Issue 16: Winter 2011/12


A few Thoughts on Compassion

By Francis Checkley, Anryu Ciu

Just to hear the word "Compassion" is evocative of noble actions, altruistic concern for others, charitable endeavours towards those who suffer physically, mentally or emotionally. So whether it is our neighbour next door returning from a gruelling hospital visit, recently made redundant, having lost a loved one, or someone made homeless in Japan, we find ourselves wanting to reach out. At some level in our being, we are "touched" by their suffering and it is because we know that we too are vulnerable and defenceless in the face of life's misfortunes that at certain times our seeming sense of alienation is seen for what it is, a delusion.

The truth is, that at some level, we are all "the walking wounded" trying so desperately to hide our fears and anxieties, to put on a brave face as if we alone were haunted by such dark thoughts and emotions. So for many of us (and here I consult my recently acquired thesaurus) feelings of care, concern, warmth, tenderness, humanity and kindness, don't always shine through with any kind of constancy. Rather, they're more accessible when we're "hit between the eyes".

Recently, Steve Jobs (before his death) spoke of his sense of "nakedness" when told of his extremely poor prognosis with liver cancer and how his life suddenly had a new and different perspective. He went on to say how many ways we all find to hide, run from, postpone, cover over our inherent nakedness. That we each do this individually is one thing, but that most of us are complicit in convincing each other is surely testimony to our shared delusion of "self" and separateness.
So how do we stay awake to our tendency to sleepwalk through our lives of denial?
How do we wake up to the first noble truth of our suffering?
How do we wake up to the realisaton that we're all in this together?
The Buddha and thousands more in our lineage have proposed the triple treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as the way par excellence. In our tradition, sitting upright facing a wall is part of our practice that we do in community. We sit together and gradually or sometimes very suddenly awaken to our own and the suffering of those around us. In this context it is very difficult to hide from each others discomfort. Of course we know that our suffering is of our own making due to our clinging, but as sensitive human beings we have habits and compulsions that that hold us tight. As Reb once said "our hearts are made for bleeding".
And it is in this context of our shared humanity that our empathy, warmth and big-heartedness with others is
made manifest.
Perhaps yet another way of describing compassion is to speak of "perfected virtue". The Precepts that we receive from our teacher are "perfected virtues" and have been transmitted to us since the time of Buddha through until today. It is this preceptual vein of the Bodhisattvas, revealed and affirmed through generations which is said to be the "single- great- causal- condition of the Zen Gate" through which we realise our oneness with all beings.

So, when receiving the Precepts we vow to observe the preceptual - lineage of the Soto and Rinzai Gates, which is one track without side roads. To protect and hold them so that they are no lost, and to cherish and actively guard them.
Our practice then is the practice of compassion which often requires our putting aside of personal differences,
strongly held opinions, views we tenaciously subscribe to even to the point of hostility, even though our pride may be hurt. For our dear ancestors and those who will follow us, I hope we can remain true to our vows.

Deep bows, Francis, Anryu Ciu

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