Roots of Compassion: Brahma Viharas - 5

Talk 5 - Friday August 31st - Summing Up - Prepared Talk by Tim Burnett © 2018

Talk 5 recording, part A


Talk 5 recording, part B


Talk 5 notes 

[Note that Tim often departs significantly from his notes when speaking but the notes themselves might be valuable to read]

I really appreciated Oori's talk yesterday on equanmity and the one before on compassion. I appreciated what he said but I think I appreciate even more that he was willing to say anything. It's a vulnerable thing to open your mouth in a setting like this. You never know if what you're saying will be helpful or confusing. Sometimes I'll say something that is taken in way that it actually seems to be harmful, at least in the short term. And if that happened, if anything the teachers said or did this week that was confusing or troublesome we deeply appologize. I appologize.

Sometimes I think I am more or less tapped into the wisdom of experience and have some kind of clear seanse how to respond, and sometimes, I have to admit, I'm a little more shooting from the hip in hopes of saying something that might be helpful. Consciousness and the heart are mysterious. There are plenty of teaching with a ton more experience and insight than I but actually there is no true and perfect teacher who knows all about the deep complexity and diversity of human experience.

And the best teachers don't really tell you anything anyway. They support you in seeing what you already know but somehow weren't yet ready to fully see. So I hope that's happened in some ways too.

And I speak here not just about the human teachers, but also the bird teachers, the water teachers, the many teachers in each of our bodies, the many teachers in our hearts, the sometimes crazy-making teacher of our own mind. So many teachers and we always have so many teachers. The wonderful thing about a retreat is that we slow down a little and we start to hear the teachers all around us and within us. This is wonderful and also sometimes very challenging. Good teachings are what you need to hear, and that is NOT always what you want to hear.

And we should also remember on this last morning of our retreat that what we learned is not just the kind of learning we can access with our thinking. There are other kinds of learning that happened here, are happening here, and will continue to simmer way in you for some time. So it's good to not be so sure you know what happened at retreat. To stay curious about that. And curious can be very open. A state of wondering not a demand for answers.

A famous Zen text on how meditation really works says,

Do not suppose that what you attain becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your intellect. Although actualized immediately, what is inconceivable may not be apparent. Its emergence is beyond your knowledge.

"Do not suppose that what you attain becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your intellect." These words were written in the early 11th century. Doesn't that sound so contemporary. Of course they weren't written in English.

"Although actualized immediately, what is inconceivable may not be apparent." Inconceivable sounds very lofty but actually it's simple. It's those vast areas of life that can not be conceived with concepts, not turned handily into words and ideas and categories. I appreciated Oori saying that perhaps it's hard to talk about equanimity because whatever equanimity really is is not something that can be nailed down with words and concept. Words and concepts are bit rigid. Once you say it's this it's really hard for our minds to allow that it might also be that. Or that.

"Actualized immediately" - so whatever you learned this week is not something that you'll gradually figure out later. It's already here. It's in you. You can trust this. That's a really important point. Often on the last day the mind that conceives wants to know how you'll hold onto whatever you learned. This particular teaching says you don't have to worry about that, it's already blossomed within you.

"Its emergence is beyond your knowledge." Just in case you didn't get it the first time, he's saying, realize that there are deep forces of healing and growth and liberation that aren't in the knoweldge realm. It's not that they don't emerge, it's not that they don't exist, but that their emergence is beyond the little circle of light in the darkness that is our conscious awareness, our usual kind of knowledge.

Isn't that good? That's from Zen Master Dogen - a Japanese priest who's credited with bringing one of the styles of Zen Buddhism from China to Japan in the 11th century.

So there's some mystery here.

And there are also these practical teachings. Practice kindness. See if you can turn towards suffering and meet it with compassion. Delight in the joys of others. Keep your feet on the ground.

That's pretty much what we went on about for 4-5 hours of lecture.

Practice kindness. See if you can turn towards suffering and meet it with compassion. Delight in the joys and goodness of others. Keep your feet on the ground.

Here's one more teaching from Early Buddhism that's very directly about our practical life in the world. Don't be blown around so much by the Eight Worldly winds. This teaching is a set of pointers towards equanimity.

The Eight Worldly winds that knock you off your feet are given in pairs:

gain and loss,

fame and infamy,

praise and blame,

joy and sorrow

The suggestion is to unhook our happiness - our deeply rooted sense of okayness - on getting the half of each of these pairs that we want; on avoiding the half of the pair we don't want.

gain and loss.

We want to gain, we don't want to loose. And yet this life is a continuous flow of gain and loss, loss and gain. Stuff, health, friends, careers. All of these are gained and lost. Our life itself is a big gain and loss. My Zen teacher says sometimes: you what the most consistly terminal condition is? Birth. Birth is a terminal condition. We gain this embodied life and that means we will lose this embodied life. But start small: I want to gain your friendship - that's fine nothing wrong with a wish or a desire as Oori said it's the clinging that causes the suffering. Clinging to gain, hiding from loss.

Another line from Master Dogen: in aversion weeds spread, in attachment blossoms fall. In aversion weeds spread, in attachment blossoms fall. Our clinging to gain and loss ends up creating a really ugly garden. But when we lighten up about gain and loss the flowers bloom and I don't know what the weeds wouldn't spread but maybe they at least fit into the ecosystem a little better.

fame and infamy

Here we have our practice of mudita right? Freedom from jealousy of those with fame or maneuvering to get more fame ourselves. And a willness to take a stand or do what needs to be done even if it results in sullying your name.

Fame does happen sometimes I guess. People choose to pay more attention to your out of whatever need they have for that, that's okay you can accept that and appreciate their kindness but it's helpful to rememer that it's not exactly "you" that they are holding up. It's the refleciton of you in their own lifes - your efforts and who you somehow ended up from the rich combination of factors that brings us forth - somehow we ended up the right person to remind others of their own goodness, of their own strength. When someone tells me I'm an amazing teacher or something I know that this small realm of conscious awareness I have is only a small part of that situation. It's me and it isn't me. So I express back my appreciation for this positive and helpful connection between us. I also try to do my best not to side step the compliment, someone called me on that the other day in a very sweet way. We accept compliments and gratitude, it would be ungrateful not to. But we also remember that it's not exactly us that the person is grateful to. It's largely the reflection in us that help them see their own goodness.

And infamy happens. In the course of setting up Mindfulness Northwest I ended up ruffling a few feathers in Seattle. There are people who think I'm no good and that Mindfulness Northwest is an agressive competitive organization that's taking away their MBSR students. I feel badly about this, I really do. For a time I suffered quite a lot trying to figure out how to avoid this infamy. And yet I knew I wanted to offer mindfulness as fully as I know how in the Puget Sound region. I did my best to be inclusive and listen and accommodate others as I could but I also did my best to be clear about my intentions and not buy into the fears and confusion of others. But it's really hard when some hold you in ill repute. Really hard. And it is absolutely inevitable and if you life your life trying to avoid infamy you will not have much of a life. And you will end up unable to serve others. So we accept infamy as best we can, humbly, always willing to listen and learn but also with equanimity and contact with our intentions. Just because someone things you are not good doesn't mean you should change a thing. Or it can mean you are being pig headed and should change a few things. Or it could mean you should completely back down. It's a challenging area of practice. It helps to have very wise friends with a broad perspective to help you untangle it. Watch out when you're working with infamy if you are asking your friends to only reinforce your righteousness.

praise and blame

Pretty much the same dynamic as fame and infamy but more day to day. Is the action I'm taking in this moment an attempt to receive praise or deflect blame? Or is the action I'm taking rooted more deeply in my best intention and understanding of the situation and I'm willing for their to be praise or blame - or nothing! - as a result?

There's a great compassion training slogan about seeking praise and fame that I have worked with a lot: "don't expect applause." Parents, teachers, therapists, just about anybody here you might find that phrase helpful to bring to mind when you are in that "hey, wait a minute, no one said thank you! I worked hard on that!" you can invite into your mind "don't expect applause." This can really help.

joy and sorrow

Here's where is really gets close to the bone. And some imagination may be needed. Remember that Buddhism is reaching for a much higher bar than stress reduction or becoming a little happier and kinder. What if our well being was not even contingent on having joy and avoiding sorrow. This seems a little contradictory to the practice of running around saying to yourself "may I be happy" doesn't it? It might be happy isn't the best word for that loving-kindness practice is really pointing to. Perhaps may I be content, may I be accepting, may I be okay, one of those might be better. What we're interested here is unhooking the conditions outside from the well being inside. And we have such strong assumptions and beliefs in how tightly hooked those are together. Of course I'm upset, she was mean to me. Of course I'm angry, I was innapropriately fired from my job. Of course I'm grieving, my marriage is falling apart.

The suggestion - high bar suggestion - in this teaching is that the depth of acceptance possible in the human heart is much broader and deeper than we imagine. That we can experience a basic okay-ness, a groundedness, a peaceful acceptance - even in the middle of the big challenges and sorrows of life.

AND this is saying don't get so excited about getting all jazzed up by great things happening. It's great when joyful things happen, appreciate it, savor it, sure. But don't hook your inherent well being to it.

Joyful thing happens. Wonderful, and...that's fine. I'm okay. I'm on the ground.

Terrible thing happens. Difficult, and...that's fine. I'm okay. I'm on the ground.

Does that make sense? I'm concerned that we've confused you with all this "may I be happy" talk.

And we really do mean it: may you be happy!

The chapter in the Visuddimaggha - the 5th century Buddhist text we've been referencing - ends with this summary of how to practice the four brahmavihara practices. I think I'm actually going to just read this slowly, it's 4 or 5 paragraphs, without comment. Just hear this with your heart and don't worry too much about figuring it all out or unpacking it. And as I said we'll send you the actual text in case you want to circle back to it.

For the Great Beings’ minds retain their balance by giving preference to beings’ welfare, by dislike of beings’ suffering, by desire for the various successes achieved by beings to last, and by impartiality towards all beings.

When a practitioner has understood thus that the special efficacy of each [of the four devine abodes] resides in “having beauty as the highest,” etc., he should understand how they bring to perfection all the good states beginning with giving.

For the Great Beings’ minds retain their balance by giving preference to beings’ welfare, by dislike of beings’ suffering, by desire for the successes achieved by beings to last, and by impartiality towards all beings.

To all beings they give gifts, which are a source a pleasure, without discriminating thus: “It must be given to this one; it must not be given to this one.”

And in order to avoid doing harm to beings they undertake the precepts of virtue.

They practice renunciation for the purpose of perfecting their virtue. They cleanse their understanding for the purpose of non-confusion about what is good and bad for beings. They constantly arouse energy, having beings’ welfare and happiness at heart.

When they have acquired heroic fortitude through supreme energy, they become patient with beings’ many kinds of faults.

They do not deceive when promising “We shall give you this; we shall do this for you.” They are unshakably resolute upon beings’ welfare and happiness. Through unshakable loving-kindness they place them first [before themselves]. Through equanimity they expect no reward.

Having thus fulfilled the [ten] perfections, these [divine abidings] then perfect all the good states classed as the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the six kinds of knowledge not shared [by disciples], and the eighteen states of the Enlightened One.

This is how they bring to perfection all the good states beginning with giving.

The conclusion there is a reference to a whole bunch of other teachings - the ten perfections, the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the six kinds of knowlege and so on. We're just barely stratched the surface of this material in a way.

But in another way we've deeply steeped in the entire body of teachings. Because these teachings are beyond just a colleciton of words and ideas. These teachers are a pointer towards a deep and profound, but simple sounding, practice: be yourself. Truly yourself. Be a complete human being capable of more love and understanding and compassion and patience and flexibility and equanimity than probably this conscious mind believes possible. And it's okay that the conscious mind doesn't quite buy all of this.

As Hamlet reminds us:

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

Thank you's.



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