Friday, April 23, 2010

A Buddhist Nun Explains Buddhism

Let's think about Buddhist compassion for a minute, and, since we were on the subject of nuns earlier, let's do it through the thoughts of a Buddhist nun.  The question is: how can we best be compassionate?  I would love to hear your response to this question since compassion seems to be at the root of ethics and I think we can all learn from each other.  I do not think you have to be a Buddhist to have immense amounts of compassion, but Buddhists do, I think, turn it into a challenging art of life, which I deeply appreciate.

Before we do, here are a couple videos that can serve as a primer on Buddhist spiritual practice.  They are not definitive, but only a dip of the toe into the discipline as it is accessed by one practitioner.  First, a great short clip from a popular Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, on what it means to have a relationship to the figure Buddha; Bill Moyers asks her to compare it to a person's relationship with Christ.  In this next video, she discusses the job of the spiritual friend--which she actually says is to insult you!  She then goes on to talk about our preoccupation with annoyances and the lousy world to show us how crazy we can be when we live our lives simply to stave off discomfort.

At the center of Buddhism is compassion and Pema has a wonderful piece on it on her website.  Here is an excerpt, where she discusses what is often the aim of true compassion for a Buddhist:

"Somehow the root of suffering is how we escalate the suffering, how we make the suffering more intense by going on and on and on about it with our habitual reactiveness. In some sense, not to get too complicated or psychological, but often what we're wishing for people is that they be free of their fear of what's happening to them, or their depression about what's happening to them, or their bitterness and anger about what's happening to them. You see what I'm saying? Because sometimes what's happening to them, we actually can't, it can't be changed. We might wish that it could be changed, but we're not trying to do this practice to get into kind of wishful thinking or, like, if we just aspire enough that everything is going to be all right. Because in life there's so much not everything being alright, you know. So somehow it's more like..."
I often show compassion by commiserating with my friends. I communicate to you that I understand what you are going through and how hard it has been and how hard it will probably continue to be.  I may even try to help you make decisions on how to change things so that the suffering will be alleviated.  However, I learned in my homelessness work that the best people at the job were people with senses of humor.  People who could cut through the crust of ongoing psychic pain to plumb the softer depths of the experience.  In this way, people were able to find nourishing substance in their experience, because at that moment they realized that they were, no matter what, free to take a different attitude toward the experience.  This is called by Cornel West, an African American philosopher, the prophetic which, he suggests, is illustrated well by African American thinkers in their use of the tragicomic hope.  That is, it challenges the submission to the pain we create for ourselves by identifying with the hardships in life without a critical, creative distance--it is this distance that truly allows change to occur.  It is also this distance that allows us to take up our responsibility to each other in times of crisis.

What do you think?  How do you understand compassion?  Please feel free to respond to this entry.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

About My Practice
I am currently sitting at the Albany Shambhala Meditation Center.  Many of the practitioners at the center are seasoned sitters and are open to inviting guests to offer cutting edge classes.  I loved the classes I have recently taken there on embodiment.  I am interested in the layers of psychic and social baggage our bodies often carry for us without our knowledge that shape the way we interact with others.  However, the center offers comprehensive programs that help introduce a person to the Shambhalan Buddhist path to enlightenment.   There are Shambhala centers all over the U.S., so even if you do not live near Albany, there may still be one near you.  Pema Chodron practices within the Shambhala lineage.

About the Picture
This picture was borrowed without permission from the Shambhala Sun Times. You can check out a larger version at:
It was published in the following article on Pema:
The Pema Chodron Foundation.

No comments: