The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Meditation as the Source of Compassion by Peter Morrell
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Meditation as the Source of Compassion
by Peter Morrell
There are many different types of meditation, such as meditation upon a subject or concept, upon images or deities, but his essay considers the simple for of calm-abiding meditation or shamatha. Meditation is the
immersion of the mind in self-reflection or stillness. It is the unwinding of the mental focus and simply dwelling in an easy space with no thoughts or with an awareness of and detachment from those thoughts. In calm-abiding meditation the mind is immersed in tranquillity for sustained periods. It is this form of meditation that is referred to here.
The main purpose of meditation is to purify the mind of bad thoughts and to bring calm and tranquillity to the otherwise chaotic flow of thoughts, sensations and feelings. Meditation aims to dampen these chaotic movements. Buddhist meditation aims to dampen the three poisons and achieve greater equanimity of being, and so slow or stop the karmic treadmill. Detachment, calm abiding and mindfulness are the primary aims, leading ultimately to more advanced practices such as developing greater compassion and practising visualisations. It is the three poisons of desire, hatred and illusion that drive the karmic treadmill upon which we all pound away-wanting things, hating things and self-delusion, which is ignorance of the nature of self and samsara. These form the basis of forming strong likes and dislikes and indulging them endlessly.
Out of the tranquillity of deep meditation, a pure awareness of mind can emerge that also leads in some cases to an appreciation of all living beings as a pure spiritual essence that we all have in common. This can bring us closer to all living things and an intimate sense of feeling for their welfare. This can form the beginning of a very early form of genuine compassion, because you can then begin to see what are to the fore in people are often mostly the secondary adventitious aspects-the anger, resentment, frustrations and other defilements-these are all secondary overlaid upon a deeper mind. We do not always see below this secondary material, this karmic level, to appreciate the deeper more subtle essence of all living things, which is in fact more like an egoless mindstream. It also leads us to appreciate the egoless nature of mind and how ego is a product a secondary feature, not a primary feature of mind.
When sustained, this process can lead to a state of deeper compassion because it leads to a neutral and very dispassionate view of people and that forms the basis for a very non-judgemental view of them, which penetrates down below the secondary and into the primary level of pure mind, being or pure consciousness-what is often termed mindstream.
It is at that level we can begin to see that in spite of many differences at the superficial or secondary level, at that primary level we are all very much the same-this unites us-the mind is bright, neutral and clear and flows on like a bright stream untainted even by the secondary aspects on the surface. At this deeper primary level, with the obscurations removed, we are all much the same-an egoless flow of consciousness. This appreciation can emerge from time to time in the stillness of meditation, and gives rise to sensations of great joy and love even for insects or bugs.
Indeed, it might even be said that this forms the basis for the Buddha's compassion, as if it arose spontaneously, naturally within him, like a swelling spring bubbling up, once he had achieved the deeper levels of samadhi. This warm feeling of oneness with all life and that beings are helpless products of their karmic seeds-carried along by the four powerful currents-and can lead to the realisation that we are all much the same at that primary level of our being. This softens our attitude towards them, making us pliant, more generous and tolerant towards them. This in turn generates a love, a great tenderness for them just as they are, not as you would wish them to be. It generates an understanding of why they are like they are and penetrating down through the veils of their karmic, adventitious non-primary layers, one can see the pristine mindstream in its pure state flowing on in all beings.
Therefore, I would say that the primary source of compassion and tenderness arises from a deep stillness of mind. When experienced, this can generate a sense of oneness and the non-judgemental appreciation that we are all a blend of primary and secondary qualities. Though the secondary, adventitious defilements are what make us different, yet at the primary level we are all very similar. Repeated immersion in this line of thinking is bound to stain us deeper in love and compassion for the truly spiritual we see in all living things. Such is an amazingly enriching and quite beautiful reward of pure meditation of the deeper type. However, for Zen and some tranquillity meditation might still mean hard, selfish, cold and un-compassionate attitudes of being too detached and essentially not tuned-in enough to the deeper meaning and function of compassion within the Buddhist path.
This leads us to ask what compassion is and how it is different from selfishness. To begin with we are all deeply and inherently selfish; such is our nature. There is nothing harder to get than merit and nothing harder to lose than bad karma.