All kinds of spiritual practices in the world, all different religions that have evolved through the different civilizations have in their own ways taught philosophies and teachings, ways through which a human being can generate the best of their qualities. Buddhist teachings, what we call Dharma, teach the path through which one may cultivate best qualities, best potentials of human beings through which one may be able to genuinely bring forth the result and state of happiness for oneself and the others. The dharma path believes that there is a possibility to obtaining freedom from suffering of self and the others through eliminating the causes that bring about suffering of self and others, and that is what buddhist meditation is all about.
The problem that comes about is, as most masters have talked about, the enormous discrepancy between intent and action. It is common for all of us to know that we all aspire freedom from suffering, that we all aspire happiness. Our love, our dedication, our devotion, our meditation, seem to be more connected to the level of the intellectual mind, to the level of intent, to the level of hope, to the level of wanting, to the level of aspirations. And yet when it comes to actualizing them wholeheartedly, wholesomely in our actions of body, speech and mind we do experience a gap. We can call this the non-supporting factor between intent and action, where intent doesn’t support action, where action is not supporting intent. When that gap happens, we are faced with big challenges in life, it’s almost like a dual personality syndrome that we all suffer from. On one hand we have this immense longing to cultivate our best qualities and on the other hand we are faced with the challenge of failure that is making some of us even break down in tears or not being able to sleep. Nevertheless that sincerity of wanting is there and it is crucial for people on the spiritual path and especially for meditators to begin to see what it is that still is lacking which doesn’t allow that aspiration and that intention to be completed within the actions of the body, speech and mind.
There are layers to what is apparent and in the same way human nature has layers. In those layers of an individual person there are many different areas that still require a tremendous amount of work. Dharma teachings have never emphasized appearance, they don’t place so much importance on the appearance of what is. It requires the honest approach of self-examination which needs to be cultivated by each individual to be strong enough to bridge the gap between intent and action. In the beginning, Dharma may be satisfying to a certain degree for the intellectual mind looking for something that is glitzy. But after a while when the glitziness of the Dharma fades and you begin to find out a lot more has to be done about yourself, it’s not about belonging to a group, it’s not about feeling good for a moment or for a weekend, then the whole aim of the teachings becomes a very practical approach of working with your own self. And that’s not a popular thing to do since human beings are so used to all the quick things and shortcuts. And when our whole culture is so very attuned to that, talking about lifetimes of working very hard on your own self, watching everything you say, everything you do, watching everything you think, is an extremely difficult and a challenging path of practice. And so what happens is the mind begins to refuse, but somehow on the other hand we know in our heart that this is important to do. We cannot deny impermanence. Cause and effect is very relevant and easy and logical to see. Preciousness of what a human being can achieve is very much there and most importantly we are gifted with a sympathetic heart that wishes to alleviate the sufferings of self and the others. So these naturally good qualities and the intrinsic basic wisdom that every individual is endowed with, allows us to also not fully give up the practice but on the other hand we don’t want to be that wholeheartedly committed too. When that clashes with us, then we feel this immense struggle within our own selves where we are there neither on this side neither on that side but in an odd situation, an uncomfortable situation, where we would like to be compassionate in a competitive way. So what do we do? What can we do?
When expectations are relaxed, it makes the working situation much easier. There is much more joyfulness, there’s a lot more playfulness, there’s ability to meet another person more as a human being not as someone who talks down to somebody else or someone who has to listen to somebody else. There are those little situations that we develop, the concepts that we develop in our own mind. That needs to be thoroughly examined and for that it is crucial to take the honest approach of looking at our own self. Somehow as in many other situations in the mundane world we develop the psychological ability of denial: denial of a problem in a relationship, denial of a disease that we may be suffering from, denial of a habitual pattern that we may have that is harmful to self and the other. We all suffer from that; basically we all think there is an exception in one’s own case, where certain things are there that we could be excused from not doing. An exception where I can eliminate a few neuroses without having to transform them or transcend them, exceptions of not including some people and an exception that I can achieve the same by thinking hard about that theory, by being very loyal to that view. Some things I am willing to change, I regard them as negative and I am willing to change slowly but deep down are certain things that I’m unwilling to change. So what happens is the self is absorbing neurosis, self-cherishing, and the self’s agenda of holding its own self to be important is left untouched.
The word compassion from a buddhist perspective can be defined as an accomplishment of selflessness, where a person is able to accomplish victory over self-grasping, conquer self-cherishing, able to gradually tread on a path of contemplation, examination, introspection, building mindfulness and awareness that is able to allow the shifting of the focus from self to others. This is the whole practical approach that the Buddha taught: about finding the path of eliminating the causes that our body, speech and mind creates that becomes the source of suffering or happiness of other sentient beings. To generate compassion for ourselves and therefore for others, challenging situations can be great helpers on the path, because they can guide us back into our basic goodness, a resource that is natural to all human beings. From there the courageous journey of self-transformation can begin.