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Buddhism - Contemplation and compassion


Contemplation and compassion
The ancients believed that at the heart of a truly intelligent mind and at the core of a democratic discourse lies the cardinal virtue of compassion that can help us rise above our deepest dislikes and prejudices.

Beyond the matrix of our vanities lies this concept of karuna or compassionate wisdom, which allows us to understand and love the other.

Buddhist scriptures narrate the story of Sage Asanga , founder of the Yogachara school , who had mastered the intellectual aspects of the ancient texts and the sutras, but who felt an enormous emptiness, still. Even his long meditations left him more lonely than alone and completely disheartened, he decided to give up all practices.

Reportedly, on his way back to the town he saw a dog whose body was being eaten up by maggots.

Overcome by compassion, he resolved to remove the maggots but found it was not possible to do so. In an act of sacrifice, Asanga decided to cut the flesh from his own thigh to attract the worms away from the dog. When that also did not work, he decided to transport the worms to his own flesh by body contact. At that moment the dog disappeared and Lord Maitreya stood in front of Asanga. Lord Maitreya told Asanga that his fervent practice needed to be grounded in universal compassion to enable him to see that the Self he sought was omnipresent.

The ennobling principle is characterised by J Krishnamurti as the essence of intelligence as distinct from intellect, from which arises the capacity to love. A truly intelligent mind is one which can comprehend and experience the sorrow of another as one's own -- and in this experience, the mind "feels" the interconnectedness of life, beyond the limited i-me-mine thought process which has conditioned us. Karuna is the great spiritual force which separates the evolved from the not-so-evolved, helping us to reach a more mature jignasa state of mind where it becomes easier to understand the deeper purpose of life and existence.

The need to cultivate compassion is central to traditions worldwide, but the Buddhist traditions formalise and conceptualise the principle as a psychological tool to cultivate liking and equanimity for all beings as a psycho-meditative technique in itself. It is the defining characteristic of a bodhisattva, the heroic soul who puts his nirvana state of mind on indefinite hold in order to help others evolve on the path to understanding.

Buddha saw the need to cultivate compassion as the trigger to develop detachment -- a paradoxical but a commonsense way to induce a detached attitude, detached from the limitations of one's own mind-matrix, by trying to understand the larger whole. And then, at some point of the journey, you need to detach yourself from the fabric of the Whole as well, to try and understand the design behind the complex code of life.

The interconnectedness of life can be felt only by a compassionate heart which would see beyond the misconceptions and the limitations of the thought-mind, which, as the Dalai Lama says, "...itself (the limited mind) predetermines what we perceive...". Compassion is the healing meditative tool to tear away the veil of ignorance that makes us think we are all separate entities. The contemplative path and the path of compassion are really one path.
Pranav Khullar
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