Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Pathways to Self-healing: Class 3
Key Themes (Some available in a prior post):
- Third Noble Truth: Freedom
- The Second Principal Path: Compassion
- The "Gap"
- How an understanding of karma effects the generation of compassion
The Third Noble Truth
The Second Principal Path
The "Gap": How to Use Recognition to Override Defaut Reactions
Freedom from suffering begins with a conscious choice to override automatic or unconscious conditioning and its effects.
What is necessary is a moment of recognition known as the "gap" and an alternative, more enlightened, response.
The unconscious cycle of stress and suffering is constituted by:
Misperception (Avidya) => Afflictive Emotions (Klesha) => Reactive/Automatic Behavior (Karma) => Adaptation to a compulsive lifestyle
The conscious "gap" of freedom and opportunity can occur anywhere in the chain or cycle, but is most easily recognized (smirti) between afflictive emotion and behavior. We are typically too unconscious of our misperception, but we can recognize our afflictive emotions: greed, hatred, attachment, aversion, pride, jealousy etc. We can train to correct our behavioral response to these emotions, using mindfulness and positive emotional antidotes (love, care, joy and peace). Training involves anticipating and pre visualizing what your "button" are and know your conditioned response sets. If it offten easier to identify these in contemplative therapy or with your meditation instructor. Small gaps and minor correctives lead to new tendencies and finally to cessation (nirodha) of addictive responses. We are not talking about the big liberation here (nirvana), rather we are talking about small, practical everyday liberations that add up. If you dont plant any new negative seeds, you will not create the future causes of suffering. For more on how karma works read the earlier post.
How an understanding of karma effects the generation of compassion
So then how does an understanding of karma give rise to the second principle path: compassion? What is the relationship between wisdom, that sees how things are working, and the loving response to other living beings? There are several ways to answer this, here are two:
1. Seeing how we suffer from misperception, gives rise to the understanding of how all other beings are suffering and acting out due to the same causes. If we achieve true transcendent renunciation, defined in the text on the three principal paths (lam sum na tso) as recognizing that there is not a single experience of true happiness to be found in compulsive or unconscious living, and seeking night and day for true liberation, then compassion is the recognition that other living beings too are caught up in the dissatisfying rounds of compulsive living (samsara) without a moments rest, relief or happiness. What's worse, is that most living beings dont even recognize their complicit involvement in their captivity, and remain asleep to their true potential for freedom. This leads to the heart-felt realization, that we should strive for our own awakening and freedom, in order to be maximally effective in helping others wake up and achieve their innate potential as well. That is the essence of the second path, compassion and its correlate, the awakened spirit (bodhicitta).
How does compassion work in practice, once you understand karma? If you take responsibility for the seeds (bjas) and tendencies (samskaras) from your past that color your current misperception (avidya), then you are forced to work with difficult situations and irritating people in a different way. The world is coming from you, not at you. Perception is reality. The sense of feeling hurt by others is coming from your side, conditioned by your past memories (bijas), tendencies (samskaras) and actions (karma). So when you feel hurt by others, you must recognize the experience as the result of a prior action (karma) of hurting another living being. Recognize cause and effect. If you feel hurt, its because you have hurt another. Does this mean you should be a door mat and allow others to hurt you? - of course not! But you do need to recognize where things are really coming from. Recognize that the real enemy is within. The irritating person hurting you, is not the enemy, the real enemy is your and thier avidya, misperception, about how things work and who you really are. When you feel hurt, blame your misperception, recognize the karma that has given rise to the unpleasant experience and resolve to manage it in a different way. Resolve not to go with you knee jerk reaction. Resolve to reverse your tendencies (samskaras) and actions (karma) with ethics (sila); resolve to counteract your afflcitive emotions (kelshas) with meditation (samadhi) on positive states (brahma viharas); and resolve to see through your misperception (avidya) by studying reality (prajna).
2. The other implication of karma and compassion is how we choose to respond and behave to and with others in the world.
So how should we respond to other's negativity? If you respond to the irritating person with blame, anger, aggression etc, then according to karma, what are you creating? A future moment of suffering for yourself - right? So from the enlightened perspective, what is the best way to respond? Respond with ethics, love and compassion. Recognize the origin of the problem and the most helpful solution. Deposit a new seed into your mind stream that will produce a different future result. Understand that the irritating person who is hurting you, is both your past negativity coming full circle in your internal perception, as well as another living being under the control of their avidya in the external situation. What do you really need and what do they really need? Chances are the answer is the same: care and a feeling of safety. Don't allow them to perpetuate suffering by hurting you or themselves. Set limits and boundaries, communicate your own needs skillfully, motivated out of care and concern for both parties involved. The two antidotes for dealing with difficult people are: recognition/wisdom, of where suffering is really coming from, and love/care about how to effectively respond for your own well-being and the welfare of others. More about how to maximally transform adversity into the spiritual path, please refer to the lojong (min training) teachings of Mahayana buddhism.