There is clarity of mind, a natural awake quality, from which compassion can arise. It does not center on someone in particular whom we feel sorry for. During this moment there is not a conceptualizing of “another being,” but still in this tenderness there is some way of directing one’s attention to other beings who have not yet recognized the nature of mind. And there is a feeling of sorrow for sentient beings who don’t know that their nature is self-existing wakefulness and therefore are deluded in samsara. This way of reaching out is not really formulated, but we can call it nonconceptual compassion, genuine compassion. That compassion is not necessarily the same as the completely awakened state of a buddha. It is a sign of a yogi on the path, a genuine practitioner.
On the other hand, if we are someone who hasn’t yet recognized the nature of mind, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be genuinely compassionate. There is a way also to be conceptually compassionate, which is different. That is the frame of mind in which we regard ourselves as less important than others. Usually beings regard themselves as more important than others. When we have the attitude that others are more important than me, we call that genuine, although still conceptual, compassion.
What is the experience of true compassion? While recognizing mind essence, there’s some sense of being wide awake and free. At the same time there’s some tenderness that arises without any cause or condition. There is a deep-felt sense of being tender. Not sad in a depressed way, but tender, and somewhat delighted at the same time. There’s a mixture. There’s no sadness for oneself. Nor is there sadness for anyone in particular either. It’s like being saturated with juice, just like an apple is full of juice.
In the same way, the empty openness is saturated with the juice of compassion. Why? Because a lot of qualities are present here. Knowing our empty nature clearly creates an immediate sense of certainty. This certainty has a taste.
There’s a certain time of day, when the sun is setting in the west, when, if we go outside and sit and face the sunset, a feeling of compassion arises easily, spontaneously. It’s kind of free and a little joyful, a little tender, a little sad. It comes all by itself. If you’re not totally open or free from within, then this sadness is not really felt, or even noticed.
If there is any sadness without the openness, notice that it’s always for someone in particular, be it me or him or her. When we simply let ourselves be in that open way, there is a feeling of renunciation, not in the sense of giving up something, but more like letting go of ambition. More like being content.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche is a reincarnate lama educated in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He has been teaching students since 1990. “Dissolving the Confusion” is adapted from his book Carefree Dignity, reprinted with permission from Rangjung Yeshe Publications.
Image 1:Untitled. Susan Frecon, watercolor on old paper, 1996. Courtesy Lawrence Markey Gallery
Image 2: Sun ("Star Series"), Susan Frecon, watercolor on old paper, 1995. Courtesy Lawrence Markey Gallery