Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Brad Vanlandingham. Brad defies definition or characterization, in almost all ways. I know him as someone who has been very much on a parallel journey with me for over 20 years, learning and experiencing very differently than me, but also very much the same. We share concepts, though our vocabularies can be different. I also know Brad as a musician (he did the audio for the Guiding Thoughts on Journey of the Heart), artist, and photographer. You can find his beautiful expressions by clicking on his name above. I am thankful to Brad for sharing this piece about waking up to (and with) compassion. Enjoy!
Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet, this is not what is meant by compassion, quite the contrary.
Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion…is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception.
–Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.
A week ago in a conversation I was having on the topic of compassion, I naturally, without thinking about it, expressed that if someone with whom I was interacting, were to clearly express intention to harm me or kill me (in that present moment), unafraid for myself, I wouldn’t hesitate to knock them out, tape them up, and fix them a cup of tea so that we could have a nice conversation when they regained consciousness.
This was not something I had to think about, it was something I would do without any thought or hesitation for their benefit; to keep them from harming themselves by stopping them from engaging in an activity that would certainly be harmful to them, regarding their Self, karmic-ly speaking (really, in every truly meaningful way). Another example would be locking my doors to deter would-be thieves from doing things that would be harmful to themselves (stealing) but in no way because I have any concern about the stuff in “my house”.
This did not raise any thought as odd or different from the “me” I “know” now, as compared to any other “me” of any other perceived point in “time” and I not only did not think about it as I was saying it, but did not think about it after…until today.
The above quote sparked an awareness of a “change” that has, in the context of time, taken place in this “me”, which has occurred directly as a result of an actively engaged path of following Buddha’s teachings (the learning, contemplation, meditation, teachers/gurus/lamas, the practices, etc.).
The description of this change might be put as: does a fish know it’s a fish? What is the natural response which arises from that which is?
When I responded in the conversation about knocking someone out who meant me harm, I did not need to think about it or analyze it or decide or determine or choose; it’s just what to do without having to figure out what would be the “compassionate” thing to do.
Today, because of the quote above, the compassion that I am recognized, and became aware, that there is a natural awareness of a state of being pure compassion. When I am in this state of being pure compassion, actions, words and thoughts flow forth, yet the state of being itself is unaware of being aware yet (now) aware of being unaware awareness: a pure state of being.
There is no need to “be aware” once all that is other-than compassion, other-than loving kindness, other-than complete awareness (our only true nature) is gone; it’s all that “other than” which has need to “be aware”…or beware!
We do need to be aware of recognizing all that we are not, but not for the reason we often think.
We conceive a definition of compassion or loving kindness and we then work at being that (and not this). We remind ourselves (convincingly) that we are truly that (and not this), but somehow through this process of convincing and reminding ourselves, we solidify ever more precisely the very this that’s not that, ever increasing the intensity of need, or of strength, to overcome the very this which that defines.
It’s all very exhausting, right?
But we continue, because in such continuation and diligence somehow some way we begin to see this thing “I” am doing and finally start to recognize and become aware of this “doing I”. We recognize that “being” is a concept with a definition. That definition is what we are doing to be. Thus doing has become being.
If we keep putting our hearts, minds, intention, choice in line with love, compassion, or at least our definitions and concepts of such, we put ourselves into understanding that we and everything are not some real solid truly existent thing that has inherent separate existence from all else. Then there is change.
Nothing we imagine is what or how we or things are. Waking up is a process, but once awake, awake knows not being awake. I love you awake!