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The meaning of compassion

Manjushri Retreat (2022) – Session 2

Part of a series of talks given during the Manjushri Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2022.

  • Chandrakirti’s Supplement to the Middle Way verses
  • What is compassion?
  • Three kinds of dukka
  • Great compassion is the root of all goodness
  • Compassion for people we don’t like
  • Forgiveness and what it means
  • Prostrations to the 35 Buddhas and General Confession

So Gompa Services in India had asked me to give a few talks, and we decided to do this as part of the course because finding another time for me to give four long talks was getting difficult. A few minutes of silent meditation and generate your own motivation now, rather than having me lead you through it.

Chandrakirti’s Supplement to the Middle Way verses

So, I can’t remember the first time I heard- when was the first time I heard? – teachings on these verses from Chandrakirti but what I do remember is every time I’ve heard them, they’ve really impacted me, especially the last couple of verses have been very, very strong. So, it is quite beautiful. Let’s read them together. Yeah? We will read them together and then I’ll explain them.

The hearers and solitary realizers arise from the excellent sages (the Buddhas);
The excellent sages are born from bodhisattvas;
The compassionate mind and the non-dual awareness,
As well as the awaking mind—these are the causes of bodhisattvas.
Compassion alone is seen as the seed
Of a Conqueror’s rich harvest, as water that nourishes it,
And as the ripened fruit that is its source of long enjoyment,
Therefore, at the start I praise compassion.
Like a paddle wheel in motion, migrators have no autonomy;
First, with the thought “I,” they cling to a self;
Then, with the thought “mine,” they become attached to things;
I bow to this compassion that cares for migrators.
(Homage to that compassion for) migrators
Seen as evanescent (fluctuating) and empty of inherent existence
Like the reflection of the moon in rippling water.
The compassionate mind and the non-dual awareness,
As well as the awaking mind—these are the causes of bodhisattvas.

Okay, so please change words where it says awakening mind. Change that to bodhicitta. Is awakening mind what is on the one downstairs? It says awakening mind on that one? It says bodhicitta. Yeah, I don’t like the expression awakening mind. It makes me think you’re groggy and you wake up, and bodhicitta we know what bodhicitta means. Okay. (Writes on a piece of paper.)

Question from the audience: Muffled but about Victors vs Conquerors.

Venerable Chodron response: The reason for that is when I’ve taught in Mexico conqueror is conquistadores and nobody likes conquistadores. Victor over the afflictions that makes sense. Conquistadores, nuh-uh.

And then also, we’ll get this later but in the third verse, it says, like a paddle wheel in motion. But when I’ve learned it, it’s been like a bucket in a well. Okay?

She asked someone in the audience: Geshe la, what do you think?

He responds: It’s a wheel on which many buckets are attached so that when they fall down, they come up with water is filled in it and then it pours out.

Venerable Chodron responds: A paddle wheel is like on a boat that has those kind of buckets and it makes the boat go forward. Is it like that or it’s just referring to buckets and a well? Because it makes more sense to me when it refers to buckets and a well when it’s getting banged on the side all.

He responds: Sometimes they come in different sophistication. In a very simple form, it could be wheel with a pulley where just one bucket could be pulled. But sometimes they make it into so many buckets with some animal pushing and going around so that the wheel will go and with that the buckets get moved and filled and emptied like that.

Venerable Chodron: I think the first example that you gave more fits the meaning because it talks about banging against the walls. It talks about the pulley being controlled… Okay, so can we put like, like buckets in a well? Make it plural? Or bucket in a well?

He responds: Wheel of buckets. Something like that. (laughs) It has to have wheel, I think.

Venerable Chodron: It has to have wheel?

He responds: Yeah.

Venerable Chodron: Can’t wheel be implied? (laughter in the room) There’s already so many words we put in that are implied. Can’t wheel also be implied?

He responds: (laughs) What we can do is look up for pictures of them. I’ve seen some of them. And depending on which seems to be fitting well with that elaborate description and the analogies it will be good choose and then call it by a modern name, not in the archaic name.

Venerable Chodron: Yeah, if somebody can look up what is a wheel of buckets? Anyway, um…

He responds: Yes, I have seen some pictures, and I will share.

Venerable Chodron: Okay, because I don’t think a paddle wheel, the one with ships, that doesn’t have a pulley and that doesn’t bang against the sides of the well.

He responds: While we are speaking of these words, as I see down there, I’ve shared this with some of the people also, that the last one could also be four lines. In the original itself, has it in such a way that if we were to put the fourth one there, it would look uncompleted with the next one being- what do you call? – led to, but it could be made into such that it will also be four lines.

Ven Chodron: Okay, right now it’s four lines.

He responds: No, even there, down there. Down there, the last one has only three lines.

Ven Chodron: In here it’s written as four.

He responds: Oh, I see. Yeah. So then that maybe the main text- the main Tibetan text itself. Whereas here it has taken some liberty in paying homage to the compassion, whereas there it refers to how bodhisattvas seeing beings in these forms are pulled, driven by compassion. That’s how it ends.

Ven Chodron: Mmhmm… Okay. (Writes on a piece of paper.) Yes, it’s very – you’re getting a sense of how difficult translation is and especially if you want to adhere to the form of the original, you know, it gets tricky. Anyway…

What is compassion?

Okay, so this morning and also yesterday, I believe we- or the day before, we started speaking about compassion. And in these verses, and in other times of mentioning compassion, also, often people in the Mahayana text will say compassion, but they’re actually referring to great compassion. And we’ll get into the meaning of great compassion a little bit later. So you can think that even when it says compassion here. So compassion is something we all see as something good, but we don’t understand it very well. And very often, people are afraid to be compassionate, because they’re afraid they’re going to be overwhelmed by seeing the misery of other people. So they back away from compassion out of fear. Yeah? And so we have to understand what compassion is.

Many people in the West like to explain the etymology of the word compassion, which means com is with and passion- suffer. So compassion means you suffer with others. I don’t like when people put forth that etymology of an English word because it misconstrues what I understand compassion to be from a Buddhist perspective, because suffering with somebody, you suffer. Okay? And you’re suffering with them. And the idea is you never feel better until they feel better. So you’re somehow chained together. And where we go from there is into this feeling of personal distress. Okay, I suffer with somebody. So I am distressed. I am unhappy. I am- you know, I can’t stop crying. Yeah? Out of compassion. Now, I know that sometimes in the teachings they’ll say, they’ll compare compassion, Mahayana compassion, to like the feeling of a mother for her child and this feeling of strong bond and you cannot the word we cannot bear the compassion. Okay? So, the using of that kind of words: You can’t bear compassion. You are suffering with them. It, for me, that kind of language moves the mind into compassion being very unpleasant and very obsessive and all consuming.

And that’s not the Buddhist meaning of compassion. They’ll use that language you know, like a mother, despairing over her child. Another image is a mother without arms, who sees her child floating down a river. You know… So you get that kind of thing. They’re using that to indicate the intensity. Okay, but not the quality of the compassion. Okay? I think Mahayana compassion has to be something where your mind is balanced. Because if you fall into self-despair, and you’re despairing and you’re paniced and you’re freaked out and you’re suffering with that person and it’s just a terrible thing that’s going on. Yeah? You’re so overwhelmed by your own suffering your own feeling of aversion that you can’t help anybody. So compassion does not mean that we have fallen into self-despair.

And I think from- also, the compassion of bodhisattvas there’s optimism in there. Because bodhisattvas know that samsara has a cause and it knows that samsara’s cause can be eliminated, and when the cause is eliminated, the fundamental cause, being the ignorance grasping to existence, when that’s eliminated all the afflictions that create so much negative karma, and all the karma that’s created by the afflictions. All of that is like the domino effect. It all goes: Blup-blup-blup-blup-blup-blup-Crash. Okay? So bodhisattvas know that misery can be eliminated, so therefore, they don’t despair. They know it’s going to take a long time to lead sentient beings out of samsara to liberation or to full awakening, but they know that there’s a method to do that. So there’s no despair. There’s no depression. Yeah, there’s a lot of joyous effort to continue benefiting sentient beings for eon after eon even though sentient beings often don’t listen. Yeah? But they have that strength to keep doing that. Whereas if you are, you know, freaked out like a mother is about her ill child, you can’t help anybody. Yeah? Okay, so, we have to understand what compassion is. Yeah? So that’s one aspect of it.

Another aspect is it doesn’t mean feeling sorry for somebody. It doesn’t mean pitying somebody. Oh, you poor person. Look what you have. Life is so unfair. Poor you. Oh, it’s not sappy and sentimental. Yeah? Because again, if you’re sappy and sentimental, poor baby got to fix you up. You know? Yeah? If compassion is like that then again, it’s gooey. It’s sticky. It’s, you know, it’s permeated with clinging and attachment and pity and actually condescension. Yeah, because when we feel sorry for somebody- because we often say, oh, I feel so sorry for somebody, meaning I have compassion for them. Feeling sorry for someone is different than compassion. Feeling sorry, is, you know, “oh, that poor person”. Yeah, I feel so bad. But I’m separate from that person. That person is suffering. They’re worthy of pity. But I’m separate. I’m unrelated. And maybe I’m a little bit better looking down on that person who has so much trauma. This is not the Buddhist concept of compassion. There’s no condescension. Yeah. And here’s where I really like Shantideva’s image of a thorn stuck in a foot and the hand pulling it out. Okay, the hand doesn’t look at the foot and say, oh poor foot. You were walking along, and you stepped on a rusty nail. Poor baby! But me? I’m the great and glorious hand. And I’ve taken how many thorns how many rusty nails out of you- you know, foot before and you still continue to do the same stupid thing, you idiot, instead of listening to me when I tell you to watch where you’re going. But I’m the kind, compassionate hand and I’m gonna reach down and pull that nail out. And remember that I helped you because you owe me one. Okay, that is not compassion.

Neither the condescension nor the- you owe me one. Yeah? So we have to be very clear about what compassion means. Otherwise, we get really- we go in circles. We can’t approach a situation clearly. Just to give you an example, when we are overwhelmed with attachment or longing or grief, how we actually can’t help people very much. Okay? So, some years ago, a friend of mine was dying and his wife, you know, called me and let me know and I had known him for many years and respected him a lot. He had been here to the Abbey. And so I said, do you want me to come? They were in California, and she said yes. So I went down. And he was on a ventilator. He had been sedated because apparently it is quite uncomfortable to be on a ventilator. But they pulled him out of the sedation for a moment. And his wife asked him, you know, are you ready to go or do you want to keep fighting this? Because he had had several incidents. There was an organ transplant and one thing after another kept going bad, and he said let me go. So the hospital was very good. They wheeled him into another room and so his wife followed, his two kids, adult kids, and his best friend who also was a friend of mine, and me. So there were five of us that followed him into the other room. And since it had to do with his lungs, you know, stopping, taking him off the vent, he would die. And they said that it’s very uncomfortable dying in that way because you feel like you’re getting strangled. You can’t breathe. So there was, you know, I figured out later that the other person standing next to me over him was a nurse, giving, I think… Venerable Jigme, would it have been morphine? That? Something like that, so that he didn’t feel any distress when he was dying. Yeah?

I have another opinion about that altogether, but that’s not part of the story. Anyway, so I was standing right with him as he was dying and giving him instructions, how to think and what to remember and so on. And his wife, his two kids, his best friend were, you know, on the other side of him a little bit, a few feet away, and they were all crying, you know, and that they couldn’t help him because they were too overwhelmed themselves with the grief of losing him. Yeah? So it really for me was quite a clear example of how important it is to be very clear minded when you have compassion, and not, you know, fall apart. Because you really- what can you do? When you fall apart when it’s your pain now that’s consuming your mind. And so your attention is not on the other person. It’s on yourself and your own pain.

Another time when I was in Singapore, a family asked me to go the- one of the family members was dying. They were in the bedroom, and the rest of the family was in the living room, and they asked me to come and help the dying person. However, when I got there, the family was in such emotional turmoil that I couldn’t get to the person in the bedroom who was the one dying because the family needed help right then and there. Okay? So, you know, wow, the person who’s dying is the person who needs the most help at this moment because that’s a really important time in your life, the moment of death, but the family, out of compassion, they called me out of compassion for their relative, but they were so distressed themselves that I couldn’t- it took me, I don’t know- half an hour or 45 minutes get in the room of the person who was dying because the family- you know, they stop me in the room and I had to help them first.

Okay? I’m telling you these stories to give you some kind of real-life example of what compassion can mean and what it doesn’t mean. Okay? Yeah. Definitely there’s a very strong feeling with compassion, but there’s hope or optimism. Optimism may be a better word. Hope is what you do when you can’t find anything good to think about. Optimism is where you have a good attitude towards it.

Three kinds of dukka

Okay, then also another point in thinking about compassion is, you know, we all- hopefully we all. Some of you may not- remember the three kinds of dukkha that’s taught in the lamrim. The Dukkha of pain, which is physical and mental pain that everybody even the animals experience and know is undesirable. Then the Dukkha of change, which is the fact that we experience pleasure and happiness in samsara, but if we do the thing that gives us happiness long enough, it becomes suffering. Okay? Yeah.

And here chocolate is a really good example. Yeah? You’re craving chocolate. You want chocolate. You eat chocolate. You’re so happy, and you keep eating it and keep eating it and keep eating it and what’s the end result? (Makes a face.) You know? Uhhh… I feel terrible. So what it’s showing is that if chocolate really brought true happiness, the more we ate it the more- happier we would be. But it doesn’t bring true happiness because the more we eat it, eventually we get a stomachache and we are kind of miserable. So that’s the case with any kind of happiness we have in samsara. Yeah? So the Buddha didn’t teach us this in order to- so that we could be depressed. Okay? And say oh there’s no real happiness in samsara and it’s all going to devolve into dukkha… eh. Buddha didn’t- he didn’t teach- he doesn’t need to teach us how to be depressed. Okay? We do that all by our little old selves. Yeah? So, you know, compassion shouldn’t have that ring of depression, and forlorn, and hopeless. Bodhisattvas have optimism because they know the cause of samsara can be stopped- can be eradicated.

And then the third kind of dukkha. Pervasive dukkha of conditioning refers to our five aggregates. Yeah? The body: the physical aggregate, the four mental aggregates, our constitute mind. So they’re feeling, discrimination, miscellaneous factors, and consciousness. Yeah? So just the fact of having our body and mind means that we are always susceptible to big dukkha. Okay? That even in the times like right now, we’re in the human realm, and the sun is shining and everything’s good except we have to think about what the Supreme Court is doing but scratch that out for a while. You know, everything’s good and life is fine… Buddha says this is a form of dukkha. It’s unsatisfactory. Because at any split second, karma could ripen and we’re thrown into big dukkha. Okay? Here you can think of all the people who woke up this morning thinking, oh, it’s a sunny day and going out- it’s Saturday. I’m gonna go do something fun, and they wind up getting in car accidents instead. Yeah? So we don’t know what’s going to happen. All the people who thought today was going to be a fun day and they had heart attacks or strokes. So the idea being that with this third kind of dukkha, there’s no security in samsara. Okay?

One of the things of generating compassion is we often think only of compassion for the first kind of dukkha. People are suffering. There’s a war in Ukraine. There’s starvation in the Middle East and in Africa. There’s, you know, climate destruction. There are people in the hospital having all kinds of things and there’s people having emotional breakdowns and so on. So we only tend to think of that kind of very gross dukkha as dukkha. Okay? And that’s why I don’t like to translate the Sanskrit term dukkha as suffering because those people don’t- if you ask them, you know, are you suffering today? They’d say, no, you know, today I’m fine. But- yeah. Dukkha doesn’t mean suffering like that. It means unsatisfactory circumstances. If you ask that same person, are their unsatisfactory circumstances surrounding your life? You bet they say yes. Okay? So we have to make sure when we’re meditating on compassion that we don’t just stay with the people who have very obvious physical and mental suffering. Okay?

One reason for that, is that then our because our compassion becomes very biased. We have compassion for the poor, for the injured. Do we have compassion for the rich? No. We think that they’re people who are dishonest and oppress other people. And da-na-na-na-nah. Actually, if you’ve ever been around rich people for any period of time, they have their own kind of suffering. Yeah? People who are successful in society have their own suffering. Because as soon as you make it big, you have to maintain that. It is not easy to maintain your big status. Just ask you-know-who, who wants to get his big status back in 2024. Okay, you have to maintain that status. And it’s stressful to maintain it. And if you don’t maintain it, then look what happens. I’m a loser. I can’t be a loser. Only losers are losers. I’m not a loser. I’m successful. The whole thing was rigged. Okay? But what about compassion for a person who has that way of thinking? And who thinks that that’s going to bring him lasting happiness? I mean, how confused and tormented is such a mind that thinks like that? You see, but if we only think of compassion as somebody that, you know, somebody broke their leg or they’re getting a divorce, you know, then you don’t have compassion for somebody like that. You call them every name in the book and even the names that aren’t in the book. Okay? But our compassion becomes very biased. Yeah?

And also, when we have compassion only for the ill or injured, very often, we have compassion, but we don’t want to get too involved. Have you ever had Aunt Ethel? You know, who is eighty something. She’s in the hospital. She usually smells bad. She’s had dementia for a while. She’s really sick. Yeah? She’s your aunt and her child says, please come with me to visit Aunt Ethel. And you go, ew I don’t want to go to the hospital. The hospital is scary. That’s where you go to die and Aunt Ethel’s on the way to die. She has dementia anyway, and I can’t- that just drives me crazy. It makes me afraid because I might get dementia. Yeah? And so there’s resistance to going and seeing Aunt Ethel. Because we have so much compassion for her suffering as long as she is at a distance. So to really have compassion for somebody it takes a lot of work on our part.

To have genuine compassion that is gonna stick there throughout whatever the person’s going through. And a compassion that has so much fortitude, that you’re not going to give up halfway. Okay? In other words, you have compassion for somebody who has a medical problem, and you have the perfect way to treat them for their medical problems. Okay? Because your friends and your uncle, you know four times removed has this certain folk remedy that is absolutely 100% infallible, you know, like taking Hydroxychloroquine and you know how to cure this person’s illness. But other people don’t want to give it to them. And the other person doesn’t want your help. They don’t want to take Hydroxychloroquine. They want to take Clorox. Okay? So then you get frustrated. I know how to treat this and I’m telling you what’s good for you. Why are you rejecting it? Then you go completely berserky because I’m being so compassionate, and they won’t listen to me, those beep beep beep and then you start getting angry and frustrated at them. Yeah? Your compassion kind of goes south. Because you’re fed-up. Why don’t you people do what I say and listen to me? Or you are trying to help somebody, you know, who is dying who doesn’t have- um the- what do you call it? The attorney- power of attorney, who doesn’t have a will, who doesn’t have any of this and you’re trying to say you know, please fill it out. And they don’t want to. Yeah? When my dad was in his late 80s, early 90s we tried to get him to give up the car keys. Failed. You know. He didn’t want to sign a power- he has power of attorney, but a medical will. He didn’t want to do that one. Only his doctor finally convinced him after a long time to do one. Yeah? But if you have that kind of person that you’re helping, Dad, you know, you can’t drive. You’re gonna get in a wreck and you’re gonna kill somebody else and kill yourself. But you can’t say that to Dad because you know what you’re going to hear in response. Okay? So you try every possible way to show your compassion to get him to please, you know, you’ve driven for so many years dad. Let us drive you. Give us the keys. No. So you have to have the ability to not get frustrated and throw the whole thing away. Okay? It’s tempting sometimes but you can’t do it.

So really generating compassion, yeah? It’s not something sentimental. It entails an incredible kind of fortitude in the mind, and clarity, and it has to be combined with wisdom. If the compassion is not combined with wisdom, then, you know, with all of our wonderful compassion we go in and we make a royal mess of the situation. Yeah? We give bad advice. We create factions. All in the name of acting out of compassion. So we have to be quite careful.

Great compassion is the root of all goodness

Okay, so that’s just a little introduction. So in the verses of the homage to great compassion that we just read, the first verse talks about how compassion is the root of all goodness. Okay? So we’ll do it one verse at a time. Srāvaka and solitary realizers arise- sometimes it says are born from the excellent sages instead of arise. I’m used to it saying born from. Anyway, arise from the excellent sages, meaning the buddhas, the excellent sages are born from bodhisattvas. The mind of compassion, non-dual awareness and bodhicitta. These are the causes of bodhisattvas. Okay? So this is at the beginning of Chandrakirti’s text and in the text. It’s about the 10 perfections, the 10 paramitas and the majority of the text is spent on the six paramitas the one of Shara of wisdom. It’s a long chapter and that’s the real juicy tofu part of the text. So it’s interesting at the beginning of it, he’s not paying homage to Manjushri who is the buddha of wisdom. He’s not paying homage to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. He’s paying homage to Great Compassion. Okay? So that’s saying something right there. Then he starts saying the Srāvakas and solitary realizers are born from the excellent sages, the buddhas. The excellent sages are born from bodhisattvas. Okay, so Srāvakas are hearers. Okay? The literal translation is the hearers and it refers to people who follow the fundamental vehicle. In other words, whose aim is to become an arhat and they hear the teachings. So they hear the Buddha’s teaching, and they also share it with other people. So sometimes Srāvaka can mean just hearer. Sometimes it means hearer and proclaimer because they can even proclaim the teachings, give the teachings about supreme awakening and the path to Buddhahood, even though they themselves don’t follow it. Okay? So Srāvaka can have that meaning as well. Yeah?

Solitary realizers are another kind of fundamental vehicle practitioner who aspires to become an arhat. They’re called solitary realizers because in their last lifetime, when they attain the arhatship of a solitary realizer they do so at a time in what is called a dark eon. In other words, a time- a historical time when there’s no Buddha who has appeared in the world and taught. So they are solitary in that sense. Okay? They don’t have a community around them, although some might, but most don’t. They don’t have a teacher in that last lifetime. But they’ve certainly done all the work previously and, you know, have made that kind of dedication prayer to be in a solitary situation in their last lifetime. And I think some of them may live in communities and some there’s one kind called the rhinoceros ones who supposedly live alone, but I don’t know. I’ve seen rhinoceroses in zoos and- Rhinoceri?. Rhinoceroses. You know, they seem to have friends around. Okay.

So they are born from the excellent sages, from the Buddhas. What does it mean that, you know, Buddha is celibate. He doesn’t have any kids. How are they born from him? Okay, what it means is that the Buddha has the teachings and the experience of the full path to awakening. And so he teaches it to the Srāvakas and the solitary realizers and in that way, they are born from the words that the Buddha teaches them. Their states of realization depend on hearing the teachings from the Buddha. Okay? So Srāvakas and solitary realizers- they may have immeasurable compassion, and they may even teach immeasurable compassion because they’ve heard the teachings from the Buddha, but they themselves lack the compassion that shoulders the responsibility to lead all beings to liberation. So they have compassion. I mean, our friends who are Theravada practitioners, they’ll meditate a lot on mostly metta meditation, meaning loving kindness. That one is more popular than the other three of the four immeasurables but they meditate on compassion too. And so they may generate compassion, but immeasurable compassion means for all infinite- not infinite- countless sentient beings. Whereas the way compassion is usually taught in the fundamental vehicle, you start with developing it towards one or two individuals, and then you extended expand it. In our tradition we start with equanimity, equalizing our feeling towards all sentient beings and from there, meditate on love and compassion. So it’s a different kind of order because the kind of compassion we want to generate is towards all living beings. Okay?

Okay, so Srāvakas and solitary realizers may have immeasurable compassion, but they don’t want to take the responsibility of liberating sentient beings. Yeah? And when I stayed in Thailand some years ago to do some research for the books by His Holiness. The people I met there would talk about different people in Thailand who had compassion. And the abbot of the monastery where I was staying, he was very famous for having metta, loving kindness. Yeah? It’s definitely something that’s there in their tradition that most people in the Mahayana traditions don’t know about. Yeah? Because we are usually told oh, those people are Hīnayāna, lesser vehicle. They are selfish. Okay? So this term Hīnayāna was just translated as lesser vehicle. His Holiness doesn’t use that term anymore. Okay? He says fundamental vehicle. And I think that’s much more accurate because it shows that the Mahayana is- depends on the fundamental vehicle. In other words, Mahayana is not a totally different Buddhist tradition, unrelated to the Pali tradition, or unrelated to Theravadan. But rather, it shares so many of the foundational teachings, but it adds on the teachings about bodhicitta. That is very special. Okay? And I won’t get into the wisdom side, the differences. That’s not our topic right now.

Okay, so the Srāvakas and the solitary realizers, you know, they can gain their arhatship, their liberation. The Pali tradition says seven lives at maximum. The Sanskrit tradition says three lives. Okay? And the solitary realizers amass a lot of merit- that we talk about the collections of merit and wisdom. They amass a lot of merit and a lot of wisdom, but it’s not the collections of merit and wisdom, because to be the collections of these two, it has to be supported by bodhicitta and they don’t have the bodhicitta. So it’s called- so what they have is called secondary collections of merit and wisdom, not the fully qualified ones that bodhisattvas develop. Okay. So, when it says, so we just talked about Srāvakas and solitary realizers are born from the excellent buddhas. Then the next line is the excellent sages, the buddhas, are born from bodhisattvas and you go- huh? Okay, I understand how Srāvakas, hearers, and solitary realizers are born from hearing the teachings of the Buddha, but how is the Buddha born from a bodhisattva? Because the buddha has a higher, you know, is more highly realized than a bodhisattva. So here the meaning of the word born or arise from is different. Okay? Because when we say that buddhas are born from bodhisattvas, it means that you have or you know, one bodhisattva here. Okay? So our bodhisattva named Pat, that’s a nice gender equal term, name anyway. Our bodhisattva named Pat. Okay? So Pat can- when Pat practices and, you know, amasses the two collections, then Pat becomes a buddha. So that buddha arises from Pat in the sense that they’re both on the same mental continuum. Okay? So this mental continuum on the bodhisattva in one life was called Pat. Yeah? When that mindstream was completely purified, it became, you know, Pat became a buddha named, I don’t know. Yeah? Whatever you want to call that buddha. Okay? Buddhas have interesting names when you translate their names. Quite interesting. Okay, so maybe he is Buddha Pat on the Back to encourage you. (laughter) I don’t know. Yeah? Okay.

So it’s in that way that the buddhas are born from the bodhisattvas. We can- another way that we can say the buddhas are born from bodhisattvas is you have two bodhisattvas. Okay? And one bodhisattva teaches or encourages the other bodhisattva and then that bodhisattva becomes a buddha. So then that buddha is born from the bodhisattva that guided him or gave him or her advice. Okay, so that’s another meaning of buddhas are born from bodhisattvas. Okay, so one that they’re in the same substantial continuum, you know, and the other that one is helping the other.

Okay. So then the next section is talking about the three principal causes of bodhisattvas. Yeah? So Chandrakirti continues. He says, the mind of compassion, nondual awareness, and bodhicitta, these are the causes of bodhisattvas. Ok. Sounds good. Yeah? Just wait. Okay, so this is based on Chandrakirti saying this, on a passage from Nagarjuna, in precious garland, where Nagarjuna says, if you and the world wish to attain unparalleled awakening, its roots are the altruistic aspiration to awakening, bodhicitta, firm like monarch of mountains, compassion reaching to all quarters and wisdom not relying on duality. So Nagarjuna himself mentions these three causes. Okay, so compassion for each and every sentient being throughout space, omitting none. Okay, so if you omit one grasshopper- yeah? One politician, one mosquito, you know, then no bodhicitta. No awakening. So it depends on compassion for each and every sentient being. Yeah? So it’s much easier to generate compassion towards the people we like. Yeah? It’s so much easier. Strangers, as long as they’re far away, kind of on the other side of the planet, and I don’t have to really live with them in their refugee camps or live with them on the street or live with them in the medical clinics that are filthy. As long as there’s a distance, yeah, I can have some compassion for strangers.

Compassion for people we don’t like

Enemies? People who threatened me, who I don’t like, who have harmed me? That is another story. Compassion for them? Are you kidding? After what they did to me and how much they hurt me? They deserve to be hit by a truck. You know, and then we have the possible- the very popular exclamation, which you hear all over the place, of go to hell. Yeah? How many times in your life have you heard people say go to hell? And they probably mean it. You know? They’re mad, and they wish suffering on somebody else. That’s a difficult mind to work with, isn’t it? Because we can’t have that kind of anger and hatred towards somebody and at the same time be compassionate towards them. Those two mental factors cannot exist in the mind at the same time. As long as we hold the grudge, as long as we’re even subtly, although we won’t say it out loud, but we’re still wishing that they go to hell or get hit by a truck or whatever. If that is still in our mind, then we can’t generate compassion for them. Without compassion for one sentient being, we can’t generate bodhicitta. Without bodhicitta, there’s no awakening. Okay?

So our awakening depends on sentient beings. And it depends, I think, especially on the people that it’s so difficult to have compassion for. Yeah? Because those people are the key ones. Compassion for the people we like, you know, that’s not so much of a problem. Yeah? There it may turn into personal distress but, you know, we wish them well. So we have to work a lot on forgiveness. Yeah? I don’t see the word, the specific word forgiveness, as a translation term in many of the of the teachings, but His Holiness sure talks about it a lot. Yeah? And when you delve into the meaning of patience or fortitude as the antidote to anger, then, you know, you see that the whole idea of forgiveness is really there. Yeah? So can we forgive the people who harmed us? Can we let go of things 10… 20 years after they’ve happened? Yeah? Or are we holding on to that? Very strongly, and that person is permanent. They haven’t changed. They have this fixed personality. And I’m sure if I associate with them again, they will stab me in the back once more. Therefore, I am not speaking to them. I am not meeting with them. They can go to hell for all I care. Ever heard that before? Okay.

My family has a particularly interesting history with holding grudges. Yeah? Such that when there is a- something to celebrate and worldly- in a worldly way in my family, you cannot make a seating chart for all the guests. You cannot have the family all together. (A shriek-like sound is heard in the background, followed by laughter.) Thank you for agreeing! (More laughter) Okay. Because this one doesn’t speak to that one and that one doesn’t speak to this one. And you thought that this one and that one got along but they had a fight last week and now they don’t talk to each other, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re brothers or sisters, or parents or kids. You know. When they take a vow not to speak to that person again, they never break that vow. I come from a great family. It’s actually- there’s a lot of kind people in my family but there’s also this streak of- I don’t know what you want to call it- running through all of that. Yeah? It’s really kind of strange. Yeah? To put it gently. Okay? So we have to deal with our grudges. We have to forgive people. When we hold grudges, what’s going on in our mind? Okay? How do we see the self that’s holding the grudge? I can’t stand them. They hurt me. If you’re looking for the object of negation in the emptiness meditation, you got it. Okay. This strong me. I’m inherently existent. They harm me and they also are an inherently existent and they are permanent. They have a permanent character, a permanent disposition. They do the same thing again to me. You know? So I’m cutting them out. Basta finito. Done. Okay? So, yeah, we stab ourselves in the foot when we do that. Yeah? Because we’re miserable now. We can’t gain bodhicitta.

What pleasure do we get from holding a grudge? You know, people do things because there’s some pleasure at the bottom of it. What pleasure do you get from holding the grudge? Is it this feeling of power and control? I can sever the relationship. Well, congratulations. Does that really make you happy? Or my anger towards them will make them suffer and they’ll regret what they did to me. Oh, really? I just saw them at the beach with their kids. They’re having a good time. When we hold the grudge, who is suffering? Is our anger harming the person we’re mad at? Is that- is our anger making them realize that they made a terrible mistake and that they should definitely come crawling back to us on their hands and knees and beg for our forgiveness? Yeah.

We have this kind of mental image. You know? Don’t you? You know, there he is. That one that I can’t stand in the back of the room on his hands and knees like he’s going to- What’s the church in Mexico City where everybody goes on their hands and knees? They climb up the stairs… (inaudible response from the audience). Yeah. Basilica de Guadalupe. And the pilgrims go there and there’re steps leading up and they are crawling on their hands and knees, you know, asking for forgiveness for, you know, their sin or whatever. So we want the person who harmed us to do that to us. Don’t go to the Basilica de Guadalupe. I’m here. You can start right back there and crawl on your knees (laughter), you know, all the way up here. Crawling on your hands and knees going Culpa Mea, I am so sorry. I harmed you so much. I know it was 40 years ago, but I’ve been suffering since those 40 years because I harmed you. Please, please forgive me. Isn’t that somehow gratifying to your ego? You know, after 40 years, they finally got it that they’re a jerk. Yeah? And they’re crawling on their hands and knees and I am so magnanimous and so full of compassion, that I look as their crawling with their bleeding knees and their hands that are scratched, you know, with tears that are shedding down in grief because they are so sorry for what they did to me. And I can look at them and say, maybe I’ll accept your apology. I’ll think about it. Then we feel oh I got them. What kind of pleasure does that give you? That’s a sick kind of feeling of power, isn’t it? That is really disgusting. But that’s often what we want. I mean, I dramatized it just a little bit. (laughter) But not so much, you know? We want them to really be sorry. Yeah? Okay.

That’s a big impediment to having compassion for them. We have to let go of the anger. So then people fall into, but if I forgive them that means I’m saying what they did was okay. No. That doesn’t mean saying what they did was okay. What they- you know, it might have been okay, but it might have been very harmful. I say it might have been okay because often we misunderstand things that people do. You know, they don’t mean to harm, but we interpret it that way. But it could be that somebody did mean harm towards us. Yeah? All the forgiveness means is that I’m giving up my anger towards that harm. It doesn’t mean that I’m saying what they did to me was okay. Okay?

It just means I’m putting down my anger because I realize that my anger hurts me more than it hurts anybody else. Yeah? I’m tired of being angry because the anger, you know, it blocks me right, left and center. Anything I try and do, you know, I get annoyed. I get frustrated. I get irritated. I want to retaliate. Sometimes I explode and sometimes I implode. Okay? So forgiveness simply means- forgiveness is something we do to help ourselves. We’re giving up the anger that’s tormenting us. Our usual way of thinking is forgiveness is something we do for the other person. Yeah? By apologizing. When we apologize, we cannot ensure that the other person accepts our apology and forgives us. Yeah? So if we are holding out for that person to go yes, you know, giving you the holy benediction. Yes. My son, my daughter, I forgive you. No. Okay? The apology comes from our getting clear in our own mind. Yeah? That there is no good purpose for anger. Yeah? The apology also can come from realizing that maybe, just maybe, I had something to do with the event that broke us apart. Maybe?

You know, like maybe I said something to them or I did something to them. You know- something we don’t want to admit that we played a role. We want to play innocent victim. I did absolutely nothing. These people are evil incarnated. Actually, situations happen because of multiple causes and conditions. We can’t put it all on one person. Okay? But we are also not victim blaming here. Okay? But we all have some role in it. And from a Buddhist perspective, that role might have been something we did in a previous life. Yeah? We harmed other people in a previous life. This life, we’re getting harmed in return. Okay? The part that’s our responsibility is the karma we created in a previous life, created out of ignorance, that we haven’t purified yet. And in fact, when we hold a grudge, we’ve nourished that karma. We’ve made it stronger. Okay?

Forgiveness and what it means

So, forgiving is our putting down our anger. Sometimes it’s good to go to the person and apologize directly to them. Sometimes, they may be dead already. Does that mean that you can’t forgive them? No. Because forgiveness is you- you’re changing in your own mind your attitude towards them. So instead of wishing them ill, you wish them well. You generate bodhicitta wanting to lead them to awakening. So your whole attitude towards them has changed. Yeah? And in that way, you forgive them, even if they’re no longer alive to forgive. Because the key thing here is that our heart has changed. We cannot make somebody else accept our apology. Yeah? Because sometimes we feel really sincerely bad for something that we did to somebody- yeah? And, you know, they’re not ready to forgive. And that’s okay. That’s where they’re at. We have to respect it. Yeah? But from our side, we’re putting it down. Okay? So when other people harmed us, we can put it down. When we have harmed them, then also forgiving ourselves. Yeah? Doing purification. Owning what we did, purifying it, you know, maybe going to the other person apologizing, maybe writing them a note. Okay? There’s various ways depending on what the situation is towards them. Sometimes you don’t know where they are. You’ve lost touch with them. Okay? But the important thing is that it’s occurred in our own heart. So that we don’t carry it around with us.

Okay, so I think we will stop here today and continue tomorrow. Okay? Any questions? We have a minute for questions. Yeah?

Questions from the audience

Audience: Hi. So I was taught by Ajahn Jeff Ṭhānassaro Bikkhu about metta as a form of – this is in reference to you talking about the duhkha of change in reference to ice cream chocolate. How that doing it again and again creates suffering. He gave a teaching that metta is like printing money that never gets inflated. You know, like when you do metta practice it always- it just grows and grows and that’s the definition of immeasurable. So is there no suffering in generating metta? And is compassion when you have metta for those who are suffering? Is that what the definition of it?

Ven. Chodron: Metta means love. So love- okay, from a-

Audience: Just to clarify his definition of metta is goodwill and compassion is goodwill directed towards those who are suffering. While joy is goodwill directed towards those who are happy. Is that different than how you see it?

Ven Chordon: It’s fairly similar. We would phrase it as love is wanting others to have happiness and its causes. I think the “and its causes” is very important. You know? And compassion is wanting them to be free of dukkha and the causes of dukkha. Okay? But different traditions and different teachers may explain things differently.

Audience: But in specifically in reference to what you said about the chocolate, you know, when we generate- so metta is a pleasurable feeling that doesn’t create suffering if we keep doing it again and again and again?

Ven Chodron: No, metta is the feeling that we have towards other living beings. We don’t have metta towards chocolate.

Audience: No, that’s not what I meant- no, sorry maybe I am misspeaking. The pleasant feeling of generating wellbeing for others won’t transform into suffering if we continue to do it over and over again, unlike what we feel the pleasant feeling of chocolate.

Ven. Chodron: Oh, I see what you are saying. That the feeling of metta won’t turn into suffering. If you have pure metta, it won’t. If you have metta with strings attached, it will. Okay? Yeah? Anybody here ever had metta with strings attached? (laughter) Anybody ever experienced other people’s metta with strings attached? Okay, yeah. That kind of metta we can leave behind. Okay. Any other questions? Yeah?

Another audience member: (inaudible)

Ven. Chodron: Oh, yes! I will do it! Thank you! See? I told you I’d forget. Is that knowing yourself well when you know that you’ll forget to do something that you want to do for somebody else? Okay, so he had asked for the lung- for the prostrations to the 35 Buddhas, so I’m gonna read that just to give the lung. Yeah? You’re supposed to offer a mandala, but it’s okay. Yeah. I have enough things already. You don’t need to give me your mandala. (laughs) I’m joking. Okay, so you can just listen.

Prostrations to the 35 Buddhas

Om namo manjushriye namo sushriye namo uttama shriye soha.
I, [..say your name..], throughout all times, take refuge in the Gurus;
I take refuge in the Buddhas;
I take refuge in the Dharma;
I take refuge in the Sangha.
To the Founder, the Transcendent Destroyer, the One thus gone, Foe Destroyer, the Fully Enlightened One, the Glorious Conqueror from the Shakyas, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Great Destroyer, destroying with Vajra essence, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Jewel Radiating Light, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the King with Power over the Nagas, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Leader of the Warriors, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Blissful One, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Jewel Fire, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Jewel Moonlight, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, whose Pure Vision Brings Accomplishments, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Jewel Moon, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Stainless One, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Giver, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Pure One, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Bestower of Purity, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Celestial Waters, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Deity of the Celestial Waters, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Good, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Sandalwood, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the One of Unlimited Splendor, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Light, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One without Sorrow, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Son of the Desireless One, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Flower, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, who Understands Reality, Enjoying the Radiant Light of Purity, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, who Understands Reality, Enjoying the Radiant Light of the Lotus, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious Gem, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One who is Mindful, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One whose Name is Extremely Renowned, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the King Holding the Banner victory over the Senses, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One who Subdues Everything Completely, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One in All Battles, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One Gone Beyond to Perfect Self- control, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Glorious One who Enhances and Illuminates Completely, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Jewel Lotus who Subdues All, I bow down.
To the one thus gone, the Foe Destroyer, the Fully Awakened One, the King with Power over Mount Meru, always Remaining in the Jewel and the Lotus, I bow down.

All you 35 Buddhas and all the others those thus gone Foe Destroyers, fully awakened Ones and transcendent Destroyers, who are existing, sustaining and living throughout the ten directions of sentient beings’ worlds – all you Buddhas, please give me your attention.
In this life and throughout beginningless lives in all the realms of samsara, I have created, caused others to create, and rejoiced at the creation of destructive karmas.
Such as misusing offerings to holy objects, misusing offerings to the sangha, stealing the possessions of the sangha of ten directions.
I have caused others to create these destructive actions and rejoiced at their creation.
I have created the five heinous actions, caused others to create them and rejoiced at their creation.
I have committed the ten non-virtuous actions, involved others in them and rejoiced in their involvement.
Being obscured by all this karma, I have created the cause for myself and other sentient beings to be reborn in the hells, as animals, as hungry ghosts, in irreligious places, amongst barbarians, as long-lived gods, with imperfect senses, holding wrong views and being displeased with the presence of a Buddha.
Now before these Buddhas, transcendent destroyers who have become transcendental wisdom, who have become the compassionate eye, who have become witnesses, who have become valid and see with their omniscient minds, I am confessing and accepting all these actions as negative.
I will not conceal or hide them and from now on I will refrain from committing these destructive actions.
Buddhas and transcendent destroyers, please give me your attention.
In this life and throughout beginningless lives in all the realms of samsara, whatever root of virtue I have created through even the smallest acts of charity such as giving one mouthful of food to a being born as an animal, whatever root of virtue I have created by keeping pure ethical conduct, whatever root of virtue I have created by abiding in pure conduct, whatever root of virtue I have created by fully ripening sentient beings’ minds, whatever root of virtue I have created by generating bodhicitta and whatever root of virtue I have created of the highest transcendental wisdom, bringing together all these merits of both myself and others, I now dedicate them to the highest of which there is no higher, to that even above the highest, to the highest of the high, to the higher of the high.
I thus dedicate them completely to the highest, fully accomplished awakening.
Just as the Buddhas and transcendent destroyers of the past have dedicated, just as the Buddhas and transcendent destroyers of the future will dedicate and just as the Buddhas and transcendent destroyers of the present are dedicating, in the same way I make this dedication.
I confess all my destructive actions separately and rejoice in all merits.
I implore all the Buddhas to grant my request that I may realize the ultimate, sublime, highest transcendental wisdom.
To the sublime kings of the human beings living now, to those of the past and to those who have yet to appear, to all those whose knowledge is as vast as an infinite ocean, with my hands folded in respect, I go for refuge.

General Confession

“Whoohoola” (which means woe is me)
All spiritual mentors, Great Vajra holders all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who abide in the ten directions, as well as all the venerable Sangha, please pay attention to me!
I, who am named [..say your name..], circling in cyclic existence since beginningless time until the present. Overpowered by afflictions such as attachment, hostility and ignorance, have created the ten destructive actions by means of body, speach and mind.
I have engaged in five heinous actions and the five parallel heinous actions. I have transgressed the precepts of individual liberation, contradicted the trainings of a bodhisattva, broken the tantric commitments. I have been disrespectful to my kind parents, spiritual mentors, spiritual friends and those following the pure paths, I have committed actions harmful to the Three Jewels, avoided the holy Dharma, criticized the Arya Sangha and harmed living beings.
These and many other destructive actions I have done, asked others to do, or rejoiced in others doing; in short, I have created many obstacles to my own higher rebirth and liberation and have planted countless seeds for further wanderings in cyclic existence and miserable states of being. Now in the presence of the spiritual mentors, the great Vajra holders, all the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who abide in the ten directions, and the venerable Sangha, I confess all these destructive actions, I will not conceal them, and I accept them as destructive. I promise to refrain from doing these actions again in the future. By confessing and acknowledging them, I will attain and abide in happiness. While by not confessing and acknowledging them, true happiness will not come.

Powerful. We have a lot to purify. Okay, so let’s dedicate.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.

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