Path of Transformation» Compassion Training

Bodhicitta Workshop, Session One


Khenpo Gyaltsen led a two-part workshop in Thailand that was open to Zoom participants. In this workshop, Khenpo reminded participants of key points of contemplation of the four immeasurables. He also pauses several times in the workshop to allow time for these conceptual meditations. We encourage viewers to watch and practice along with these repeatedly until they become more familiar with the process of deep contemplation.

Khenpo asks the listeners to give rise to the vast mindset of bodhicitta.

Whatever mind training we are doing, the object of our focus is on all sentient beings. We say that all sentient beings are limitless or immeasurable. There is a danger when we use the words that the object may seem too far away, or too vast. We may not be able to relate to the great scope of that. Khenpo shares a thought he had on this topic during a recent Monlam in Bodh Gaya. In the evenings, around dusk, the mosquitos swarm. Khenpo observed a meditator who was meditating there but at the same time was swatting mosquitos. Knowing the meditator’s intention is impossible, but it was an important reminder that we can easily forget the essential points when practicing. First, we need to start by generating positive mental states toward those who are close. We can gradually expand the focus until we can focus on limitless sentient beings.

In this workshop, Khenpo guides meditations on the four immeasurables. First, we meditate on equalizing our attachment and aversion to sentient beings. We are looking to smooth out our attitudes. Right now we don’t have a view that all sentient beings are equal. As we reflect, we consider the many lifetimes we have encountered our enemies and friends. Our relationships have gone up and down throughout our previous lives. In the bigger picture, there is no difference between people we like and those we dislike. There is no point in having strong attachments and aversion; we recognize these as afflictions that cause negative karma and future suffering. Once we recognize that, we can wish to care for and benefit all sentient beings.

Before we begin to contemplate, Khenpo reminds us to consider our past lives. To illustrate this point, Khenpo tells a story from The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. A mendicant observed a man holding a child in his lap while she ate some fried fish. A dog sat beside him, begging for food. This annoyed the man, who hit the dog with a stick. With his yogic perception, the mendicant saw that the fish was the father of the man in the previous life. The dog was the man’s mother in a previous life and the child was the man’s former enemy. When we see how karma ripens, we know that enemies can become friends and vice versa. Relationships are in constant flux over time. There is no reason to have strong attachment or aversion. Such emotions encourage reciprocal responses that harm both parties. Thus we cultivate the wish that all beings give rise to the mind of equanimity.

It is also true that all sentient beings are the same in wanting happiness and avoiding suffering. We don’t even want to experience small suffering that might benefit us. All sentient beings are equal in this way. And if we harm or ignore any beings, then we are not upholding our bodhisattva vows. If we kill beings for their meat or fur or skins, then we are not maintaining bodhicitta.

Reflection Question: What feelings come up for you when you contemplate equality and equanimity?

Next, we contemplate love or loving-kindness. Most of us need to start with a fabricated sense of love or compassion. It is very difficult for us to have love and compassion for those we don’t like. We begin by feeling love toward those who are already close to us. Then we turn our attention to strangers or neutral people. And finally, we can turn to those we do not like or those who are our enemies. Why should we love our enemies? The Way of the Bodhisattva says that those who harm us generally make us ask “Why me?” We take things personally. When this happens to us, we think about the faults of other beings. As we contemplate their faults, we become even more angry. Instead, if we turn our thinking to the good qualities of our enemies, we reduce our aversion. Until we are enlightened, all beings have positive qualities as well as negative aspects. If we can focus on the good points of other beings, we don’t get as upset when they harm us or speak unkindly. We can understand that they are not in control; they are under the sway of their afflictions. Why should we be angry if they are suffering from their afflictions?

In the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, it says that the karma I committed in a past life is what caused someone to harm me in this life. In a past life, I harmed this other being. The result I am experiencing is the result of my previous action. This is a rational explanation. And the person who harms me will create karma that leads him to suffer in a lower realm. Thus, in a roundabout way, I am causing the person to suffer in another life—I am the condition for this being’s future suffering. When one can reflect this way, then compassion naturally will arise.

Contemplations like this are only possible if we take the time to study the Dharma carefully. Otherwise, if we just hear that we should feel compassion for our enemies we think it sounds very strange. We tend to think nothing is our fault, especially when we are being harmed. In reality, the responsibility for suffering is shared.

When we meditate on love, we think first of sentient beings who are suffering or don’t have happiness. We think of people who are sick or suffering. Start with one person, and then gradually expand the feeling to all sentient beings. Sit up straight and comfortably and with a one-pointed focus give rise to the mind that wishes happiness for all beings.

The cultivation of love and compassion are two sides of the same coin. They have different beings as a focus. When contemplating love, we focus on beings who do not have happiness. When we contemplate compassion, we focus on beings who have suffering with the wish to free them from that suffering. In both cases, we are focusing on sentient beings, but we alternate between giving happiness and taking away suffering. Step by step, we move from those we like to those who we strongly dislike.

Bodhicitta itself is a mentality or mindset. These days it is common to like the fact that our enemies suffer. But this is very dangerous and it breaks our bodhisattva vows. It is inappropriate for us to be pleased when others face difficulties or fail. We cannot rejoice in the suffering of any sentient being. We can avoid this pitfall by putting ourselves in the others’ shoes. What if we were suffering instead?

Take a few moments to cultivate the immeasurable mind of compassion. Think that all sentient beings deserve to be free of suffering. Start with one or two sentient beings and then gradually expand the field of focus to all beings.

Lastly, we cultivate the mindset of joy. We take as our focus the happiness that sentient beings have. We wish that beings never be separated from happiness or joy. May they never part from or lose enjoyment. This is an important contemplation that helps us to overcome our envy or jealousy of others. Jealousy is a difficult and painful emotion. The mindset of joy is a genuine delight in any pleasure that others have. We wish them more and more joy and happiness. Again, we start with one or two sentient beings and then gradually increase our perspective.

We need to do these contemplations regularly. We recite verses of the four immeasurables in many sadhanas and pujas. The written verses usually begin with love and end with equanimity, But as Khenpo has taught here, in our practice, we should first learn to cultivate the mindset of equanimity. Giving rise to these mind states takes repeated practice. But if we familiarize ourselves, then when we recite the verses, we genuinely feel these immeasurable states of mind. We are not paying mere lip service, but we are demonstrating our commitment to the Mahayana vehicle. These mindsets are vital as Vajrayana practitioners.

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