The Buddha’s teachings sort of push us into all kinds of challenges. They will drive us. Why? Because the goal is total enlightenment. In order to get total enlightenment we are forced to see our limitations. That is why this is serious and solid business. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is not just a feel-good business. Not at all. Compassion is serious, very serious. It should feel like I myself going through the pain. No matter whoever it might be, the compassion feeling should be the ‘I’, the first person, going through. If it does not become the first person, if it is ‘somebody in Darfour’ who is going through, it is wishy-washy compassion. There is no first person touch, you just feel sorry, and after a while you say, ‘I do not want to talk about it.’
Disconnecting is our way of avoiding getting ourselves seriously involved with compassion. It is natural for us human beings to disconnect. When we have a huge pain in our body somewhere, our mind will disconnect from that, so we faint, or have a lapse of memory, or whatever. That naturally happens. When there is too much pain, the mind will shut it out. Exactly the same thing happens with compassion. When you see the suffering, instead of being there, and being present, and seeing what you can you do, you pretend there is nothing going on. I do not want to comment on Ram Dass’ work, but ‘be here’ really means that to me. Just do not shut it out. Unfortunately we do that, because it is more comfortable for us. We feel it should be comfortable. but what is really happening is, we are doing a wishy-washy business. The compassion must be felt, just like pain in our own body, or pain in our own mind.
I am going to be very critical about this to myself and to you. A lot of us will talk about compassion. A lot of us will think about it. A lot of us will try to do things. but we must make sure it is not wishy-washy. This is one of our biggest challenges. I see very kind, very serious people, who talk and think about it, but the solution we find is always a little wishy-washy. I do not mean everybody has to be a bodhisattva. That is not even possible. but at least move into that direction. One must feel something. We should not feel in order to make ourselves suffer more, [we should feel the pain] so that we can find a way to help and protect. If we do not feel it, how can we help? If you do not feel it, how do you know it is suffering? That is the mindfulness of compassion.
Isn’t that strange? Suffering is so much around everywhere. Everyone of us has enough themselves, but everyone would like to play the role of helper, the person who gives the solution rather than acknowledging the actual suffering within us. When you notice that happening, it is the first signal of becoming wishy-washy compassionate: ‘I am here to play the role of the helper; you are the one over there, suffering.’ The moment we have that big division we are never going to know how the other person suffers. He or she may look at you, and say, ‘What do you know about this? Nothing.’ Think about it. Today most of us, preachers, lamas, rimpoches, therapists, everyone of us is looked at as someone who is making it right, the curer. So the first question that arises in my mind is, ‘What do I know about that suffering, about the feeling of that individual?’
Lower realms suffering. I am just talking about human beings. Then go beyond. Look at the animals. They suffer worse than us, for sure. No question. We will enjoy looking at them, ‘Oh, there is a rabbit family, look, and a deer family’, we find them interesting and cute. but try to see it from their point of view. They have to get food, they have to protect themselves from heat, from cold, and then their life is in danger all the time. Then go beyond that and look at the hungry ghosts and at the hot and cold hell realms. Our mind would like to shut that out. We don’t even want to discuss it. We just switch off, because it is too painful to talk about it, too painful to think about it.
Equanimity – equality. Tsongkhapa says that when you think about your own states of suffering and the danger of falling into the lower realms, and you don’t make any mental, physical and emotional move, how can you expect to have compassion for others? Compassion, and bodhimind are absolutely necessary. Before we have bodhimind we can have love and compassion to a certain extent, but to have great compassion, the unlimited, unconditional love and compassion, is much harder. Yet that is absolutely necessary to develop the bodhimind. In order to develop love-compassion, we have to recognize the kindness and compassion shown to me by all sentient beings at one time or another, equally.
It is extremely important to develop equanimity. Without that we cannot acknowledge the kindness given to us by all living beings. Without that, we cannot have the commitment of repaying that kindness. Without that, we cannot have love for all living beings. Without such love we cannot have compassion. Without compassion, we cannot have commitment and without commitment we cannot have bodhimind. One depends on the other.
Reincarnation. There is not so much analysis and logic here. You cannot point out anything that is wrong, but you also cannot see that it is right. The problem is that we can’t see the limitless beginning. We can’t see previous lives. We can’t see reincarnation and future lives. We don’t see what our future situation is going to be.
In Buddhism we recognize that there are certain points that we cannot see. Because we are not enlightened, we have obscurations. When our experiences contradict statements by Buddha and other enlightened beings and we cannot analyze them ourselves, we refer to the scriptures. Buddha has been proved to be right many times and has not been proved to be wrong so far. So, since we don’t have a solid, reliable, empirical truth [on reincarnation] we do have to trust Buddha’s words. Our mind is not capable of penetrating into this. It is extremely difficult to analyze. In comparison, emptiness is easy to analyze. We can think about it and understand it.
With reincarnation we have that block of not seeing life after life. Nobody comes and says ‘I am back’, except the Tibetan recognized incarnate lamas. but who knows what is really happening with that. We do have two Panchen Lamas now. And at one time when Khyentse Rimpoche passed away, there were five recognized incarnations. Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche was one of those five. We don’t know if that is all true. Who knows. [With regard to] incarnate lamas, who are believed to be reborn, they will usually tell something like, ‘Look into this area or that area, not so many areas; pick a few kids that seem to be good and may become helpful for the people, and then ask His Holiness. If he picks somebody then that is okay, if he turns the candidates down, then there will be no reincarnation.’
This is hard to understand. Buddha almost had to say, ‘Trust me on this.’ but once we have made our own breakthrough we will see it. Then it will no longer be a mystery to us. It is perfect and straight forward. I mentioned in my book, Good Life Good Death, that if you have a breakthrough with the subject of reincarnation, you will have a panoramic view of life. If you don’t have that, your life is very limited, between birth and death. Even within that, we keep forgetting the past, what we remember is cut shorter and shorter, and about the future we are very confused; we project and hallucinate about it.
But once you know about reincarnation and have a breakthrough, you will have a panoramic view. Total existence is much more than the time between life and death. It is huge. It is like getting into space and looking in all directions. It is like going into a circular bathroom with mirrors all around. If you look into any of them you will see countless reflections in all directions. Like that, if you could see past and future, you would see lives, after lives, after lives. It is all you, your rebirths in past and future lives. Until you have a breakthrough on this, we have to rely on reliable testimony, and from the Buddhist point of view, there is no one more reliable than Buddha. If you were able to see all your countless previous lives, you would most probably see just faults and sufferings. Even hot and cold hells are there. That is samsara. So we are concerned. We want to help ourselves and the cause of refuge is to seek protection from that.
The Buddha himself has committed that at the time of transition from life to life, it will help you to just think about the Buddha. That alone can protect you. Thinking about Guru, Buddha, Yidam, compassion, wisdom, all of that will protect you. Buddha himself has stated that thinking about him will protect you. There are some twenty easy ways to make the transition, and the easiest one is thinking about the objects of refuge.
~ Gelek Rimpoche, The Four Mindfulnesses, 2009, p. 177