The Science of Compassion - November 13th, 2021
A virtual Dharma talk by Tenshin Roshi for an online gathering of the No Abode community
For most of this year in these meetings and other meetings we have been receiving compassion and giving compassion. We have been praising compassion. And again, I praise compassion as the most excellent cause of buddhahood, which has the nature of thoroughly protecting vulnerable sentient beings who are bound in the prison of birth and death, of all kinds of suffering. This is what buddhahood is. It thoroughly protects and liberates all these sentient beings and its most excellent cause is great compassion. Also, recently I've offered. a sequence of events starting with wonderful Buddhahood which protects vulnerable living beings in the suffering of birth and death.
Buddhahood is caused by the aspiration called bodhimind or mind of awakening. The aspiration to attain buddhahood is the cause of buddhahood. Not just to attain buddhahood, but in order to exercise the virtues of Buddhahood to protect all beings and liberate them and help them become Buddhas. And the cause of this aspiration to realize Buddhahood is compassion. Great compassion. And the condition for great compassion is great, loving kindness. And the condition for great loving kindness is to have a sincere and gentle feeling of fondness and cherishing of all life. And as a condition for realizing this vast loving kindness, we need to be practicing impartiality and equanimity towards comfort and discomfort, towards our own comfort and discomfort ,and towards beings with whom we feel uncomfortable and comfortable with. To be impartial means we are become free of hating discomfort, hating pain and hating beings with whom we feel discomfort. We need to let go of all of that in order to move on in the practice. We also need to give up being attached.
It's OK to have great pleasure in our own body and mind but we need to learn to give up being attached to it. It's OK. To feel comfortable with living beings whom we dearly love. We feel so happy to be with them like I feel so happy to be with you today. But I know I need to not be attached to you. You are not under my control. I cannot hold on to you. I cannot possess you. I can love being with you. I can enjoy being with you, but I do not want to be attached to you. And if I can be not attached to you that promotes equanimity. That promotes impartiality towards you.
Now, if by any chance any of you would give me a hard time and I would be uncomfortable with you or in pain with you. I also do not want to hate you for the pain, I feel when you are with me for the irritation and hard time you give me when we are close. I do not wish to hate you. I wish to be equanimous and impartial towards everything I experience when I am with you and everything I experience in myself. Again, this is the foundation for moving on to now finding a way to feel a gentle fondness and cherishing for every living being. This then makes this possible great loving kindness. And then moistens our body and mind, so that we can plant the seeds of compassion, and they can sink into the fertile earth of loving kindness and sprout into the unshakable commitment to realize buddhahood so that we can join in the protection and liberation of all beings.
Recently I I've been emphasizing and bringing up a kind of scientific approach to this wonderful all these things I've just talked about. A scientific approach to compassion. Today I'd like to emphasize a scientific approach to our own body and mind. Our own body and mind is calling for compassion and our own body and mind is listening and observing with compassion. To scientifically study that. A short version of what I've been suggesting as scientific study is to study by observing and experimenting with our own body and mind. This study of our own body and mind is an essential activity of compassion. Studying our own body and mind, observing our own body and mind, experimenting with our own body and mind facilitates the fulfillment of great compassion and promotes the realization of buddhahood.
I would like generously to propose that Zen meditation is to study our body and mind. But what we sometimes call zazen or sitting meditation is to study our body and mind. And we also study our body in mind in conversation with other bodies and minds. Like right now I'm talking to you about my body and mind and I'm talking about your body in mind. I'm studying my body in mind right now. I'm observing it right now and I'm experimenting with it right now. I invite you to enjoy and join me in studying your body and mind, observing your body in mind, and experimenting with your body in mind.
The Buddha gave teachings and these teachings are collected in what we call the Scriptures or the sutras, the discourses of the Buddha. And then there was another collection of teachings which are called the Abhidharma. But sometimes these collections of teachings which systematically arrange Buddhist teachings and examine them and question them and explore them and experiment with them. This is Abhidharma is sometimes called higher science of Buddhism. When we take the teachings of Buddha and we explore them, we observe them in our own body and mind.
So now I start with a teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha taught about Karma. “Karma” is translated often as action. Karma, or action is defined by the Buddha in Sanskrit as Chetana, which is the word which refers to the overall landscape of a moment of consciousness. This is a theory or teaching of the Buddha, which we can study this theory we can observe this theory and we can experiment with this theory and test this theory. What is the theory? The definition of action comes in three forms: mind, posture, and speech. sometimes we say mind, body, and speech, but speech is actually also physical. So , right now my hand moves the movement of my hands, this is karma. And my speech is karma But also which is present and is fundamental is my thinking, the overall shape of my consciousness, moment by moment.
Right now, in this moment the consciousness which I have, which I'm living in, where there's a sense of me; that consciousness has an overall pattern. Part of the overall pattern of this moment of consciousness is actually to see your faces. Your faces are in this consciousness. Also, the bamboo outside this room is in this consciousness. Images of you and images of bamboo, and so on ,are appearing in this consciousness. In this consciousness. And now in this consciousness. And so on.
In this consciousness there also are feelings of pain, pleasure and neutral feelings are arising in this consciousness right now. And there's an overall pattern which involves the thought that maybe I'll talk some more. Maybe it would begin good to continue discuss the current activity of this mind? There right now is the observation of the current activity of this mind which has a shape, a landscape, and an overall pattern. and that overall pattern pf this moment of consciousness. That overall pattern of this moment of consciousness is the definition of the current karma.
I described it as an overall pattern, but another word for it is intention. Another word for it is thinking. So every moment of consciousness that has a self in it, where I feelwhere there's a sense of I am, I am here, I am this, this is mine. This kind of consciousness, which is also called self-consciousness and also called karmic consciousness. This kind of awareness, this kind of consciousness is where karma is living. And what's karma again? It's the shape of this moment of awareness where I am.
And every moment of this type of karmic consciousness has consequence. Every moment of karmic consciousness has action in it. And that action, moment by moment, has consequences.
Now, once again, before I get too much further into this, the study of this karmic consciousness, the observation of it and the experiments with it, in the Buddha way they are not just done as an academic or intellectual exercise.. They are performed as an opportunity to practice compassion. And this study is for the sake of developing great compassion. So we receive compassion in order to practice studying our mind. And studying our mind with compassion develops and purifies compassion.
Looking at your faces, there's a sense of self here. What else is present here? By here I mean, where there's a sense of self. There's also an awareness of you. This is a consciousness where there's an awareness of the presence of a self and is an awareness of the presence of you in the form of how you're appearing in my consciousness. Also in this consciousness there is the teaching which is that the appearance of you is a representation, an icon of you. I don't actually see you. I see image of you on a screen. And if you were here in the room with me, I would see an image of you in my mind, in my consciousness.
So I'm studying consciousness. And I'm also applying teachings of consciousness. And also I'm also speaking them to you. And if you wish, you can apply these teachings to your current consciousness. you can look to see what kind of a mind is present? Is there somebody in there who's called “I” or “me”? And there are others appearing in this consciousness. And are there rooms and landscapes appearing in this consciousness?
If you look at this, you are now studying body in mind. You are studying your thinking. People often say to me “ always thinking”. And they say that sometimes with some discomfort, as though they are somewhat uncomfortable with this thinking and this thinking is always going on. Did you get that? People report to me that they are always thinking or some people might say they are sometimes thinking. And the thinking is sometimes quite an irritating thing to be aware of. The good news is that people are aware. They are aware of their consciousness, where the thinking is. I'll say it again, this is good news if people are aware that they're thinking because if they are aware that they are thinking they are aware of their karma.
In order to develop compassion, we need to study our karma, which is our thinking. And we need to see if we can learn to practice observing our thinking compassionately. And some of us may need to have conversations with others so we can report how we're looking at our thinking and get feedback on the level of compassion that's present in the observation of our thinking.
Sometimes our thinking is quite unskillful. Sometimes our thinking appears to be not compassionate. In a moment of consciousness, the thinking could be an uncompassionate form of thinking. But if we're studying our body and mind, and we notice the pattern of this consciousness is rather unkind, and even there is anger or hatred here or there is real severe attachment here. We could notice such things in the pattern over thinking. Perhaps you've noticed that sometimes.
Now we're going to study this. I hope I pray that we study this pattern of an unwholesome moment of consciousness. And we notice it and noticing it with compassion mean there's a person sitting. The monk asked what kind of thinking is going on in there in this setting. And the great teacher, the great bodhisattva, did not say “I'm not thinking”. The Great teacher, “Said thinking, not-thinking”. Now some people translate that as I'm thinking nothing but it doesn't really say that there is an “I am” there in the room. There's an “I” in the room. He didn't say “I'm thinking”, and the monk didn't also didn't say “What kind of thinking are you doing”? He just says “What kind of thinking is there in the mind of the great teacher, the bodhisattva?” What kind of thinking is in there? He didn't say, “What kind of thinking are you doing?” [I'll come back to this thing about how he didn't say, “what kind of thinking are you doing? He did not say that.]
And Yangshan said “Thinking not-thinking”. So I don't think that he was saying that he was thinking, not thinking. I think that he was telling us that in this sitting thinking is not thinking. And not thinking is thinking. Thinking that's going on in the mind of the bodhisattva is thinking which does not abide. It’s thinking which is free of thinking and we call it not-thinking. It's thinking which is 100% not that. And also 100% not that is 100% that. Thinking we do is not what we think it is.
That thinking we're doing is not just. This can find karmic activity. The definition of karma is not confined to the definition of karma, which it is. Karma is not stuck in Karma. Karma is not karma, therefore we can become free. Therefore we can be free and in fact, we are already free, but we have to study the realm of thinking to realize that thinking is not thinking. In order to realize that thinking is free of thinking. For this great teacher thinking was not thinking and not thinking was thinking, or is thinking. Then the monk says how? How can it be like that? How can your thinking , which is again the definition of karma, how can karma be not karma? How can thinking be nothing? How can it be that way? How can we be free? And Yangshan says “non-thinking”.
They are playing on this this word thinking. Again, what's thinking? I'm saying to you thinking is the current pattern of your karmic consciousness. What kind of pattern of karmic consciousness is there? Teacher says, “mot the pattern of karmic consciousness”. In the Chinese characters. The first character is thinking and the next character has a character before it, meaning not. So there's thinking. And then there's not thinking. And then how do you think? How do you think not thinking? And the answer is non thinking, There is a different character for non from the character for not. Non thinking is often translated as beyond thinking. So the way that thinking is not thinking is beyond thinking. But also beyond thinking is the way of working with thinking and not thinking.
To make a long story short, I'll say for now non thinking is great compassion. We have a karmic consciousness every moment. It is thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking karma thinking. So we study this thinking and study this thinking study this thinking in the room of great compassion so we make this consciousness a room of great compassion, studying. Studying what? Studying, thinking which we can observe. You can observe your thinking. I should say your thinking can be observed. And not even “your “thinking. It is the thinking where you are can be observed, and when it's observed again and again. And things are noticed like “this is wholesome thinking”, “this is unwholesome thinking”, “this is unclear whether it's wholesome”. This kind of study done in a compassionate way reveals the freedom of our thinking and our freedom of karma. And the realization of buddhahood.
Now, one other major thing I want to tell you today, just in case we never meet again, is that in consciousness. There is in cosmic consciousness in karmic consciousness, there's other types of awareness. For example, wisdom awareness, and unconscious awareness. But there's no self in the wisdom awareness and there's no not self in the wisdom awareness. Wisdom awareness is just understanding what's going on. There's nothing in are not in that understanding, and the unconscious also doesn't, does not. I'm not in my unconscious. My unconsciousness isn't even mine.
However, there is an unconscious process which supports my conscious process. I'm talking about consciousness where there is a sense of self. There is a sense of other. There is a sense of all kinds of emotions and feelings. And again, there is an overall pattern, and that's the thinking. So in karmic consciousness, we've got thinking. We've got a sense of self
Now I want to say this sense of self is accompanied by afflictions. There's many kinds of afflictions which could be in our consciousness. And some of them are there sometimes and not there other times. For example, hatred is an affliction which sometimes is in our consciousness. And it's a terrible affliction to hate anything. To hate ourselves is an affliction. To hate others. It ss an affliction to hate anything to hare the trees, to hate the rabbits, to hate the Gophers? To hate anything is a terrible affliction, and to be attached to myself or others is an affliction, and to be confused is an affliction. And some of these afflictions, especially confusion, are often present in our mind.
We're not always having the affliction of attachment. Like I don't know if you go into a beautiful temple someplace and you walk in and you think it's fabulous? You might think this is just a great place, I you know, but you don't necessarily attached to it. You don't think it's yours, you just feel grateful to be in such a beautiful building. Or if you're out in the woods, you may feel so wonderful here but not be attached to and just keep walking. But when you're walking through the forest, it is an affliction to grab onto one Redwood tree and hold onto it and not let go. That’s an affliction. It doesn't help you protect it. So these afflictions are basically things that interfere with us protecting what were attached to or whatever we hate. But also they interfere with us teaching compassion and practicing compassion so they are present, but not always.
But what is always present is a sense of self until we have some kind of breakthrough. With the sense of self comes four afflictions and they're there all the time. First one is self confusion, where there's a confusion about the self. The confusion is not the self. It's a delusion about what the self is. Next is self view. The view is not the self but it is an idea that the self is looking at what's going on. So we got a lot of stuff going on moment by moment, moment by moment. A lot is going on. Have you noticed? And there's a sense of self. Have you noticed? Please notice there's a lot going on, and there's a sense of somebody's here. And also there's a sense of some of these things are mine. There is a me. There's an I, and there's mine. This is normal in karmic consciousness.
OK, once again. Is an affliction that comes with that sense of self of self confusion? There's affliction that comes of the idea that. The observations that's going on here is look is the self observing. It's not the self observing that just an idea, that's an affliction. It makes life in karmic consciousness more complicated and tricky and confusing. It's an affliction to think that the self, for example, right now to think that myself is observing you. There is observing you, and there's maybe the end. There is the idea that I'm observing you.
But that idea that I'm observing you, I don't believe in, and therefore if I don't believe in it, it's not an affliction, but there is that sense of I am. Observing that that the self is doing the viewing rather than the whole consciousness is doing the viewing. Which is more true? The whole consciousness is viewing the whole consciousness. The whole consciousness is aware of the pattern of the whole consciousness. The whole consciousness is aware of the thinking. But there's an idea that the self is aware of the thinking and there's a confusion about whether the self is the thinking or not the thinking. Again, confusion about is it my thinking or not? My thinking confusion then next those are both afflictions that come with sense of self.
The next one is self pride. The pride that we aren't controlling the thinking that the self is in charge of the of the activity of the moment the self is in charge of and directing the consciousness, that's an affliction. That's not true. That's a delusion which afflicts us.
And the last one is self esteem. Even though lot of people say I wish I didn't have a self because it's such a it's such an affliction. That's not self esteem. Self-esteem is, I wish I had his self and I say, would you want to get another one? No, I want this one. Even though this is a bummer it's our favorite. And I said, it’s an affliction, that we aren't willing to trade. You know, to have a different self. Or if we're not willing, that's an affliction.
So this afflictive situation is normal karmic consciousness and it has a pattern. And we have the opportunity which we have been practicing with now for a long time in our conversations to study karmic consciousness. Which involves confession and repentance, but also it involves discussion of our confession as we can also confess wholesome states and discuss them. We can discuss unwholesome we can discuss wholesome. We can also invite others to question our consciousness and ask us what's going on there. Ask us how we're working with them and we also can tell them what's going on and how we're working on it. And we do that here.
Now I'm just saying that this conversation about our karmic consciousness is done, hopefully, with great compassion. Great compassion means no matter what's going on, we study it with compassion. Even if it's hatred, we study it with compassion by studying the hatred. Or discomfort and so on. We can let it … it can be dropped off by studying ….
It's an experiment on practicing compassion with our unwholesome states of mind and seeing how that experiment goes. We could also notice, it could happen we could be thinking 'cause as people say, we're always thinking. Whether you think so or not, you're always thinking. This karmic consciousness is always thinking is always thinking because it always has a pattern. It never doesn't have a pattern, and the pattern is the thinking. When consciousness is functioning, which is not all the time but much of the time when this karmic consciousness is functioning, there is thinking. There is karma and it's wholesome, it's unwholesome or you can't tell which it is. If it's wholesome we should be compassionate to that too, but in that case we don't have to confess that it's unwholesome 'cause this wholesome, we can just say thank you for coming. I'm so grateful that there's a wholesome state of consciousness here. I'm not sorry that this is a wholesome state of consciousness. I'm actually feeling pretty good about it and feeling good about wholesome states of consciousness often goes with wholesome states of consciousness. You don't have to feel good about it, you can just feel neutral about it. And you also you can feeling unhappy about unskillful unwholesome states and that's repentance. That's compassion, because we want to have wholesome states because wholesome states promote protecting beings.
I'm giving you a picture of how to study, and hopefully compassionately study, your thinking. Which means studying your karmic consciousness, moment by moment. So I'm giving you both a teaching about consciousness and I'm giving you a teaching about how to study and observe consciousness, to observe its qualities, and to observe whether there's kindness in the observation process.
Now I'm gonna to kind of take a leap here. because only have a couple hours here. I'm going to take the leap here and tried to what's it worth? Reflect on this teaching about studying consciousness to a description. Of what we call Zen meditation a description of what the bodhisattvas in the Zen school do when they're sitting. And one of the descriptions that I often bring up, and many of you heard before in the description of this sitting, first of all, in our consciousness there's a body. And it's sitting like right now.
Is there a body in this consciousness? Is it sitting? And again, if we're going to really do the meditation, there's also further encouragement which is, if you're sitting, sit upright. Be aware of this body. Check out and try to have upright posture and have your eyes open. In the next phase now we go to an instruction which goes like this; now that you have settled into a immobile sitting position and you've compassionately adjusted your posture and you're aware of it, you're being compassionate to your body. You're letting your body be the way it is and settle into where it is. And then the instruction is, “Think not thinking”. How do you think not thinking non-thinking?
So I'd like to look at this statement. “Think not thinking how do you think, not thinking?” This is an excerpt from a story of one of the ancestors of this linneage who was named who Chinese ancestor whose name was Yangshan. He lived in the Tang dynasty. And he was sitting like us upright and still. He received stillness and silence and settled into it. And a monk came to him and observed him sitting, and said, when you're sitting like this, what kind of thinking is going on? In a sense, the monk was asking him to look into consciousness and tell him what kind of thinking was going on in the consciousness. Here's a person sitting and the monk wants to know what kind of thinking is going on in there. In this setting. And the great teacher, the great bodhisattva did not say I'm not thinking. Great teacher, said “Thinking not-thinking. Some people translate that as “I'm thinking, not thinking, but it doesn't really say “I am” although there is an “I am” there in the room. There's an I in the room. He didn't say “I'm thinking”, and the monk didn't also didn't say “What kind of thinking are you doing?” He just says what kind of thinking is there in the mind of the great teacher, the bodhisattva? What kind of thinking is in there. He didn't say what kind of thinking are you doing? I'll come back to that. This thing about how he didn't say what kind of thinking are you doing. He did not say that. And Yangshan said “thinking not-thinking”. So I don't think that he was saying that he was thinking, not thinking. I think that he was telling us that in this sitting thinking is not-thinking. And not thinking is thinking. Thinking that's going on in the mind of the bodhisattva is thinking which does not abide in thinking. It's thinking which is free of thinking and we call it not thinking. It's thinking which is beyond thinking
And we have the opportunity which we have been practicing with now for a long time in our conversations to study our current consciousness which involves confession and repentance, but also involves discussion of our confession, as we can also confess wholesome states and discuss them, we can discuss unwholesome. We can discuss wholesome. We can also invite others to question our consciousness and ask us what's going on there. Ask us how we're working with them. And we also can tell them what's going on and how we're working on it. And we do that here.
Now I'm saying that this conversation about our comic consciousness is done, hopefully with great compassion. Great compassion means no matter what's going on, we study it with compassion. Even if it's hatred, we study it with compassion by studying the hatred. The same is true for discomfort and so on. We can let it can be, it can be dropped off by studying attachment. It can be dropped off. In other words, by studying thinking, it can be realized as what it really is, which is not-thinking. And if we have not-thinking by studying it, we realize what it really is. Not thinking is thinking.
When Buddha realized and we realized it, by practicing compassion with whatever is appearing in the consciousness? I don't want to tell you that I'm telling you to do this. I'm just telling you what I think the Buddha does. The Buddhist studies karmic consciousness.
Well, I've been going on for a whole hour now and I've introduced quite a bit and I hope this conversation can be the basis for many more, It may be used again and again. We may have to review it again and again so that we become familiar with how to study our consciousness. How to help each other? I'm trying to help you study your consciousness and you're helping me study mine. Before this talk happened, I was studying my consciousness. I was studying patterns of the consciousness as a way to discuss with you how to study consciousness. You were with me helping me studying my consciousness
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