to work with, has no fundamental to rely on, that is characteristic of all phenomena.

Nothing has a fundamental to rely on. But the fact that this karmic consciousness has no fundamental to rely on means that it can change. It can be transformed. It can become something that is not attached to, something that is not abided in, not dwelled in. The basic practice that I offer you over and over is whatever is coming to us in the present, no matter what it is, practice compassion with it ……..or towards it. Its hard to say compassion-ate it. That’s why I say love it. It’s hard to make a verb out of compassion. Let’s make a verb out of compassion. How shall we say it….compassion it? Any suggestions? Compassionate it……whatever comes, compassionize your self. Whatever comes, compassionize yourself! Whatever comes be compassionate with it. Love it, not like or dislike it. If it’s a like, love it. If it’s a dislike that comes, love it. Whatever comes be compassionate with it. When compassion is mature it’s complete and then you won't dwell in whatever it is. If you don’t dwell in it then there will be the observation of the true dharma. There will be the recieving of the true dharma and then there can be the transmitting of the true dharma. The work, or the play, of the bodhisattvas is to receive and to transmit the true dharma. That’s what they come to the world to do – to receive and to transmit the true dharma in order to help all beings be free of suffering.
The foundation, (and there is no foundation to rely on) of the Buddha way is great compassion and great loving kindness. Great means no exceptions. Horizontally or vertically no exceptions; throughout the entire universe, there are no exceptions to kindness and compassion. Based on that, we come to not dwell, and in not dwelling we open to the perfection of wisdom and receive and transmit the dharma. This sounds pretty simple to me but I’m not saying it’s easy. It isn’t easy to be compassionate right now with whatever comes. It’s not easy to be compassionate with everything. But, simply, that is what I’m bringing up to practice. In a fairly intense way, since the year started, I’ve been emphasising over and over that the first step in compassion toward anything is to be still. Being still is not separate to all the other dimensions of compassion. I just want to emphasise starting with being still with whatever you are wishing to practice compassion with. Along with the stillness practice silence with whatever comes. So be still and silent as soon as possible before the next moment comes. Be still before any comment or movement. Be still and silent with the moment…..and now this one. Being still is not different from being generous and gracious. It’s not different from thank you very much. It’s just being gracious and still before saying thank you. After you’re still and don’t say anything, then you can say thank you. Be still and then you can say thank you just to test your stillness…or to unfold it. Be non-violent with whatever comes. Be gentle with whatever comes. Be calm with whatever comes. Give up trying to control whatever comes.

This morning I was told that one of our friends got upset and angry here today and I didn’t hear about it until it was already over. I just saw him being driven away by one of his friends to go home because, I guess, he was still very angry. I heard he wanted to come to the talk and that would have been okay with me. At the same time I understand that when he gets angry and upset that might upset people here to see him angry and frightened. He’s been practicing with us for a long time. He’s really having a hard time. He tries to come to No Abode and he’ll call me tonight probably and say, I’m really sorry. He’s coming here to try and practice compassion. He’s coming here to try to be friendly with you and to be kind to you and then he gets angry. It’s very sad to see his efforts crushed. He’s really having a hard time learning how to be kind to what is coming up for him. So he offers us the opportunity to keep being kind to him and we don’t know how many years it will take for this kindness to get through to him. But he’ll probably keep coming back to No Abode. He’s coming here to relax and open to you. Then he gets here, tenses up, closes down and gets angry….then he calls me every night and apologises and reaffirms his intention to practice kindness. I say I hear you Bob and we try again.

Something came up this morning which I thought was interesting. Someone heard this teaching of practicing stillness. In the midst of her difficult life and in the midst of her karmic consciousness she sees herself comparing her self to others. Sometimes others are not as good as her and sometimes others are better than her. Having some discomfort in this comparison between her self and others she remembered the teaching of being still and then she started looking for where the stillness was. I said its okay with me if you look for where the stillness is. I don’t mind. You’re welcome to do so. However, you will never find it! You may think you find it. If you think you find it, show it to me, and I’ll help you to look again to see if you have really found it. You cannot find stillness. You cannot find silence. You cannot find greed; you cannot find hate; you cannot find confusion; you cannot find anything if you really look carefully. You won’t be able to find it. No dharmas can be found. If you are kind to your process of looking for them, not only will you be kind to not being able to find them, you will realize that they can’t be found. Not finding something is not the same as understanding that they can’t be found. Understanding that things cannot be found is the same as understanding the ultimate truth. Not being able to find things is not the same as understanding ultimate truth.

The way to understand that nothing can be found is by being kind, for example, to yourself when you are trying to find something. So if you’re trying to find stillness, that’s okay, you don’t have to look for it. But if you’re looking for it, just be kind to yourself and you’ll realize that nothing can be found and that would be good for all beings.

But what I really thought was interesting is the statement that arose which is:- although we can’t find anything …..we can’t find kindness and we can't find cruelty…although you can’t find them you can be wholeheartedly devoted to things that cannot be found. You can be wholeheartedly devoted to compassion even though you can’t find it. You can be wholeheartedly devoted to practices that are empty of inherent existence. You can also be wholeheartedly devoted to cruelty which can’t be found. However if you realize that it can’t be found you will no longer be devoted to it. You will be devoted to compassion because it is only by being devoted to compassion that you realize the truth. Only by being compassionate do you stop dwelling. If you’re energetic and you’re not kind to your energy you will cling to it. If you’re clinging to it that will interfere with your kindness but you won’t stop it entirely. You can be clinging to your energy and still practice kindness toward it. You can have some really nice energy ball and still be clinging to it. It’s possible to cling to something nice isn’t it? If you keep practicing compassion toward yourself and the clinging, to your clinging self, to your karmic consciousness which is clinging to some nice energy ball, you will give up clinging to it, I predict. When you stop clinging to it, you will open to the true dharma. If we cling to our wonderful energy balls…..if we ever have one….the clinging will interfere with the opening to the dharma. If you have low energy, yukky energy, swamp of miserable poisonous energy and you’re not kind to it, you’ll sink into it and cling to it like it’s a bad place but I’m clinging to it….I don’t want to …..but I am. If you’re kind to yourself clinging to your yukky energy you will stop dwelling in your bad energy. If you stop dwelling in your stagnant stinky energy, right there in the no attachment to the pollution, you’ll open to the true dharma. I really don’t know which is easier to be kind to and not to dwell in, the nice energy or the stagnant energy slums. I don’t know but they’re both supposed to be practiced with in the same way with great compassion. Suppose you wish to attain supreme perfect enlightenment … need perfect wisdom and to have perfect wisdom we have to stop abiding in things. In order to stop abiding in things we’ve got to practice great compassion.

The things that are being offered to us to practice compassion toward come in the field which we call thinking consciousness or karmic consciousness. That’s where we work. Karmic consciousness has infinite varieties from the most palatial exalted joyful states to the most horrible tormented states. All those are karmic consciousnesses and, again, number one is be still with them. Each moment be still and have that stillness mean thank you very much for this opportunity to practice stillness, to practise compassion, to practice perfect wisdom, to practice the Buddha way. I’ve heard that situations like this are where it’s practiced…..and any other situation is also where it’s practiced. Stillness is not something that you have to make. It’s already the same as you being you. You being you and me being me is stillness. It’s already the case. Stillness is not constructed. It’s not fabricated. So this basic quality of compassion is actually us being what we are right now which is very generous. The whole universe is generously making us what we are. But we have to practice that. We have to enact that. Otherwise we miss it. Moment by moment we have to receive the transmission of stillness. Moment by moment we have to transmit the practice of stillness and receive the transmission of kindness which makes us what we are. We are made by kindness and by generosity. We receive this person and transmit this person. We receive the stillness of this person and transmit the stillness of this person. In that mode we receive the dharma and transmit the dharma. If we miss being still we practice compassion toward missing and the Buddha way is again transmitted to us. This is the essential art of practice enlightenment in the Buddha way.

There are eight million ways to tell this story. This is one of them……….

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