The Buddha taught us to be compassionate. That is to sincerely want to alleviate the suffering of others. Not just our family and friends but of ALL others. ALL sentient beings. [A sentient being is characterised by having consciousness or sensory perceptions].
The cartoon above shows a boy not only saving the ants one by one but taking it one step further and hosting a picnic for them in his backyard. Buddha asks us to celebrate and to honor the life of all others as if they were our mothers. Just as it would be an overwhelmingly difficult task to literally do as this boy has done and save ants one by one so too is it to practice compassion all of the time. Some things are easy right? This blog is also about being a parent as well as being a Buddhist and I think a great example of how our compassion for people changes is with children. When our baby is first born we gaze at them with such awe and such love. They seem so helpless and so pure. They seem to be the manifestation of pure love. It is easy to feel compassion for such a beautiful and seemingly untainted human being. They have done nothing wrong, how could they? They are mere seconds old! So we lovingly feed them, bath them, dress them warmly and give them cuddles and kisses in abundance. It is effortless. Then somewhere along the line, as the baby grows into a child or perhaps even before then, we can start to resent them. We are tired, grumpy, perhaps haven’t showered for a day (be honest, this is not THAT uncommon with a newborn baby particularly if you have no family around for support!) and as we are woken up for the fourth time that night maybe we lie there for a second longer. Perhaps even put the pillow over our heads and groan. It is no longer effortless. There is a very good reason why parents all over the world have embraced the book Go the F#@k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach because it highlights exactly how many of us truly feel. It is REALLY hard to show compassion when facing the relentless days and nights of parenting.
So, if it can be a struggle with our own children sometimes, can you imagine trying to show compassion to a murderer, a paedophile, an arsonist? Buddha asks us to see each and every sentient being, including the aforementioned, as our mothers. What an incredibly difficult task that is! On the other hand, as someone, somewhere said “I find it easy to show compassion to the starving millions. It’s my husband I have trouble with!”. So showing compassion to every sentient being is a complex and arduous task. Similarly, Jesus asks us to love thy neighbour… it’s not as easy as it first sounds is it?
What we can do however is practice. Practice, practice, practice. If we keep training our mind to show compassion then eventually we will start to show compassion effortlessly again in all situations towards all sentient beings. We can meditate on seeing all sentient beings as our mothers or perhaps just one sentient being, our enemy, someone we loathe. Imagine them as our mother or as our child if that is easier. In this way we are able to generate compassion for them. Usually we will discover that they are simply seeking happiness for themselves just as we are and, although perhaps misguided, can we really blame them for wanting the same as us? Is there a way we can help them even? Meditation doesn’t have to be all mantras, breathwork and OM. Analytical meditation is a powerful tool in helping us to transform our minds and therefore our actions.
Here is a prayer to help us establish the correct motivation and mindset. Unfortunately, I have not yet worked out how to condense the spacing so the formatting makes it a little hard to read.
Thought Transformation in Eight Stanzas by Langri Táng.pa Dorje Chang
Being determined to accomplish
The highest welfare for all beings
Who excel the wish-fulfilling gem,
I shall constantly hold them dear.
When accompanying anyone,
I shall view myself as the lowest of all,
And in the depths of my heart
Shall hold dearly others as supreme.
Examining my continuum throughout all actions,
As soon as an emotional affliction arises
That endangers myself and others,
By facing it I shall strictly avert it.
When seeing a being of wicked nature
Who is forced by violent wrongs and sufferings,
I shall hold dear this one so hard to find
As though discovering a precious treasure.
When others out of jealousy,
Treat me badly with abuse, insults and th elike,
I shall accept their hard words
And offer the other the victory.
When someone whom I have assisted
And in whom I have placed great hope,
Inflicts me with extremely bad harm
I shall view him as my supreme Spiritual Friend.
In short, I shall offer benefit and bliss to all my mothers,
In this actual life and in the future continuum,
And secretly I shall take upon myself
All of the harms and sufferings of my mothers.
Also, having not defiled all these by the stain
Of preconceptions of the eight wordly feelings
And by perceiving all phenomena as illusory,
Free from attachment I shall be released from bondage.