Blog Post 16: Paths Beyond Ego

Blog Post 16: Paths Beyond Ego

This is an important key to understanding compassion as a way of life.  Although our ego is involved in daily living, the Source of compassion is infinite and beyond ego.  We cannot bypass the Source and expect to live compassionately, it is beyond the ability of our finite ego to accomplish.  And even if the ego could accomplish this it would just make it more egocentric, which is not a characteristic of compassion.

In Boundless Compassion[1] and in the retreats of the same title, Joyce Rupp fills a void that some other teachers of compassion overlook or don’t acknowledge.  To realize that we are one with and created in the image of Infinite Love and Compassion, that is, it is our essential nature (aka, True Self) is the foundation and reality of living compassionately. To quote Thomas Merton, “…for it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not.”[2] Joyce speaks from this foundation, The Source of Infinite Compassion.

At the same time she focuses on daily living a compassionate life. Is this not who we are called to be?  To follow and live as Christ in the world; in the practical, daily life.  In the tradition of Merton, Joyce provides wisdom from theistic and non-theistic resources as a basis for a compassionate life. After all, Tibetan Buddhism has studied ways to practically implement compassion in daily life for over a thousand years.

In the Introduction to Week 1 of Boundless Compassion, Joyce writes “Compassion is a way of life-an inner posture of how to be with suffering, both our own and others, and a desire to move that attitude into action. Compassion involves an ‘inside-out’ movement. A radical change unfolds in us when compassion becomes a way of life, a transformation as far-reaching as an acorn growing into a tree,…or a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly.”[3]  In this way we see that “compassion the primary agent of transformation”[4] as Jim Finley states.

In Blog 2, “What is Compassion and What is Suffering?” I described compassion as tenderness, courage, and wisdom (TCW). Joyce provides the basis for TCW and also identifies the “movement of compassion–awareness, attitude, and action—and the four essential aspects of nonjudgment, nonviolence, forgiveness ,and mindfulness”[5] in multiple aspects of daily life.  These aspects create the necessary training to habituate the transformation to a compassionate life of tenderness, courage, and wisdom.

Boundless Compassion is eminently practical since there are daily practices and prayers around each weekly theme of compassionate living. “Compassion is a photosynthesis of the heart…We cannot hurry this transformation, but we can give ourselves to it as fully as possible, knowing that it entails a continual recommitment.”[6]  My future blog posts will highlight these themes and encourage us all to live a compassionate way of life in the midst of today’s world.

 

[1] Rupp, J. (2018) Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life. Notre Dame, IN.: Sorin Books. [2] Merton, T. (1961) New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Publishing, p. 297.  [3] Rupp, p.12. [4] Finley, James said on many retreats and found in Christian Mediation (2004) San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco. [5] Rupp, p. 12. [6] Rupp, p. 14.

Blog 9: Living the Compassionate Life

In Christianity we discuss compassion but usually in the context of acts of mercy and are discrete actions rather than a way of life. (This is a good thing, too, but not what I am focusing on in this blog.)  I have found a lot of practical guidance in living the life path of compassion from Buddhist and psychological sources.  In particular, I have found one practice that is a good beginning on the contemplative compassion journey.  That is Loving-Kindness (L-K) practice and there are many Buddhist authors and teachers who can lead you in this practice. Pema Chodron calls this Bodhicitta Practice[1].

For our purposes, I thought I’d share my modified L-K practice.  For me it is a prayer.  The language of the practice that I use is:

May you know happiness (compassion, or whatever their need might be)

And the roots of happiness (compassion);

May you be free of suffering

And the roots of suffering;

May you be peaceful and at ease;

May you know love and joy in your heart.

In Buddhist training, the direction is to start with yourself but many Westerners find expressing Loving-Kindness for yourself to be difficult.  So, the best way to begin this practice is by thinking of a person whose suffering you feel strongly and whose happiness is very important to you. This could be someone you know or have known, or someone you’ve seen on the street or read about in the newspaper. If people are too difficult, start with a beloved pet.

To expand your prayer practice to others, a typical progression might be[2]:

  • a beloved friend;
  • a benefactor or mentor;
  • a neutral person, who is someone who we neither like or dislike (like someone you meet while grocery shopping);
  • a difficult person, who is someone with whom we have experienced irritation or conflict;
  • and for all beings everywhere, without exception or distinction.

This can be part of your daily prayer practice and may arise from or lead you into contemplative practices such as Centering Prayer or Christian mediation.  It opens one’s heart to the God of Infinite Love and Compassion.

 

[1] Chodron, P.  (2013)  Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications and “Noble Heart Study Guide” (1995). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, p. 15.

[2] “Loving Kindness Practice.” Downloaded from: http://www.mindfulnet.org/Loving%20Kindness%20Practice.pdf on July 25, 2018.

What is wisdom in the context of contemplative compassion?

As I wrote in a previous post, I describe compassion as tender, courageous, and wise.  Tender compassion seems so commonly understood that I will save it for a later post.  What is most often misunderstood about compassion is the necessity for wisdom.  Yet it is not a wisdom born from egocentricity but from awareness of reality.  Wisdom allows us to see beyond the surface appearance of things and grasp what is most helpful.

Many people think of compassion as just being nice all the time.  This is why one cannot be compassionate without wisdom.  We need to move beyond niceness to what is really important and helpful to another person. The core self one with God can see the most effective response which is both wise and loving.  It’s not “idiot compassion” [1]  which is defined as avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, taking action in order to “look good,” or fear of taking action because of what others might think.

Philosopher Ken Wilber says, “Real compassion includes wisdom and so it makes judgments of care and concern; it says some things are good, and some things are bad, and I will choose to act only on those things that are informed by wisdom and care….What most people mean by ‘compassion’ is please be nice to my ego.”[2]

Many great spiritual teachers have used the wisdom of compassion when asked questions from well-meaning students or the self-righteous. Often their response is paradoxical or metaphorical. This can stop the “brain freeze” of suffering in that it breaks habitual thought patterns and assumptions. This can be seen in Jesus’ telling Nicodemus that he must be born again.  This compassionate response confused Nicodemus and in the ensuing dialogue Jesus moved him from confusion to spiritual wisdom.  The Buddhist practice of koan study evokes wisdom such as the cow passing through the latticed window and all but the tail passes through.  Why doesn’t the tail pass through?

When compassionate thinking is fused with compassionate feeling we move towards the position of wisdom.  Wisdom emerges because we have deep insight into the nature of things.”[3]

“Compassion without wisdom can be misdirected and misguided. Wisdom allows us to see what the world is and how it works; compassion allows us to act appropriately on that knowledge.”[4]

Wisdom as a facet of compassion is an extensive topic and this is only meant to be an introduction to the concept.  It is a key aspect and necessary to understanding contemplative compassion.

 

[1] Idiot Compassion is a term coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche.

[2] Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: The journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., page 93.

[3] Gilbert, P. (2007) “Using Compassion to Change our MindsAppendix 7 in Psychotherapy and Counselling for Depression. London: Sage Publications.

[4] Miller, J.P. (2016) Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, page 172.

What is Compassion and What is Suffering?

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I feel it is important to define what we mean by compassion.

Most definitions of compassion include some notion of suffering, i.e. compassion is to “suffer with” another. It seems to me then, that we first need to define suffering.  In certain Western cultures, we tend to think of suffering as a really big incident or something of huge import.  So people who are starving in the Third World, persons whose loved one dies unexpectedly, or some loss of life or home in a flood, fire, earthquake, or hurricane; these are the people who suffer.

But what about daily life for us?  Don’t we suffer and need compassion?  I think we need a broader definition of suffering to extend compassion in our daily lives.  Buddhists use the term. “dukkha” which describes “…anything on a scale from small annoyances to serious diseases…anything that fosters a separate sense of self and suppresses our natural tendency to be one with the Ultimate.”[1]  Yes, there are degrees of suffering but “it occurs because life involves change and decay, loss, disappointment and impermanence.”[2]  Simply put dukkha means “suffering, unsatisfactoriness, frustration, and disappointment.”[3]  This description of suffering/dukkha explains suffering in the context of contemplative compassion for me.

I will leave you with 2 of my favorite descriptions of compassion:

Jim Finley, Ph.D. mystic, author, and psychologist, defines compassion this way, “Compassion is that love that recognizes and goes forth to identify with the preciousness of all that is lost and broken within ourselves and others.”[4]

Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., creator of Compassion-Focused Therapy, defines it this way, “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to prevent and relieve it.”[5] Paul Gilbert’s thinking “is based on an “evolutionary neuroscience approach.”[6]  This is helpful for our purposes in that he describes behavior which requires a number of different competencies and attributes which can be developed and practiced in relationship to others. Although it is focused predominantly on the ego-self, there is much there for the contemplative compassion seeker.

Finally, a definition of suffering/dukkha is essential to how I define compassion, that is, compassion is tender, courageous, and wise. We will explore tender, courageous, and wise in next week’s blog.

 

[1] Miller, J.P. (2016) Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, page 126

[2] IBID

[3] Miller, J.P.  p. 234

[4] Finley, J. (2004) Christian Meditation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper-Collins Publishers, p.279.

[5] Gilbert, P. and Choden (2014) Mindful Compassion. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 1.

[6] Gilbert, P. (2009) The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 193.

What is Contemplative Compassion?

What is Contemplative Compassion?

We tend to think of compassion as an act of mercy toward another or to ‘suffer with’ another.  Most often this is ego-based and has generated many right actions and relationships.

By Contemplative Compassion I mean compassion that has God/Infinite Being as its source.  It emanates from Infinite Love and Compassion.  It is part of our Christological DNA.[1]  It is from our Core Self, one with God who is Infinite Love and Compassion (ILC) and who we are created to be.[2]  It is enacted in ‘oneness consciousness[3] and flows into our everyday activities.  This is what this weekly blog will focus on, an in-depth exploration of contemplative compassion.

If this interests you, please join me on the path.

A statement from James Finley, Ph.D.[4] many years ago captured my heart-mind.  He said, “The primary agent of transformation is compassion.” My core self knew this was true and I was at a point in my life, (the constructed-self life) when I needed to transform or die. (Little did I know at that time that transformation is death; a death to the egocentric self.) I also realized that I did not understand compassion as it was meant in Jim’s statement. And so the journey began in 1993 and I’m sure will continue as long as I am in this finite body.

Next week I’ll discuss the many different definitions of compassion. In the following weeks we’ll explore compassionate being and doing from oneness consciousness, both Christian and Buddhist. I also feel that a key for living the contemplative compassion path is to understand it from that which is commonly called our “true self” and “false self.”[5] In order to remove the pejorative language of “false” (AKA ‘bad’) self, I will explore Core (AKA True) Self and Constructed (AKA False) Self.

If these heart-mind aspects of living speak to you, please join me.

 

[1] I am indebted to Joanne P. Miller for this term.  Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way. (2016) Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, p. 78

[2] Genesis 1:27; Romans 8:29-35

[3] Oneness consciousness also known as unitive consciousness, Paul R. Smith (2017) Is Your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough? St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, p. 68

[4] James Finley said this on many retreats and it is also found in Christian Mediation (2004) San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco

[5] Merton, Thomas (1961) New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions and Odorisio, David  “Rediscovering the True Self through the Life and Writings of Thomas Merton” Thomas Merton Seasonal Vol. 28, No 2, pp. 13-23.