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Thread: Zazen and compassion

  1. #1

    Zazen and compassion

    I have a lingering question. How does the practice of zazen relate to the development of compassion for our fellow sentient beings?

    I believe I somewhat understand how the concept of 'oneness' (by which I mean dissolving the duality of 'I' and 'other') developed during zazen fosters a sense of compassion for the world as a whole. This type of compassion seems useful when I think of volunteering, giving dana to organizations that help the needy, and the like.

    However, I think I have trouble breaking that apart into helpful nuggets of compassion that I can use in my day to day life in situations where I'm working with anger, frustration, and all those other fun defilements. Maybe it is the attempt to break it apart that's causing me trouble. I feel like there's a key piece I'm missing that will connect zazen and compassion for me in my day to day life. Any insight from others is much appreciated. Please correct me where my understanding is misguided or incomplete...

    Gassho,
    - Al

  2. #2
    i suppose for myself that zazen helps me realize my own idiocy, recognize how silly i'm being when i'm angry... or maybe that was Thich Nhat Hahn. but regardless of how it works, i think, for myself, that my zazen practice makes me aware of how grumpy i can be when my back aches or when i'm hungry or when i think i might have something else i ought to be doing, and somehow i can relate that to why other people act as they do?

    and perhaps it also makes me more aware of all the little things around me that make me happy that i otherwise sometimes take for granted. for instance, it was pissing rain this morning and blowing sideways. which sucks because i work as a ski patroller and those aren't fun or useful conditions. we prefer snow to rain, generally. but i love the sound! so if i am at ease with myself and the world around me, it is easier for me to be very patient and understanding with my guests who, after all, just paid way too much to do what i am paid to do.

    i hope that might help, or, at the very least, makes sense.
    cd

  3. #3
    Hi Al,

    Of course, Wisdom alone, without a cultivation of Compassion, can lead to a Practice that is cold, uncaring, disconnected to the wider world and ultimately selfish. We simply abandon the world and close into ourselves. Compassion has the opposite effects of making us warm, connected, open and less self-centered. This is well known to most practitioners of Zen, and is often repeated.

    And I think that most people know this too: As with Wisdom, the Compassion in our Practice has many flavors. Some forms of Compassion may arise naturally from our Zazen, as we tend to become more gentle, patient, less quick to anger, less clutching at self-gratification, more giving, and are able to see the interconnection of all Beings, sentient or not, around us. Much of that comes naturally through our Zazen. Other aspects of Compassion must be cultivated as a medicine for human nature, as we learn to control the weeds in our inner garden through living the Precepts. The Precepts guide us to being better friends, husbands and wives, parents and, ultimately, members of society and human beings ... simply through our turning away from violence, anger and greed, and the rest.

    Of course, part of our Compassionate works must involve giving food, shelter, medicine, care and emotional comfort to those in need. Surprisingly, in Asia, Buddhist institutions have never been as active in that regard as, one might think, they should have been if being "Compassionate". Christian missionaries and churches always have done a better job of building schools, hospitals and orphanages, even if there was a secondary intent of conversion behind it. In the Buddhist case, it has almost been as if the First Noble Truth, "Life is Suffering", were simply a reason just to accept the fate accompli that people get sick and die, nothing to do about it on a financial or material level. In the Zen world, there was also a tendency to opine that, since we are all "Originally Enlightened" even though we do not realize it, there is nothing that needs to be done as we are all perfect and what happens to this body is not that important. Now, many Buddhists in both Asia and the West, are changing all that, building schools, hospices, orphanages and the like.

    But there is one more aspect of our Practice of Compassion that we may not realize immediately, and it is something that I think Buddhists can especially offer the world: It has to do with the fact that a charity can provide all the food, shelter and medicine to peoples, yet leave them suffering within. Our practice teaches us that all the money in the bank and food in the pantry will not bring happiness without a revolution of the mind and human ways of living. This world, and our Western nations, are filled with people who are miserable although dripping in diamonds. Thus, our Buddhist Practice also manifests Compassion just when people can take Buddhist practitioners as models and teachers of peace, happiness and contentment, and learn to bring such ways into their own lives. Your peaceful, non-violent and loving conduct teaches people merely by their seeing something in your eyes and bearing as you deal with friends, family members and strangers each day. I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by cdshrack
    for instance, it was pissing rain this morning and blowing sideways. which sucks because i work as a ski patroller and those aren't fun or useful conditions. we prefer snow to rain, generally. but i love the sound! so if i am at ease with myself and the world around me, it is easier for me to be very patient and understanding with my guests who, after all, just paid way too much to do what i am paid to do.
    What a wonderful real-world example. It is a great display of a moment where it would be easy to be self-centered (poor me, it's raining) but you thought of others instead. Thank you for sharing that little snippet of your life, cdshrack.

    If it helps you any, it's raining here in Texas as well.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Of course, part of our Compassionate works must involve giving food, shelter, medicine, care and emotional comfort to those in need. Surprisingly, in Asia, Buddhist institutions have never been as active in that regard as, one might think, they should have been if being "Compassionate". Christian missionaries and churches always have done a better job of building schools, hospitals and orphanages, even if there was a secondary intent of conversion behind it. In the Buddhist case, it has almost been as if the First Noble Truth, "Life is Suffering", were simply a reason just to accept the fate accompli that people get sick and die, nothing to do about it on a financial or material level. In the Zen world, there was also a tendency to opine that, since we are all "Originally Enlightened" even though we do not realize it, there is nothing that needs to be done as we are all perfect and what happens to this body is not that important. Now, many Buddhists in both Asia and the West, are changing all that, building schools, hospices, orphanages and the like.
    I'm so very grateful that this is changing. I think Buddhists have a very different, very compassionate angle in this area.

    Thus, our Buddhist Practice also manifests Compassion just when people can take Buddhist practitioners as models and teachers of peace, happiness and contentment, and learn to bring such ways into their own lives. Your peaceful, non-violent and loving conduct teaches people merely by their seeing something in your eyes and bearing as you deal with friends, family members and strangers each day. I think.
    I think this was probably one of those "missing pieces" for me, and you've nailed it down. Raised in a Christian upbringing, I think I associate being a "good role model" with somehow being an "instrument of god." One of the things I initially liked (yet misunderstood) about Buddhism was the emphasis on individual effort in practice - you don't depend on god or priest ultimately, because in the end, as much as a teacher can guide you, only you alone can reach enlightenment for yourself. And as I've moved away from Christianity I think I took what I interpreted as Buddhism's "live and let live" ethos too far. I also have a tendency to associate being an example for others with being arrogant, i.e. "Who am I to be a role model for someone else? I'm flawed and imperfect." But I don't have to be arrogant to strive for this, especially when I know I won't always succeed.

    The goal of setting a quiet example could be a real impetus in my practice to get a handle on greed, anger, lust, and everything else on a day to day basis. Thank you for your response.

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