Compassion, Heaven, and Interdependence
Q: I feel that compassion and heaven are somehow connected. If the afterlife exists, do you see a relationship between the love between people and heaven?
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: I think they are very closely connected. When we experience a complete sense of genuine love, selfless genuine love, then that is heaven, isn’t it. Heaven is nothing other than that. When people talk about heaven, it sounds so open, peaceful and welcoming. But when you hear about hell, you find out that as soon as you get there, people start poking you with knives. So I can see a connection between compassion and heaven.
Of course, from the point of view of Buddhist teaching, the real sense of heaven is not necessarily a physical space, but a mental state you achieve. But then there are these questions: “Are there really such things as heavenly realms, or hell realms?” And the Buddhist teachings say that it is really up to you. As long as you have a strong projection, a strong fixation, thinking there is “you over there and me over here” then such a thing as heaven or hell can be there. But as you go beyond that dualism of self and others, all these terms cease to exist. There’s no idea of “me going to heaven” or “me going to hell.”
Q: When helping others, is there a difference in the impact and sense of urgency between helping someone homeless to find food, versus helping spiritual seekers find peace through meditation?
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: In my understanding of dharma, it’s actually a two-stage process. When people are in need of some temporal, immediate material or mental health support, then I think it’s important to see how much we can do. If we were to go and start preaching to someone who is really hungry, it might make them resist more, against our spiritual preaching. So it can be a two-stage process. On the relative level, we can provide whatever support we can, materially or mentally. Then if there is interest, and you have some spiritual advice to share in the end, that might be helpful––but not in the beginning.
Caring for others is practicing loving kindness and compassion, which naturally opens our heart and brings us a sense of joy. But sometimes we say that taking care of others’ suffering brings more suffering on oneself. The funny part, and the good part, is that caring for others doesn’t increase your suffering at all. In fact, according to research studies, it actually reduces your suffering.
The wisdom of interdependence
Q: We need to develop greater loving kindness and compassion, and at the same time we need to master the wisdom of interdependence. How can we increase the wisdom of interdependence?
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: One way is by seeing the positive potential in everything and everyone. Seeing clearly that not every positive or beautiful thing is coming from one source––there’s beauty in everyone. There is positive potential in every person. There is a potential of power in everyone and everything. When you see that and have respect for others’ positivity, or their potential, that is one aspect of mastering interdependence. When we see this more clearly, we can also begin to see which actions can bring a positive result, for my world, your world, and everybody’s world.
It’s not like the one person is the best artist and that’s it, there are no more artists. Every person has a unique potential. The way Van Gogh beautified the world is different from how Andy Warhol has beatified the world. There is a power in each of us to bring change, and to produce something beautiful.
One thing the Buddha taught is that it’s really important to be inquisitive and explore the world. We need to be ready to understand. We need to keep our sense of wisdom and inquisitiveness alive, and to realize that we have the wisdom to understand things. When we shut down our mind and stop paying attention, we lose the chance to understand everything.
When we don’t want to see or understand what’s going on in the wider world, we become completely ignorant of interdependence. And these words of Buddha do seem to be true, of course. But even in a mundane sense, if you consider the whole reality of a situation, you naturally understand more about everything that went into creating it. When you understand more about your phone––where it’s produced and how––then you can see interdependence very clearly. When you’re not curious, you don’t see. And that’s ignorance.
It’s OK to smile and laugh
So I hope that we all, our own way, can express kindness and love to each other in our world. I hope we can make the world a little more humorous, too. You don’t have to be so serious. Just relax and bring some humor of selfless compassion into the world. Isn’t it humorous to be selfless and compassionate? We can be the clown of compassion in the world and make everyone laugh! Bring some humor to this unnecessarily serious world.
You can start just by bringing a little love and caring to the person right next to you. Try to bring a smile to their face. If we can make just one other person smile, at least there are two people smiling. Then if both of you decide to bring a smile to someone else, it will multiply.
In this way we can spread the laughter of joy and a loving heart. If we can spread this smile and help it to multiply, then someday we will feel the whole world smiling. We can send emojis, too. Imagine if everyone sent a smiley––6 billion smiles going out simultaneously. When you send smiling or laughing emojis, then you’re also smiling inside. That’s how we can change this world into a peaceful state of mind. Each of us can make at least one person smile, right?
This is what I’ve been saying with my GoKind project. Let’s try to make at least one person smile every day. (No pressure.) Recently I was telling someone about #GoKind and he said, “I will make my partner smile at least once a day.” I was happy to hear that.
In this way I hope we can make the world better––by becoming kinder, a little at a time.
This question-and-answer session with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche took place after a public talk in Rotterdam, Netherlands in October 2017.