By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | November 22, 1997
In topic: Everyday Zen
Summary: To help us face the challenges of everyday living, Zoketsu explores the teachings of compassion, through three kinds of courage: the courage of the king, of the ferryman, and of the shepherd; and through the practice of the Four Immeasurables.
In the broadest sense, one way to understand our practice is that there are two sides to it. I like to talk about it in a very everyday way, that one side is sitting down, and the other side is getting up. So our practice is sitting down and then getting up, and then sitting down, and then getting up. Another way you could describe it is our practice is, on one hand, wisdom - sitting down - and on the other hand, compassion - getting up. Like everything else in practice we talk about this and that, but it isn't really so, and these two different things are not really two different things, they are the same thing. But in order for us to understand them we call them two different things.
Yesterday, I was trying to talk about the wisdom side, and Manjusri is the Bodhisattva that embodies or symbolizes wisdom, so I talked a lot yesterday about Manjusri and this practice of seeing things as they really are, not being limited by our small view. It's easy to understand why it would limit us, because it's what we see. With sitting down, we can, perhaps, have a sense of this wisdom that cognizes things as they really are, much wider and broader and more mysterious than we know. And then we get up. In a few hours we walk out of here, the retreat's gone, and we have to face the challenges of everyday living. That's where the teachings of compassion come in.
Unless we manifest compassion in our lives, we can't really see things as they are. Seeing things as they are brings forth compassion, and compassion means letting go of our selfishness, which is the only way we can see things as they are. So you see, these two are mutually supportive and mutually necessary for each other, and really are one and the same thing. We can't sustain our activity, and our compassion, without appreciating how things are: that there is nothing to be saved, no problem to be solved.
Sometimes the teachings on compassion are divided in this way: there is absolute compassion, and relative compassion. Absolute compassion is wisdom. Relative compassion is reaching out and meeting someone, and doing our best to help. To cultivate an attitude that will enable us to help with a true heart and a good heart, not just an ideology of helping. What I want to talk about a little bit this afternoon is this compassion, relative compassion, actually practicing so as to develop the ability to have the heart to help others.
There is a wonderful teaching about three kinds of courage. Maybe you know of this teaching, the Three Kinds of Courage. It's really a teaching about compassion, three ways of compassion, but it's called Three Kinds of Courage, an acknowledgment of something very, very important about compassion, which is that it actually takes courage to be compassionate. Compassion is not a warm, fuzzy feeling, a sentimental feeling. It actually takes a lot of courage to face one's own suffering, and therefore be able to really understand and face another person's suffering. A lot of times we shy away from looking at suffering, because we haven't clarified our own suffering, and we don't want to look. So it really does take courage, to really be compassionate, and this is a teaching about the three kinds of courage.
The first kind of courage is the courage of a king, or a queen. The king or queen begins by assembling good ministers and generals, getting a good staff for the palace. In other words, getting things together for herself, or himself. Once a good staff, and a good army, and a good situation in the palace is established, then the king or queen begins to take care of the kingdom. This is the first kind of courage, the courage of the king.
The second kind of courage is the courage of the ferryman. The ferryman receives passengers on his boat, or her boat, and ferries everybody across, and drops them off on the other shore. But the ferryman knows that when others go across, he goes across. That's the way he gets across, by ferrying others across. That's a little different from the way of the king or the queen. So this is the second kind of compassion, the compassion of the ferryman.
The third kind of courage is the courage of the shepherd. The shepherd is very concerned about his flock. First, concerned about the flock, and then, about himself. Only when all the sheep are safely across the stream, and up the hillside, and have found shelter, and are resting, does the shepherd take a rest. This is the third kind of courage, different from the king, and different from the ferryman, the courage of the shepherd.
These three kinds of courage are wonderful images to describe something that is often discussed in the Mahayana sutras in relation to the Bodhisattva. Manjusri, that I spoke of yesterday, is one of many, many bodhisattvas. The work of all the bodhisattvas is to enlighten and help sentient beings. Bodhisattvas have a heart of compassion, a heart of helping. And Manjusri is one of the bodhisattvas.
If you read the Mahayana sutras, there are various things said about how the bodhisattvas go about helping others. In the earliest Mahayana sutras the idea was that the Bodhisattva, seeing the plight of sentient beings, took a vow to save them, and to become enlightened himself, or herself, first, as a means to saving others. This is like the king or queen. In other Mahayana sutras, though, it sounds very much as if the Bodhisattva is one who doesn't remove himself, or herself, for a long time, to get enlightened before saving others, but rather, plunges right in, and finds awakening in the process of helping others. So this is like the ferryman: myself and others are in the same boat, literally. They go, I go; I go, they go.
I think, particularly when we experience in our own lives suffering of any sort, we can appreciate this teaching of the compassionate ferryman. We tend to look at our suffering as "my problem": this has happened to me, why did this happen to me, who do I have this problem, how can I overcome this problem, and so on. And certainly, this is true. We do have problems that come from particular conditions that we can address. But for a practitioner, an instance of suffering is a Dharma Gate, is an opportunity to understand our life and our reality more deeply. We can move from understanding our suffering as "my suffering," to understanding our suffering as "The Suffering." This is how the ferryman practices.
So I would suggest to you a wonderful practice like this: that when there is suffering in your life, that you breathe in and accept the suffering, fully allow it to be there; and then when you breathe out, breathe out relief for yourself. And then you breathe in the suffering, not trying to escape from it, not trying to wish it weren't there, not trying to eliminate it somehow, but really saying "Yes, this is my suffering. I feel it." And then when you breathe out, [slowly exhales], and then breathe it in again, willingly, and breathe it out.
Then, like the ferryman, to recognize, and I think you can recognize if you practice with your suffering in that way, you will recognize that this suffering that you feel is not just "your suffering," it's "The Suffering." That at the moment that you feel grief, literally, there are millions of others feeling grief exactly as you are feeling grief at that time. If you feel anger, as you breathe in anger, literally, there are millions who, at that time, also are feeling anger. If you breathe in despair, it's literally the case that there are millions of others breathing in despair at that moment. You can move from "my suffering" to "The Suffering." And there's a kind of redemption in this, breathing in The Suffering, of myself and of all the others who are feeling the same Suffering that I am feeling; and breathing out relief for myself and all the others who are suffering at my suffering now. So that's a wonderful practice - I offer that to you. Please think of it when you have suffering in your life. This is one way to practice the courage of the ferryman.
One of the most wonderful stories in old Buddhism is the story of one of our women ancestors, Kisa Gotami. You know, our Zen lineage is 92 generations long. My generation, I think, is 92, maybe 93 (I forgot), from Buddha. So between Buddha and myself, 92 guys shaking hands one to one. All guys, according to the books. But actually, it's not really true, I don't believe that that's really true. It says so in the books, but I think that there's a deeper truth. There's not even one guy without a woman. There are men and women practicing together from the very beginning, in Buddha's time. And Buddha himself, although reluctantly, because of blindness, took a while to realize that he had to validate women's practice. But eventually, to his credit, he did do it, when he was forced into it. Always, teachers get forced into realizing something by their students. This is very usual, and Buddha was big enough to realize his blindness and correct his mistakes, and so there are a number of ancestors that we have that are enlightened women, and they're part of our lineage. Truly part of our lineage, even though the book by the Chinese doesn't say so.
Anyway, one of these women, who was actually a distant cousin of the Buddha, was named Kisa Gotami. You may have heard her story, although when you heard it, you probably didn't hear that later she became a nun and became enlightened. You heard the part of the story, perhaps, when she was married, and she had a child who died. And she couldn't bear it. She couldn't say yes to the suffering, so she went insane. She brought the dead child to Buddha, and she said, "Will you please bring this child back to life?" The Buddha's reaction is wonderfully instructive, how to teach Dharma. You'd think that the Buddha would say, "Now, now, the child can't be brought back to life, you must accept." He didn't say that. He said, "Of course I will bring the child back to life. But in order to do it I need a very special medicine, and an indispensable ingredient is a mustard seed from the home of a family that has never had death in it. Please find me such a mustard seed and I will make the medicine and revive your child."
So Kisa Gotami went out looking for such a mustard seed. She checked all the houses in the village, and all the houses in the next village, and the next village, and she went to the big city and asked many, many families for a mustard seed. But she did not find a single family, anywhere, that was not touched by death. And so she came back to the Buddha, cured of her madness and able to say yes to her suffering, and she was healed. She later, as I say, became a nun, and was an enlightened disciple of Buddha. When we can say yes to our own suffering, and understand that "our suffering" is "The Suffering," then our suffering is relieved, and we can be compassionate for our own suffering and the suffering of others. It's through our suffering that we are awakened, not by avoiding it.
The third kind of courage, the courage of the shepherd, in the Mahayana sutras is reflected in the teachings, particularly I think, of the late Mahayana, in which the Bodhisattva takes a vow not to get enlightened until all beings are awakened, and saved. Once all beings are saved, then, at the end, the Bodhisattva will enter Buddhahood. This is like the compassion of the shepherd, who takes care of his flock first before he will take care of himself.
Sometimes these three kinds of courage are presented in an ascending order, as though it was better to be the shepherd than it was to be the king or queen. But I think they're not really organized in an hierarchical way. All three of them are our practice, and we practice all three of them, each one of them according to conditions, according to the situation.
When I was thinking about this third kind of courage, the courage of the shepherd - you might think this is funny - it made me think about my dog. Because, I think sometimes animals surpass we human beings in the ability to love selflessly. I don't know if you've ever had an animal like that or knew an animal like that, but I have a dog who's like that. My dog loves passionately and selflessly. My dog especially loves my wife, and somehow he recognizes the sound of her car, from far away. He could be involved in something, but if he hears the sound of her car coming from far away, whatever he's doing, even if he's sleeping - it's amazing, he could be sound asleep - he will suddenly leap up, completely alert, and run to the door and start crying, hoping that she'll come now. So impatient, jumping up and down waiting for her to come in. Sometimes, chasing himself around in a circle with excitement. And this is an old dog now, not a young dog - old dog. Still, consistently all the years of his life he's been that way.
And he feels so much love for us that he will protect us against all enemies...like deer. If he sees a deer around he will feel that the deer is threatening to our household, and he will tear off after that deer. Think of it: imagine yourself having such a desire to protect your loved one that you would viciously attack a creature that was about 27 feet tall. That's how our dog attacks deer, bike riders - very threatening people, bicycle riders - cars, horses. If they should come in the vicinity his overwhelming desire to protect us leads him to do things that are impossible, but he does them without a moment's hesitation.
And bodhisattvas are like this too. A very impractical thing to take on this vow: Beings are numberless, I vow to save them. Really impractical. It's a bit like my dog attacking a truck. It's completely impossible, but one tries. Sometimes we are like that. One hears stories of people doing things that are absolutely impossible, and that they would never do if they thought about it, but they do it anyway. You read about people saving people from harm, doing impossible feats of strength or endurance or agility. Human beings also are capable of this.
To have this kind of liberative compassion for others, that comes from a knowing of how things really are, takes some doing. One aspires to it - I think we all do. It seems to me that it's one of the chief characteristics of being a human, to have in us the feeling that compassion is just right. It is so right, it is so natural, it is so much who we are and what we want in our lives. And yet, it's not so easy to have such an attitude come up in relation to our experience and to others. So we have to cultivate, we actually have to work at giving rise to such an attitude. We are so used to, in our Western way of thinking, the idea that my thoughts and my emotions and my feelings are "me," that we don't think of cultivating an attitude of compassion. So what happens all too often is we feel the rightness of compassion, we want to be compassionate, we notice how little compassionate we really are, and then we say, "Oh, I must be a really rotten person." Or, not a very good person; and then we go on that way for quite a while, never thinking that if there's a gap between what we notice arising in us and what we deeply know is right to be arising in us, that we can cultivate our mind in that direction.
I want to talk now, a little bit more, about this cultivation of the feeling of compassion, and I want to talk about a teaching that you're all familiar with, I know, the Four Immeasurables, which are the traditional way in Buddhism for cultivating the feeling of compassion. The Four Immeasurables are: Lovingkindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. Usually they're taught in that order, but I would like to change that, and instead teach Equanimity first, because Equanimity can be understood as the basis, the ground, for all the others.
Equanimity means having a balance in our warm feelings towards others. Having a warm, steady feeling for others in our lives, but a steady feeling that is not tremendous regard for this person and antipathy for that person, to try to equalize those feelings. To try to balance those feelings, so that we don't have in our lives people who we're completely involved with and others who we really dislike. As we make an effort to practice in this way, we begin to realize that when we have people that we really think are great in every way, and other people that we really don't like, we get to notice that there's a strong relationship between these two groups of people. In fact, what enables us to really like these people is the fact that we really don't like those other people. Hatred and love, in this way, are really bound up together, in that in our love, so-called love, is mixed up a lot of attachment and a lot of selfishness, actually. We identify with someone else, we feel somehow that we possess someone else.
I've known people who have tremendous, strong positive feelings for some people, and strong negative feelings for others, and almost always it feels, in a way, there's something excessive, or a little bit too much or too proprietary about the love that they feel for people. Quite often, you find that it switches. Did you ever notice? That the person that they love becomes a great enemy suddenly. Something happens, and then the great person that they thought was the best person in the world suddenly becomes one of the worst persons in the world. And sometimes the opposite: someone that they hated a lot now becomes their best friend. You find this a lot with children, it often happens. In my wife's fifth-grade class it's very common that such a thing would happen, but it happens with grownups too. Sometimes we see this phenomenon in divorce. You're madly in love with someone, you marry them - after a while you hate them and you get divorced, and tremendous bitterness happens. It's awful.
Equanimity is the opposite of this. Equanimity is finding a balance, so that we pay attention to people that we care a lot about, and we try to notice where attachment and a feeling of lack inside creates an excessive proprietary feeling. We try to observe that and let go of that, so that we can feel a warm feeling for one person, but then try to equalize that feeling for another person. So that people that we don't like, we begin to notice the same kind of attachment in reverse, the same energy n reverse in relation to the other person that we don't like, and we try to equalize the feelings. So this is Equanimity, and it's very important that we have an appreciation for this kind of practice, because otherwise, Lovingkindness and the other practices can get a little out of balance.
But I think that, in terms of our meditation practice, this same practice of Equanimity is also extremely practical and important. Because, if in your meditation practice you really love those great times when you are peaceful, and calm, and fantastic things are happening in your meditation, and you really hate it when there's pain, and you're bored, and all that, then you're going to have a really hard time meditating. And you're going to notice - really clearly you can notice - how, "Ah, what a beautiful, peaceful, calm meditation. I really think I'm getting good at this. I think I'm getting this down now." Then, next period of zazen: pain, suffering, self-hatred comes right away. And you get to notice, "Maybe there's some connection between these two." So it's very important, in meditation practice, to have some equanimity, so that when something terrific comes up in your meditation, should it happen, and you have a peaceful moment, profound moment, "Ah, very nice, thank you very much. Now, forget it." And if something terrible happens - big pain, grief, suffering, all kind of difficulty - well, too bad, but just keep practicing, without too much aversion toward negative states, and too much attachment toward positive states. Very important. And one can easily see the relationship between attachment to positive states and the arising of negative states.
Now in the practice of Equanimity, always in our practice, one has to have a certain common sense. This is not to say that we're going to now have a life in which we feel the same way about our children that we feel about somebody we pass on the street. This would be unrealistic. Now it's possible that Buddha felt the same way about Mahakashyapa his closest disciple, that he felt about somebody he met for the first time, maybe. And maybe, someday, we'll feel that way. But in the meantime, let's be realistic, and realize that we like some people, and other people we don't like, and we're close to some people and other people we're less close to, but how big is the difference? This is the point - how big is the difference? If we only love our family, and we're focused on our family, and other people we don't notice particularly, or we don't like particularly, this is not going to work out so well, even for our family. There are differences, but let's find more balance, this is the idea. So that's the practice of Equanimity, which is a very important basis for the others.
So next, Lovingkindness. And I know many of you have studied and practiced Lovingkindness, which is, basically, a feeling of warmth and concern, positive feeling for others, wishing others happiness and joy. But of course, it's not only others, it begins with ourselves. We have to fist wish ourselves happiness and joy, and have a warm, positive feeling for ourselves. In a way, Equanimity and Lovingkindness involves emphasizing and increasing these warm feelings. Again, to offer a very simple practice that you can do, I think it's very beneficial to practice, in meditation, Lovingkindness. To settle with our own body and mind and to notice the feeling of one's self being present, and to wish one's self well.
I feel that it may be necessary and useful to begin with a forgiveness practice. Sometimes, we try to practice Lovingkindness, but actually, something holds us back inside ourselves. So it may be most beneficial to begin by finding our breath, finding our posture, and then noticing our mind, being with our mind, and saying to ourselves, "Whatever I may have done or felt that is not quite right, I forgive myself. I really avow these feelings, these actions, I forgive myself. And likewise, whatever others may have done to me, that has hurt me, and caused me to feel resentful, I forgive them." So maybe, beginning with forgiving ourselves and forgiving others, the wishing ourselves happiness, and safety, and well-being; and wishing others in our immediate and wider surroundings happiness, and safety, and well-being; and then it would be pleasant and wonderful to practice Lovingkindness for those whom we love most - our family members, dear friends - in our meditation practice, wishing them happiness, and safety, and well-being. Then if we have people who we're having difficulty with in our lives, we can practice: "May they also have happiness, and safety, and well-being."
Again, we can't be idealistic about this, we have to be realistic and practical. The practice of Lovingkindness is not a warm, fuzzy feeling, or an ideology, like "I'm supposed to feel this way, and by golly, I will." This would be quite unhelpful. In the course of practicing Lovingkindness, for example - "Whatever I have done, or felt, I forgive myself." - we might notice in practicing that way, "Boy, I don't forgive myself." We have to be realistic about that, and allow ourselves to feel, "I don't forgive myself," and also, breathe into "I forgive myself." And notice, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves in that way. So there's nothing wrong with having those two opposite things. "I make the effort to forgive myself, and in doing so I notice I do not forgive myself. I make the effort to forgive him or her who has harmed me, I really make that effort, and I notice that I don't forgive." And that's all right, we can hold those things. In fact, we must, because if we don't, we don't really open up our hearts, we don't really see our mind.
And again, for meditation practice, apart from our relations with others, the practice of Lovingkindness is really a must, because we have to have, for zazen, a healthy, positive attitude toward our own mind. Really, we can't practice zazen if we don't like our mind. If "Don't like my mind" arises, we can notice that, it's not to say that we should not have such thoughts arising, but unless we have a cultivation of Lovingkindness, and some affection for the cockamamie things that come up in our mind, all our lunacy and all our self-hatred, or who knows what it is - everybody has their own favourite ones that we get from karma - whatever they are, we have to have a certain affection for them, and humor. Because otherwise, zazen is like torture, you see? It's like being in Hell. And this is not the idea, we're not here to be in Hell. We're in Hell anyway - we're trying to get out of it. So it's necessary to have a certain amount of Lovingkindness in our own mind to develop an affectionate attitude toward this silly person that we are.
The next one is Compassion. Compassion, as I've been saying, means that we can appreciate suffering. And appreciate that through our own suffering, we can see all suffering. The only way to see suffering is to suffer. Buddha said, "The Path begins with suffering." This is the uniqueness, I think, of the Buddha's way, that the Buddha said "The Path begins with suffering." And an appreciation of the universality and all-pervasiveness of suffering, and the inevitability of suffering, is the beginning of the Path. We have to appreciate our own suffering, and the depth of it, and the all-pervasive nature of it. And understand that, as I was saying about Manjusri yesterday, Manjusri is described as noble, which means knowing the true condition or true nature of life - the source of that nobility is suffering. Suffering is the source of our growth and development and the depth of our living.
But of course, Buddhism is not a path of asceticism, or laying on beds of nails, or something. Suffering is not enough; suffering is only half the story. Through saying yes to our suffering, and appreciating the connection that our suffering is, we can really understand suffering. When we really understand suffering, and the source and shape of suffering, we go beyond it, seeing life as it is. Seeing then, that we really are connected with others. As I said on the first night of our retreat, our real life is not: "somebody's there"; but every moment is a moment of meeting. This is our real life. Every moment is a moment of connection, every moment is a moment of meeting.
It is so deep within us to know that Compassion is what we really want to practice, that our life feels right and good when we feel and share the suffering of others, and we try to help. And if we can't help then we will just hold on and be with the suffering. So it's odd, and completely goes against what we would think, that when we practice Compassion, which means sharing the suffering of others, we become happy. You wouldn't think so, but when we practice Compassion, balanced by wisdom, and in the way of understanding that I am speaking of, we feel happy. We feel a deep, deep satisfaction, and a deep, deep ease, because we know that we are doing what is really to be done for human beings. So we feel positive about life, and the prospects for life. This happiness is not the happiness of going to Disney World or something. It's not exhilarating, thrilling happiness, and certainly has mixed in with it feelings of sadness, and loss, and so on, but it is a deeper happiness: the happiness of connection, the happiness of letting go, the happiness of seeing our life as it is.
So the next one is Sympathetic Joy, and in a way, oddly, you would think this one would be really fun and easy, but this is a hard one. Somehow it's easier for us to share the suffering of others, or at least it seems as if it's easier for us to share the suffering of others, that it is to share the joy of others. Usually, quite often when we think we are sharing the suffering of others it's just that we're pitying them, and we're kind of congratulating ourselves that we're not in the shape that they're in. We think of that as compassion, so it seems easier. And the opposite, when others are doing great we think, "Damn!" We wish that we had what they had, so we have a harder time affirming other people's successes and joys than we do affirming their suffering.
This is something that I've practiced a lot, the practice of Sympathetic Joy. Which is, as I say, the other side of Compassion: feeling people's joy when they have joy, as opposed to feeling their suffering when they have suffering. This Sympathetic Joy is the antidote to feelings that we have of envy or jealousy, which is a natural feeling that comes from feeling separate from others, and therefore constantly in a position of being threatened, possibly, by others. Which is the usual human feeling. One of my truisms is that the condition of being human is the condition of being paranoid. Human beings are all paranoid: they all think that someone's our to get them, and we might constantly be threatened. Clinical paranoia is only an extreme case of the usual human predicament.
I know about this kind of thing from living in a community for twenty-some years, and observing my own mind and the minds of others in the community, and I have really been impressed with the power of envy and jealousy to mess us up. Almost nothing makes us more unhappy. When you survey the range of human unhappiness, this business of envy and jealousy and comparing ourselves to others is one of the real winners in the sweepstakes where "What makes people more unhappy than anything else?" Often, like I say, we don't see it as envy and jealousy, we see it as "somebody's threatening us," "somebody hurt me." That's how we see it. Somebody hurt me, why did they say that to me, why did they do this to me, why did they treat me that way. We feel hurt and diminished by others, and we feel aversion and hatred for others, but the source of it is the comparison, and the separation. Then, basically, disliking others, because we compare them to us, and we don't like the results.
We find this in community, and this is one of the features of Sangha in Buddhism. It's true. I say this because our sangha here in Vancouver, and Bellingham, and Seattle, is getting more close I think, and more developed. So we can look forward to increased amounts of envy, and jealousy, and comparison, as we get more intimate with one another. Don't kid yourself - this is what will happen, it's very common. On one hand it's good news, it means that we're getting to know each other, we're getting closer. On the other hand it's really tough, it's sad, it's difficult.
Another form that this takes also, which is particularly interesting, is we have felt envy and jealousy of others, and so we become afraid of doing anything to provoke jealousy and envy. So we damp ourselves down, and we kind of pretend that we're not even there, and then we resent that in ourselves. We resent the others, and resent ourselves for not actually standing up and being the person that we are. What we are inhibited by is the fear that someone else is going to compare themselves to us, and be envious of us, because we've been envious of them. So it becomes quite an entangled, cockeyed knot of suffering and confusion. And the antidote to it is this practice of Sympathetic Joy.
Sympathetic Joy means: when someone else is happy, you can notice right away how one clamps down when one sees someone that you think is successful or wonderful in some way, so when you see that then you try to do the opposite. What you do is, you say, "This happiness is my happiness." You appropriate it. Not in some ridiculous, literal way, but in other words, "I share that happy feeling, I share that successful feeling, I share that strong feeling - that's my feeling." When you think about it, it's a very logical thing. Consider: now, although I've just scratched my head and I had an experience of my fingertips and my head, basically, my main experience now is you, right? Mainly, this is what I am experiencing. I see you, and have a sense of you, your presence. If you really want to know "What is this person now?", immediately, it is you. It's logical, it's really true. It's an everyday fact.
So, if you're really happy right now, I'm happy, right? It's true. For me to feel that your happiness and well-being is somehow threatening to me, or I'm comparing myself, I have to do a lot of extra operations there. I have to create this person who's over here and not over there, I have to make that person up, and so forth and so on, and do a lot of extra things. Which we do all the time, that's what we do. But if we could let go of all that and just really be in our experience, there's no reason why someone else's happiness can't be one's own. So we don't have to look at our own accomplishments, and our own thises and our own that's, and say "Oh what a mess, why didn't I do more? How come she's better than...?" All we have to do is look around and find somebody who's really great, and say "Boy, can I dunk a basketball." It's true, you know? So you have to cultivate this spirit, this attitude, and then you can have lots of happiness. Think of the possibilities. Even if in your own life there doesn't seem to be that much happiness going on, just look around you and be happy with others. There's a tremendous amount of happiness.
The Dalai Lama says, "It makes sense to make the happiness of others as important as our own, because then our chances of happiness are enhanced by a factor of six billion." Makes sense, right? And you don't have to believe me, but the Dalai Lama says it. We can look at his life if we feel sad, and be happy, because he's a happy person, I think, despite all of the difficulties of his life.
So those are the Four Immeasurables, and they're called immeasurables because they can be extended and increased immeasurably. There's no limit to Love. Lovingkindness, Sympathetic Joy, Compassion, and Equanimity can limitlessly be developed. So although we might feel, with some righteousness, that the material resources of our world are limited, and perhaps the economic resources are limited, and the time of our lives is limited, or our intelligence is limited, our capacity to develop these Four Immeasurables in actually not limited, and there's infinite room for growth here.
I was chairman of the board of a non-profit organization, and the staff said they wanted a raise, because they hadn't had a raise in a while. The idea was that you keep getting raises, forever. And everybody thinks that right? - you keep getting raises. I was innocent of this way of thinking, and I thought, "You mean, you just keep getting raises, and you always get a raise? You never go backwards, or stay the same?" No, after a certain amount of time, everybody gets a raise. And businesses grow, right? They have to grow. Even if the rate of growth - never mind whether they grow or not - but if the rate of growth were to slow down, this would be a bad thing. So everything grows infinitely, seemingly, in a finite world. Which is crazy thinking to me, yet everybody thinks that, so I figure I must not understand. So I said, "Of course, how many raises would you like?" Everybody gets a raise - that's the way it goes. But still, I don't understand how this could be. I actually don't understand. If anybody knows how this could be, how there could be endless growth, always, and we can always have more things, and so forth, otherwise we're losing ground, explain it to me, and let me know after the retreat. I'd like to understand it.
But anyway, definitely, whether or not this is practical, certainly in the case of Lovingkindness, Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity, and Compassion, it is definitely possible, there's no limit. It's the one area where we could have more and more growth, and there's nothing to worry about. So please think about these four, and practice them.
I want to conclude my talk today with a poem by a Persian poet, Hafiz. It's called, "I know the way you can get."
I know the way you can get
when you have not had a drink of love.
Your face hardens, your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
about a strange look that appears in your eyes,
which even begins to worry your own mirror and nose.
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
and call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
to help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
that arrays itself against the world
and throws sharp stones and spears into the innocent
and into one's self.
Oh, I know the way you can get
if you have not been out drinking love.
You might rip apart
every sentence your friends and teachers say,
looking for hidden clauses.
You might weigh every word on a scale
like a dead fish.
You might pull out a ruler
to measure from every angle in your darkness
the beautiful dimensions of a heart you once trusted.
I know the way you can get
if you have not had a drink from love's hands.
This is why all the great ones
speak of the vital need to keep remembering God,
so you will come to know and see Him
as being so playful, and wanting, just wanting to
This is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me,
for I am a sweet old vagabond
with an infinite leaking barrel
of light, and laughter, and truth,
that the Beloved has tied to my back.
Dear One, indeed,
please bring your heart near me,
for all I care about is quenching your thirst for freedom.
All a sane man can ever care about is giving love.
Transcribed on 10/26/00 by Colin MacDonald