Difficult World, Peaceful Mind
We have so many kinds of suffering in our world––natural calamities, earthquakes, hurricanes. It seems as though all of the elements are attacking us. At least the sky hasn’t fallen yet.
We cannot control natural calamities, but at the same time we do have a hand in creating them. We may not be able to completely stop these disasters, but we can reduce them.
All our normal habits of desire are having a serious impact on our environment––the ocean is heating up, the ozone has more holes. And everywhere there are more natural calamities. Even those are interdependently arising. In any case, this heart of compassion and loving kindness is the primary way for us to change our world for the better.
And secondly, if we master the wisdom of working with the interdependent nature, then you gain a real sense of freedom. This freedom comes from interdependence, it doesn’t come from independence. We think freedom comes from independence. But the real wisdom comes when you can master interdependence. In this regard it is crucial for us to connect with one another and see how we can make each other’s world better, instead of only thinking, “How can I make my world better?”
How can we create less harm in each other’s world, not just in “my” world? It’s an important question to consider.
The approach of interdependence
America is in the North American continent, far away from everything. We in America tend to think the Earth’s pollution exists mainly in China and other countries. So we take care of our own environment and send all the polluting production to other places. Recently, however, due to extremely strong winds, this massive air pollution made its to America from Asia. So this approach is not going to work. If we want our own sound, healthy and beautiful environment, we also have to take care of other places. I remember that in India and Nepal, when you clean the area outside of a store, you just clean your own little storefront and push the dirt to the other side of the street. Then an hour later, two other guys from the store on the other side will come with their brooms and push the dirt right back to where it was in the first place.
What do we achieve when we only consider “my” world and not others? We actually become more irritable. We engage in more emotional actions and reactions that end up creating more suffering. And in the end, the whole world becomes a suffering world. But if you take care of yourself, while caring for others as well, it’s a different story.
When you ask your partner to love you, it doesn’t work too well, does it? Love comes naturally. There is a natural sense of giving and sharing. One of my students told me, “When you say to your partner, Why are you not making me happy? that is not love. But when you say to them, How can I make you happy? then that is love. When you say that, naturally they will make you happy. Just by seeing a little smile on their face, that makes you happy. Then everybody’s happy.
So if we just keep looking at our problems always focusing on them––why someone is not fixing this, why my president is not fixing that––it’s not really going help us accomplish our goal. Instead, if we ask, How can I help? can you imagine? What if everyone in this whole room here begins thinking that way? If we all start doing it together, can you see how much difference we can make in our world?
Every challenge is an opportunity
Our world is really difficult these days. There are many leaders in the world who are very skillful at making you irritated. They are very skilled in making you upset and bringing out so many emotions. Generally we feel this world is pretty bad. We feel that we live in one of the worst times ever, and we feel it’s very challenging. On the other hand, if we look at it a bit more deeply, every challenge is an opportunity for us. If you feel there is no opportunity, then that presents a challenge, and see––right there you have an opportunity!
If you can see this opportunity, and if you can contribute in some way to make it better, then your contribution will be magnified thousands of times. Rather than doing what we’ve always done. We can put forth the same amount effort, but if we approach what we do with this attitude, we can make a huge difference.
It’s important for us to have more wisdom of interdependence, and more compassion, a genuine heart-to-heart connection with others. Because just getting angry or irritated doesn’t solve any problem. But when you understand interdependence, love, and compassion––then really there’s nothing we can’t solve.
Desmond Tutu once said in an interview that his father used to tell him all the time when he was upset, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” Isn’t that a wonderful instruction? Instead of raising our voice and saying all of these not-nice things, we can look for solutions. We have a great opportunity here.
In the Buddhist teachings we have something called “ripening your aspirations in a timely manner.” There are three important elements here: aspiration, ripening, and timeliness. First you have to have the desire, or the aspiration. Second, you have to have ripening––that desire must actually grow with wisdom. It’s not enough just to have the passion or desire to change the world. And then finally, it must be timely––the perfect time is the perfect opportunity.
In times of crisis, compassion ripens
The world of crisis is a perfect time for your compassion to mature and ripen. You can see this even in the most ordinary sense. For example––don’t misunderstand me here, because I don’t know anything about economics––but I heard there is something called the “stock market.” We don’t really see anything, but there is something called the stock market. When it is volatile, that is a very good opportunity for someone to make a lot of money. When the world is volatile, it’s a very good time to make lots of points of loving kindness and compassion.
From dharma teachings I understand that, along with that increase in genuine compassion so deep in our heart, comes awakening, which we call enlightenment. Enlightenment is not necessarily restricted to some kind of meditation. It also can come from this deep heart of compassion towards sentient beings. This is really wonderful news, because in our daily life, with all our family obligations and everything else, we usually don’t meditate very often, do we? Most people do not do too much meditation. If you can do an hour a day, we think that’s a lot. But a day has twenty-four hours, so for that one hour of meditation, there are still 23 hours left to undo the positive effects of that meditation.
So how can we really get to awakening by means of loving kindness and compassion? Every minute of every day, we hear bad news on the TV and radio. It’s not because good things aren’t happening, it’s because people aren’t interested in good things! The media networks are business people catering to the market. When they do research, they find that people are interested in bad news. This shows that we haven’t yet developed a strong habit of rejoicing in others’ happiness.
When you see others’ good fortune there is usually jealousy. We think, “Why don’t I have that opportunity?” So it becomes crucial for us, not only to work with our compassion, but also to cultivate a sense of rejoicing or satisfaction. We can have sense of joy in another’s good fortune instead of instantly comparing that with your own situation. Opportunities to practice compassion, loving kindness, and caring for others are present for us 24 hours a day. Or 23 hours, if you meditate. Or if you meditate for 15 minutes, you have 23 hours and 45 minutes.
Awakening through compassion
If you do the math regarding the probability of awakening, there are many more chances for you to be awakened through practicing compassion than through sitting meditation. The opportunity to practice compassion is always there. When you raise a child, when you take care of an aging parent, or take care of your partner. You don’t have to look very far to practice compassion.
There are people throughout your country who also need your compassion and generosity. So we can look for opportunities right here, instead of only looking for opportunities far away in third world countries.
In everyday life, loving kindness and compassion is the key. You’re not only helping others this way, you’re also helping yourself. Studies were done in which they found that all beings naturally have this heart of compassion, that it is present in everyone to some degree. All of us, all human beings, have this heart of compassion. Sometimes you may not see it, but it’s definitely there.
Sometimes this heart of love begins with a biased view. That’s okay. In the beginning we have more love toward one person than another. That’s natural. The point here is how we bring that across the board. Once we are able to make that heart-to-heart connection with the people we naturally feel love for, how can we begin to have that sense of caring toward all others as well? That’s the key to making the world a little better.
Celebrating the Good Fortune of Others: An Exercise
1. Think of a time when you heard about something good that happened to someone else. Maybe you felt jealous or even resentful toward that person.
2. Take a moment to appreciate this person’s good fortune. If they had some success, think how this turn of events has created an opportunity for them to share that success with others, to spread compassion and kindness to them. Even if you believe this person will not share or be kind –– just recognize and rejoice in this opportunity they now have to bring some benefit to others.
3. Imagine this person doing some kind action and seeing the happiness on another person’s face as they receive this gift of kindness. Imagine this person feeling happy to see the positive results of their kindness and generosity.
4. Make an aspiration that not only this person but all people will have such an opportunity to spread kindness and generosity. As you do this, remember that “all people” includes you.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche originally presented the teachings in this article at a public talk in Rotterdam, Netherlands in October 2017.