Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Reader comment on Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's passage ...

The Interplay of Awareness, Presence and Compassion


On Mar 20, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

This was a very deep piece. Uncle (CF Dad) started us off with an incredible welcome (usually Nipun does this) and it was a treat. I don't know how to capture the genuine love with which he spoke, which comes from so many years of solid service and meditation.

On the passage, I found myself struggling a little bit. All the talk about awareness and presence is well and good, but how do I know I'm not fooling myself into thinking that all is well, when things are not? What is the practical 1-second test which might guide my thinking?

Upon reflection, it seems to me that we often live with memories of past-awareness, as opposed to being present all the time. These memories can be used constructively to continue the work and be a source of love and compassion, or destructively, to generate anger and contempt. For example, if I've woken up to the fact that the earth is in danger and I need to be more conscious about my actions and how they impact our home planet, I have two paths in front of me when interacting with someone who (according to me, assuming I know better - a very big assumption) does not perceive the same reality. I could either choose to be compassionate, knowing that it took a lot of help and kindness for me to wake up, and I should extend the same if possible. Or I could react with contempt - how could this person be so insensitive? What a terrible fellow!

Research has shown that contempt is a toxic reaction - in marriages, when couples start showing contempt for each other, such couples have been found to be in marital unbliss. I think this is true for all relationships. The metaphor of the poison is a wonderful one - I know that contempt is poison for me. And yet, there are moments when I unwittingly drink from it.

The choice is between the two c's (or seas). Should we drink from the sea of contempt, or the sea of compassion, both of which are abundant? Getting back to the practical test - it seems to me that if we can remember what feeling is predominant - contempt or compassion, we will know whether we are in a stage of presence + awareness, or whether we are living with past memories of awareness and no presence.

A story on this - I was discussing research with a colleague, and found myself criticizing a decision-maker who I had initially wanted to help, for making what I thought was a mistake in thinking. My colleague responded with utter disarming compassion, saying, "I'd be really interested to learn what you find when you apply your research tools to help this decision maker." The purity of her intention hit me instantly. I realized that by bringing contempt in, I'd closed myself off from learning what was really going on with the decision maker. As a researcher, it is very important that my learning mode never shuts down. It seems then that to be a better researcher, one must develop in compassion. I got to meet the decision maker, and decided to be compassionate with presence. Within five minutes of our meeting, I was shocked to discover using the tools I was working on that the decision maker came from a very lofty position of values, one that I had hardly expected. With great respect, I pointed out the error that was still being made. Funnily enough, it hit the decision maker immediately, and as he gasped, it hit me too. I couldn't tell who was the speaker and who was the listener, and got really emotional that clarity had been achieved. I wish this joy upon all who work - if we cannot tell who is being helped and who is helping, although we may have started off being instrumental in some way, wow! I couldn't pay enough to be in that space, and yet, it is I alone who sabotage my efforts by drinking from the wrong cup. This piece is so apt, so practical, I remain in gratitude.

As we went around the group, it was wonderful to see how the question organically emerged, "what is my cup of poison?" Someone thought it was fear. Another thought it was judgment. She shared this lovely story about judging someone (maybe roommate?), and sitting down in her car, and uttering a prayer, "God, please help me see her point of view without judgment." The minute the prayer had been made, that she saw the other's point of view, and was overwhelmed with compassion.

Another thread that went around emerged with a gentleman who wondered what the right action was when one encounters beggars on the street. He found himself wondering if he should give money. What if the money would be used for drinking or smoking? People responded to this question in different ways. Uncle (CF Dad) shared a story when, in India, he was in a car with Nipun and was approached by a beggar. He didn't know what to do, and announced that he would give at a better opportunity, to which Nipun responded that uncle couldn't be too sure that he'd live the next day, so he should honor his impulse and be of service! Another attendee shared an experience (from Nepal, I think) where she resisted the urge to give to a beggar, and the next day found the same man outstretched, perhaps ill or dead. That made her so sad that she might have made a difference but didn't that she has learned to honor her impulse to give.

I find myself conflicted on this one. The Buddha always advised having a cool head and a warm heart, and it is certainly true that many things we try to do to help others may actually end up harming. Yet, there is something about the stories people shared about a deep impulse to help. I remembered my father's own story - during a festival in India called "Durga Puja" (a celebration of the feminine force of the Universe), my father wanted to offer Rs. 100 for the service. He decided to go cheap and instead gave only Rs. 50. Thereafter, as he came out, who else but me greeted him with a long face - someone had stolen my new sandals, which had cost.. you guessed it, Rs. 50! Thereafter, he decided always to honor his first impulse to give and gave us clear instructions in the family never to second-guess ourselves. I don't think he implied this as a causal event - instead, I believe he recognized a larger pattern. Money and other resources come and go in our lives. When we start to think that such resources are static, our thinking becomes distorted, and we try to hoard, without realizing that there is no way we can prevent what has come to us from leaving. It is a matter of greater wisdom to trust the unknown future - that all will be well, and the universe will provide. This does not contradict the Buddha's message. There are many moments when we are clear about what to do, and we should just do it. But there are several other altruistic moments, when we stand confused about what to do. I see no harm in using one's head to seek clarity, and harmonize with our heart.

Pancho's message (which is always too beautiful to be captured by me, so I hope he offers it in writing), was also about harmonizing with the heart instead of staying only at the intellectual level.

Chris shared a lovely story toward the beginning which was about how native Americans did not see the ship on the horizon (of the first pilgrims), although it was there to be seen. However, someone did see the ripples caused by the ship, and slowly, that person traced it to the ship, and helped his people develop awareness about it. Aumatma built on this, and said that this was the process of healing - one had to see the ripples and trace them to the source to find the cause of the problem.

An attendee shared reading a piece in the Times of India with a host family in Cuttack - it was about CharityFocus! He had brought the cut-out with him and read this line:

The inspiration behind Charity Focus, a brainchild of Nipun Mehta (www.charityfocus.org) declares that "it's impossible to create a better world without inner change that results from selfless service''.

The article is here, written by none other than Deepak Chopra. Talk about ripple effects - this was incredible.



Finally, aunty (CF Mom) closed in a powerful way expressing the need to stay aware and present in her own life. Her humility and practice stands like a mountain of inspiration for all of us!



Reply To Comment Above:

Send me an email when a comment is added on this passage.
Name: Email: