The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Compassion”
The teaching for today about compassion has to have a certain foundation laid to it in order for us to understand how compassion is viewed in Buddhism. I am going to combine some traditional teachings and some non-traditional ways of presenting them, which is actually my forte. You will find that a lot around here.
In order to begin to give you some of the teachings, I have to give you a couple of definitions. Actually here in this temple, I have been using the term compassion and that is actually a poor translation of some of the terms that are actually used. One term that is actually used in association with the teaching of compassion is called Bodhicitta. Roughly that means compassion; but it actually has superficial, deeper and very profound levels of meaning. You will find that that is true in everything in Buddhism. There is outer, inner and secret meaning to just about everything. Sometimes I have sat through teachings with my teachers where I have heard the outer, inner and secret meaning and it seemed to me that I understood the secret meaning instantly—it didn’t seem to be a big secret to me—but the outer meaning was confusing. So I don’t know how they figure all this stuff. In Buddhism there seems to be an outer, inner, and secret about everything, particularly in the Vajrayana point of view. Suffice it to say that Bodhicitta on the external level would be the practice of compassion, which means that one would thoroughly understand the faults of cyclic existence, that is to say the cycle of death and rebirth. One would thoroughly understand its confusion and its difficulties, and what the faults actually are, what the problems of cyclic existence are. One would understand what the cessation of such problems would actually result in; one would understand how these problems could cease, and one would understand what relief from that kind of suffering would be. One would engage in compassionate activity.
On a deeper level, the Bodhicitta nature is actually considered to be our nature. It is considered that our nature is a non-dual union of emptiness and compassionate activity; that that is our true nature. We are not able to express that nature now simply because we have not obtained realization. But when the Buddha appears or when the Buddha’s teaching appears in the world and is conveyed or conferred in a way that does not deviate from the original purpose and power, then that is called a display of the Bodhicitta. It is considered that the activity of the Buddha in the world and actually the appearance of the Buddha in the world is emptiness and enlightened activity displayed in a non-dual way, particularly enlightened activity. If one were to have obtained Buddhahood, from that point on one would automatically display enlightened activity constantly. Everything that one would do would be enlightened activity no matter how it seemed. I think I talked a little bit about it for those who attended last week. For instance, different Bodhisattvas or Lamas that have obtained some realization might display different kinds of activities. There are many different examples of Lamas, for instance, that appear in robes and are really toeing the mark, straight and narrow. It is very, very clear cut that they are displaying the Buddha’s virtuous teachings. And yet there are other highly realized Lamas and Bodhisattvas who appear in the world and their activity seems crazy to us. Seems crazy to us. We don’t understand it. They don’t appear like pure Lamas and teachers. They coined one phrase in some of the teaching called ‘crazy yoga activity’ where the Lama would appear in such a way as to be odd, almost crazy, looking like they even have mental disturbance, acting very strangely. Guru Rinpoche himself was known to do some very odd things like boink people over the head and kill them and bring about their realization. There is one story of a Lama that I heard of who actually lived not too long ago. It looked like he did something really horrible. He picked up a rock and threw it at some kind of mouse or a rat, or something like that, and killed it. One of his students said, “Why did you do that? You killed. The Buddha tells us not to kill.” “You have no faith.” He snapped his fingers and the thing came back to life. So it was a display of compassion; it was a display geared toward creating devotion in the students. Those are extreme stories, but there are many simpler stories of Lamas appearing in the world in such a way that through their compassion students can actually relate to them better, can actually hear them better, can feel connected to them in a much better way. So that is one example. But according to the Buddha’s teaching the bottom line of that is when enlightened activity appears in the world, that enlightened activity will be effortless. Meaning that it will naturally occur; and it occurs directly from the mind of enlightenment as a result of the mind of enlightenment. There won’t be any contrivance about it; the thing will be what it is.
One of the teachers that has come and taught here used the expression “the ball is going to roll”. It is going to roll no matter what you do. It is simply its nature to roll. That is the way it is. Depending on the grade of the land, depending on the way things are laid out that is the direction that the ball will roll in. How fast the ball will roll depends on where it is sitting, but the ball’s nature is to roll. You can’t stop that; you can’t change that about the ball. So it is kind of like that with the Buddha’s appearance in the world. When songs are sung to praise the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their activity is described as what I have spoken of just now as being effortless and spontaneous. Now it doesn’t mean that the Buddha didn’t go through some effort to travel from town to town to appear in different places to teach people as he taught people. It is not to say that Guru Rinpoche didn’t try, didn’t put any effort into his life. It is not like that. In that sense, effortless means that the activity is spontaneous, that at no time does the Buddha or any of the Bodhisattvas who have obtained that level of realization ever say, “I wonder what would look kind right now? Let me try to do the right thing. Let me see if I can figure out according to this phenomena here how two and two might add up to four. Let me see if I can figure this out. Hmmm. Maybe if I did this that student would react in this way.” It is not like that. In that way, the activity is effortless and spontaneous. It comes as a result, not of logical thought, which would be an indication of a very superficial or relative view, but it comes as a result of natural and spontaneous activity that must result from enlightenment. The seed of enlightenment then produces the fruit of this enlightened activity. .
Now we have to be careful how we use that. Unfortunately students that have studied this concept and studied Dharma activity over a long period of time think that they are displaying enlightened activity, think that they are displaying effortless activity. That is an unfortunate thing because the moment that you think in that way and that you consider in that way and that you puff yourself up in that way, that is not enlightened activity. That is not it all. The moment that you describe yourself as having that kind of enlightened activity you have puffed yourself up and you have strengthened your ego and that is no longer enlightened activity. You are off the mark. There are actually Gurus that are present in this world now that have very good intentions. They have part of the idea, but they do not have the capacity to fully express themselves in terms of enlightened activity. They have not yet produced enlightenment in their students and they are in a situation where their activity is partial. They speak of themselves very highly, as being enlightened, as being a certain way, and it only indicates their attachment to self-nature. So you have to be careful with how you use it and you have to be very careful how you hear it from other teachers.
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