The word compassion comes from the Latin compassio, which means the act of sharing another person’s suffering. In other words, being able to put yourself in other person shoes and share it’s pain!
How to really feel the someone else’s pain and be willing to share it? How many times we are too overwhelmed with our own pain that it is hard to have space for the other’s pain? And, how can we have compassion towards someone who causes us suffering?
Lojong, or training in compassion, offers us a way to achieve this. It is a training, and just like a muscle you exercise, it needs constancy to maintain it’s tone. You can do your daily series like this, push-ups, running and practicing compassion towards yourself. Or aerobic training and compassion with those who think differently from you… Endless possibilities to include in your daily life.
This practice is used traditionally in Tibetan Buddhism. It originated in India in the 13th century and from there it went to Tibet. Who first brought it to the West was Trungpa Rimpoche. Pema Chödrön has a book using the slogans in cards. Norman Fisher wrote a book with a Zen view of these teachings, Training in Compassion, this is the book I am using.
But how is this training anyway? It has 59 slogans, divided into 7 points. Today I’m going to write about the first point, which is “Decide to begin”. And that point has only one slogan, which is to train in the preliminaries. You decided to begin, how to do that?
Norman Fisher lists three ways to start:
The first is to bring all the difficult situations in our life into practice, it can be an inexpected broke up, the loss of a loved one, an illness. I remember when I first met zen in 2006, I was getting over my divorce and went to a Zen Yoga retreat with Monja Coen. She said that there was only disillusion when you first had illusion and that made me reflect so much about my marriage and also in life, that was my moment to decide to begin, I could feel the need to bring my entire life to the cushion.
The second way is to start and ground yourself in a meditative practice. It may be what is most suitable for you. For me it is zazen, to stop and sit in silence and observe body and mind. Note the thoughts instead of believing them, and return to your posture and breathing. And practice consistently, in order to create stability. So you can expand your compassion, like a tree that can grow upwards because it has solid roots.
The third way to start this practice is to use 4 Tibetan reflections, but it will be for the next post because there is a lot to talk about them, so don’t miss the continuation. Also the next Zencounters will be with Onryu Mary Stares, who has been studying Lojong for years, and ran the practice period about it at SFZC last year. Put it on your calendar, June 12th at 2pm Pacific time!