Filed in Tibetan

37 Practices of the Bodhisattva - Verse 10

Ken McLeod

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Ken McLeod continues his commentary on the 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva with the tenth verse. Watch the other videos here.

If all your mothers, who love you,
Suffer for time without beginning, how can you be happy?
To free limitless sentient beings,
Give rise to awakening mind — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Think about your relationships and the other difficult things—feelings, memories, situations—that recur in life. Take a moment and picture yourself free of these things. What happens?

For more of Ken McLeod's teachings, visit Unfettered Mind.

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George Draffan's picture

Compassion as an intention or a feeling is conditional. I tend to have compassion for certain people but not for others. And feelings might arise when I see a child or an animal suffering, but not when I see an adult throwing a tantrum.
Another kind of compassion (non-referential compassion, in Buddhist terms) arises when my ability and willingness to relate is not dependent on my feelings or on the situation: as things arise, I relate to them without the sense of alienation Ken talked about.
Mind training cultivates both kinds of compassion: expanding intentions and feelings of kindness to include all beings, and cultivating the clarity that sees through conditions, preferences, and our ordinary sense of success or failure. The two kinds of compassion are different but related, and each supports and leads to the other.
I have a neighbor who may well never be happy, or happy with me, but I'm practicing setting free him, and the dogs he mistreats, and my aversion, and my expectation of success. Interesting practice...
~ George Draffan, for Unfettered Mind

Patricia.I's picture

George, we agree that true compassion for others is unconditional. This is why I have trouble with the four vows that foreground the self. They are, to use your terms, self-referential, and prime the speaker to experience feelings of success or failure. Not exactly what compassion is about, eh?
My difficulty with this verse pertained more to Ken's description of compassion as empty. When you imagine all beings, whether you like them or not, as suffering prisoners, how is this accompanied by "empty clarity"? It seems to me that Ken (or one of his teacher's whom he quotes?), said somewhere that tonglen without tears isn't much of a practice in compassion.
The unfathomable darkness I feel is not a personal feeling of alienation, it is a feeling of being drenched in the infinite amount of suffering in the world. It is full not empty; dark not light.
I find that "empty clarity" borders on indifference to this suffering.

fishman.ellen's picture

My experience is that empty clarity is not like an empty jar or lacking in.
Instead this emptiness is the ability to open to that suffering without the
"agenda" of self. Of course suffering is dark when there is a "feeler" on the end. Yet to ignore the feelings is to deny them, to deny them leads to the three poisons, which is not clarity.
As I experience this clarity, one is not indifferent at all, rather the sufferings of others are what you attend to quite deeply. This attention is so clear because "you" no longer struggle and are open really open to others. Your compassion is clean for their struggles are theirs, not a drenching !

Patricia.I's picture

p.s. Jeff Shore translates the four vows as follows:

Numberless beings – set free.
Endless delusion – let go.
Countless Dharma – see through.
Peerless Way – manifest!

This brings the vows to fruition in the words, like a spell.

Patricia.I's picture

'Relationship is at the core of human experience'. Thank you for emphasizing this.
And, yes!, freedom does not consist in ignoring the struggle that arises in relationships. But it does not consist in staring at it either.

One of the problems I've encountered reciting the four vows is that they foreground this struggle as an intention that is impossible to fulfill, and so in saying them I experience an overwhelming sense of failure, eclipsing the natural presence of compassion that is paradoxically their inspiration. When you imagine all beings saved, on the contrary, the vow comes to fruition and you experience with immediacy the compassion that is always ripe in the human heart.

Still, in the clarity you describe, knowing not a single being has been saved, I experience unfathomable darkness. Though it is no longer identified with a sense of failure, it is not empty.

re: Mark Twain-- recent studies of group dynamics indicate that the presence of compassion is inversely related to personal power in relationships. I thought that was very interesting.