Think globally, act locally

who-wants-changeWe cannot change everyone. We cannot get everyone to behave. You may have noticed this. So being the change we want to see in the world — as Mahatma Gandhi put it in equally trying times — really needs to be our internal starting point. As Buddhist master Atisha says:

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

Thinking globally

But having said that, we can develop a global motivation that encompasses everyone, and the sooner we do that the quicker we will tame our own minds and be able to help others everywhere. Thinking big, aiming at bodhichitta motivation, we can learn slowly but surely to overcome our aversion, dislike, and fear of others locally, and hold them in our everything-begins-in-the-imaginationhearts.

Furthermore, with Tantra, generated as Buddha Heruka for example, we have huge vision that defies mistaken and ordinary appearances and conceptions and already sees ourselves, others, and the world as pure. This is the quickest, and frankly only way IMHO, to accomplish world peace. There is an incredibly profound, beautiful verse in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious. ~ p. 91

Just to get a bit deep for a moment … I like to view myself as a mere aspect of my Spiritual Guide’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and view everyone likewise as a mere aspect of my mind of bliss and emptiness. This is bringing the result into the path big time, and a way to “effortlessly” benefit others, training in meditation and trying to hold that view more and more the rest of the time.

ring the bells.jpgWe need to be in refuge. I was imagining, like I do, where I would want to be, mentally speaking, if a bomb dropped on my head today. I would want to be in my heart, in the refuge of my Spiritual Guide’s heart, full of love, compassion, and wisdom, and on my way to the Pure Land where I will then emanate bodies to help everyone.

So that makes me think that I have to get ever closer to that state as a priority because, even if it’s not a bomb, it’ll be something that turns up out of nowhere one of these days to dispatch me to my next life.

Acting locally

But locally, meanwhile, we can go to the assistance of people in need, turn things in the right direction. I had a nice little example of that yesterday.

As I was waiting for a flat white at Tucson airport, a monk dressed in orange robes was next in line holding his cashew nuts. When I offeredtucson to buy them for him, he beamed and said “What is your name? And where are you from?” I told him I was also a Buddhist and had lived in Sri Lanka as a child. He told me his name, I think I was supposed to have heard of it or something, for he paused before adding, “I have written lots of books.” Then he told me the name of his temple in Los Angeles and invited me to visit him there next week when I go. I googled him before boarding this flight, and, as it happens, he is currently the chief Sri Lankan monk in America and the advisor to the Sri Lankan president on international religious affairs.

(I have to say, this beat my standing in line next to Darryl Hannah a few weeks ago in Denver, where she apparently lives too … entertained as I was at the time ;-))

Small world, as several of my friends pointed out – and indeed our karma is what makes it a small world. We are all interconnected — all of our actions have effects not just now but way way into the future. Who knows when and how my and Bhante Walpola Piyananda’s paths will meet again, perhaps lifetimes hence or perhaps next week in LA; but it was worth creating some good karma together in our brief encounter.

Friend of the world

The Bodhisattva’s way of life is, I think, an incredibly skillful way of thinking globally and acting locally, and one that we can all aspire to, whatever our background.

The main thing a Bodhisattva promises to do, in the so-called Bodhisattva vow, is to attain enlightenment to benefit all living beings without exception. But there are no fewer than 46 secondary downfalls the Bodhisattva tries to avoid, and these include:

  • Doing little to benefit others
  • Not helping others to avoid negativity
  • Not going to the assistance of those in need
  • Not acting to dispel suffering
  • Not helping others to overcome their bad habits

leave-samsaraSo although, as Geshe Kelsang says,

Temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough.

and we need liberation and enlightenment, this doesn’t preclude our doing other more immediate things with that motivation.

I have been reading some stories of hate crimes in the last week and, yes, they make one’s blood boil. But there is no point taking that out even mentally on the people perpetuating the crimes because they are being governed by their delusions, they are creating horrible karma, but inside they are okay, pure even, just like the rest of us. As Geshe Kelsang says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:

finger-up-cactus
Up yours, delusions

In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom. Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can
be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible, and is the pure essential nature of every living being.

As explained more here, one way to understand that our compassion and wisdom are indestructible is because they are based on reality, which is not going anywhere; whereas delusions are utterly destructible because they are based on ignorance, inappropriate attention to something that just isn’t there.

Better to take it out on the delusions, as they can be destroyed, and that solves everything. And meanwhile:

Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. ~ p. 83

This is how Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are able to keep it together when they see all us sentient beings acting crazy. They can help us tirelessly, enthusiastically, and without a trace of discouragement or depression because they have unwavering, unconditional love and respect. If we take them as our role models, we can become less and less childish and sign-americansmore and more like them.

That is seriously lame, dude

And blaming delusions while keeping our hearts in love doesn’t mean we don’t say or do anything else. I personally think that acting locally includes standing up for each other whenever the opportunity arises, not standing by and letting people be mistreated. There have been one or two heartening tales of this happening of late – some guy shoved another guy off the sidewalk with racist slurs, and some other guy came over to help him up while saying to the perpetrator:

“That is seriously lame, dude.”

Talking about childish, as a kid in Guyana, full disclosure, and to cut a long story short, my BFFs were a family of Indians called the Sookrajs. I was fiercely attached to them, we spent all our free time together, had a lot of adventures in Georgetown and inland up the Essequibo. There was a lot of racism in our neighborhood — pitting white trenchesagainst black against Indian with befuddling, to me, variations on that theme — and on a few occasions I literally rolled around fighting kids in the trenches that ran in front of the houses. I drafted my poor brothers in one time to defend my friends as well. I was really mad, angry with the stupid mainly white kids I fought and yelled at – and though I think my heart was partly in the right place, it was also very largely not. I even found myself starting to look out for trouble. And I know that my lack of equanimity and angry behavior as the ringleader did nothing to increase tolerance and harmony in the neighborhood (sorry everybody!) I had let myself forget these incidents, Did I dream it?!, until my friends turned up again in my life a few years ago and reminded me.

Therefore, I like that story above because he didn’t call the dude lame, but he did call out the stupidity of the dude’s behavior. If we all do that, call it where we see it, online and off, while keeping our cool, I think it could help. I’m going to try.

Over to you. We would probably all love to hear your comments on how you are tackling this troubled week.

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Compassion: the quick path to enlightenment

Wanted dead or alive: our anger and other delusions

Hey, what’s going on?

What is compassion?

help everyone escape
Have to help everyone escape 100%

Compassion fills our life with meaning. So, what is it? It is not just being nice, though it will lead us to being good people. If we have compassion, we want something for others. If a friend has tripped over a drain and broken their leg, we want them to be free from physical pain. If a friend is suicidal, we want to protect them from mental suffering.

We already have some compassion—it may be a bit limited and biased, it may come and go, but we do have it. It is our Buddha nature. And don’t you find that those times you have felt a deep genuine compassion for another person with no thought for yourself have been very precious? Something good happens to your perspective? You feel more in touch with the truth of things?

Actual compassion is defined as the mind wishing others to be free from suffering and its causes. It’s the other side of the coin from wishing love, wishing others to have happiness and its causes.

Feeling sad and bad about others?
dog helped by Bodhisattva
Click on this picture for a story about a very kind man.

Though compassion can be hard sometimes, it is still more than worth it. (Delusions such as selfishness and anger are always hard, and they are never worth it!) And compassion, unlike delusions, is not a painful feeling. At its most qualified, it is blissful. I tried to start explaining this already in this article. But for me, I find that this quote from Eight Steps to Happiness puts it most beautifully:

Pure compassion is a mind that finds the suffering of others unbearable, but it does not make us depressed. In fact it gives us tremendous energy to work for others and to complete the spiritual path for their sake. It shatters our complacency and makes it impossible to rest content with the superficial happiness of satisfying our worldly desires, yet in its place we shall come to know a deep inner peace that cannot be disturbed by changing conditions.

One practical way to develop compassion starting here and now

It is good to keep it real, not abstract, by starting with our immediate circle. We can contemplate the situation of those under our noses at home or at work, for example, as opposed to a mass of unknown humanity living in China. We find a way in, and then draw more and more people into that orbit of love and compassion at our heart. Make meditation work, as my teacher Geshe Kelsang says.

I’ll give you a recent example of how I try to do this.

Dexton 2I was fostering a kitten recently called Dexton and we bonded like crazy. A woman had swerved to avoid him as he crossed the intersection on 53rd street and Pearl. She got out of the car to see him lying upside down with his paws thrown up above his head. “OMG,” she thought, “I’ve killed him!” But of course she hadn’t, that is just Dexton’s favorite posture, even, it seems, when he is in the middle of the highway. And she bought him into the shelter.

Given that it was already easy to love him, I found him a perfect candidate for compassion that I could then spread out to all the other cats and humans etc. But whenever I found myself worrying about him, for example how betrayed he would feel when I gave him away later, or when my friend P and I thought he’d jumped out of a second-storey window as we couldn’t find him anywhere (he was in a shoe), I found it very helpful to remember that it is not just that suffering I want him free from, but all wretched cat sufferings forever. And all other sufferings. And therefore all the causes of that suffering.

And then it was not too much of a stretch to remember that he is just one small furry person amongst countless others who need exactly what he does — complete freedom from suffering and its causes. It may seem counter-intuitive to our normal way of (avoiding) thinking about suffering, but worry starts to subside in the course of this contemplation, and an initial heartfelt concern for one kitten’s sore paw, for example, or a baby’s colic, or a friend’s heartbreak can be a trigger or way in for compassion wanting to remove everyone’s suffering and its causes. Because everyone is suffering and no one wants to.

Anyone can develop compassion for one suffering at a time – May this person be free from their migraine! May this family living in poverty receive a windfall! May this dying person consumed with anger quickly find peace! But only if we understand the actual origins of suffering – delusions and contaminated karma – can we develop genuine compassion wishing others to be free from all suffering and its causes.

How can I help everyone?!

kind BuddhaTo help everyone we have to become a Buddha first, but every day we can go in that direction by paying attention to suffering or “opening our eyes” as Geshe Kelsang has put it. Wishing, “May you be free”.

So, how does it work that a Buddha’s compassion has the power directly to protect others from suffering? The answer is profound, but this is one way to think about it. If you are experiencing some pain in the presence of someone, even an ordinary person, who genuinely and respectfully wants you to be free from that suffering, how does that make you feel? It’s at least a little bit better than being entirely neglected, is it not?! The Bodhisattva Vow describes Buddha Shakyamuni:

His purified mind abides eternally in the tranquil ocean of reality, seeing all phenomena as clearly as a jewel held in the hand, and suffused with an all-embracing compassion.

Buddha’s minds are everywhere, infinitely powerful, and a constant source of blessings.

The 2 ingredients of compassion

Are (1) love and (2) seeing suffering. Both wishing love (the wish for others to have happiness and its causes) and compassion come from cherishing love, thinking that others matter and that their happiness and freedom are important. If we don’t care about someone, we might think “Who cares” or even “Yeah!” when we see them suffering. But if we love our brother, say, and care for him, and see that he’s in pain, naturally we want that pain to go away. That will in turn lead to behaviors that help us help our brother – but compassion itself is what we are thinking, not what we do, it is a state of mind.

Compassion increases our opportunities to help
In the safe hands of the Bodhisattva who runs the shelter in Florida
In the safe hands of the Bodhisattva who runs the shelter I worked at

The more compassion we have, of course, the more likely it is that we are going to be kind, care for others, look after them, and protect them. But just the wish “May they be free” is compassion, and in itself is a powerful mind. So we don’t ever need feel inadequate, “Oh so and so is helping SO many more people than me, I’m useless …” Mental actions are more powerful than physical and verbal actions, according to Geshe Kelsang.

Not only are we good to be around when we have a heart filled with compassion, even without our having to lift a finger, but one encouraging thing is that if we do have the compassionate intention to help others, opportunities to help others will arise more and more. As the great teacher Nagarjuna explains in one of my favorite quotes:

Even if we are not able to help others directly
We should still try to develop a beneficial intention.
If we develop this intention more and more strongly,
We shall naturally find ways to help others. ~ Universal Compassion

Compassion increases our capacity to help

compassion 4Our capacity to help others will also increase because compassion purifies our mind and leads to many other good mental qualities, while at the same time decreasing our delusions. As it says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

It is impossible for strong delusions to arise in a mind filled with compassion. If we do not develop delusions, external circumstances alone have no power to disturb us; so when our mind is governed by compassion it is always at peace.

For example, if you really want someone to be free from their cancer, and you’re in their shoes, you’re not irritated with them at the same time, are you? You find quite a reservoir of patience! And in that way you can help more. Here is a short anecdote from an old friend of mine to illustrate this point.

To travel to South Africa for my gap year before university I had to earn money, so I took a job in a hospital’s geriatric ward as a “Domestic” with the uniquely British combined responsibilities of scrubbing toilets and making tea.

The ward felt like the asylum of lost hopes, where thrown-away people who had often led stellar lives were living out their end days lonely, lost and incapacitated. Several had amputated limbs, thus condemned to hospital life despite their active minds. And then there was the cheerful teenage me, about to go on a dazzling African adventure with my whole life still ahead, jovially offering them cups of tea. More than once they threw the tea on the floor, saying it was awful, deliberately trying to make my life difficult. Yet I was curious to note at the time that I never became annoyed with them. Why did their actions not upset me when the far less ornery behavior of people elsewhere irritated me all the time? It was because it made no sense to become angry when they were suffering so much; in fact the worse they behaved the more deeply I felt for them. My compassion for them was protecting my mind.

Over to you: More thoughts on compassion in the pipeline. Meantime, your feedback and comments are most welcome. How do you generate compassion?