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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 11 |spring 2007 firSt thoughtS emptineSS firSt, Then compaSSion If you truly want to be helpful, says The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, first study the teachings on emptiness. When we first try to practice compassion, our inten- tion may seem profound and genuine, but when we really look inside, we might discover that our actions are influenced by a self-centered attitude. We may be harboring certain expectations about the situation or person whom we are trying to help. We think that we will get something in return for our gesture of compassion. Why? It is because we still hold the view of ego, and therefore our actions are expressions of clinging – to our cherished self, opinions, and values. For this reason, many Mahayana masters teach emptiness before giving teachings on compassion, loving-kindness, or the paramita practices of gen- erosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge. This order of teach- ing may seem strange to some because emptiness is so hard to understand. Students often ask, “Why egolessness first? Why not compassion? There is so much need of compassion, of genuine loving- kindness in the world. There is so much need of generosity and of all the virtuous actions that are the basis of an ethical and disciplined life.” The answer is that all of these wonderful and beneficial things cannot be genuinely put into prac- tice if we do not understand the view of emptiness and also have some real experience of it. We may think that we could help more people if we trained in compassion first. We may also think that when we train in emptiness, we are not actually help- ing anyone. In fact, we may think that training in emptiness is self-serving because we are focusing on our own mind and own experiences. However, if you really look at what is happening as a result of this training, it is quite the opposite. When we try to practice compassion without the view of egolessness, or emptiness, we are often not really helping because we ourselves are so con- fused. Our own lack of clarity only produces fur- ther confusion. If we have an idea that we think will help someone, it is usually based on our own interpretation of what we think they require or want. We are not looking at their situation from their point of view. Instead of giving them what they truly need, we give what we think they need. There is a difference between the two. Further- more, we have value judgments about how they should accept our help, and so we “help” them further by imposing conditions and guidelines. Compassion and loving-kindness that is free from ego clinging allows us to see the suffering of others from their own perspective. We can see beyond our own ideas and beliefs. We can see what they need from their point of view, and we can apply our own wisdom at the same time. With this more open and clear view, we can see more realistically what will meet their actual needs and be truly beneficial. froM bodhi MagaZiNe, voluMe 8, No. 3. the narrow path Zen student Don Symanski is reminded of the many forms outside the zendo that can support dharma practice. One morning at the Kyudo program at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, I was walking up the main path to the zendo and noticed that the path seemed narrower than it was a few months before, when I last visited. “Hmm,” I thought, “why does it seem narrower?” Later in the program, I was told that Kwong- roshi had intentionally made the path narrower by carefully raking leaves and stones toward the center, so that it would be more difficult for people to walk side-by-side and talk. illusTraTions sTeve heynen