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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Exercise six: Awakening compassion.

A very nice exercise!
Being able to feel compassionate for other living beings can bring great happiness! If you are very competitive, if you strive to be the best, if you feel that others are stupid and blocking your progress, you are trying to achieve happiness by forcing the world to be what you think it should be. If you win, you feel great, but someone else looses and feels bad. And next time that someone may be you! If you feel that others are stupid, you are blocking kindness, good relations and you are cultivating feelings of pride and hatred. These feeling may not feel that bad sometimes, but they've never made anybody genuinely happy.
Loving kindness, compassion, friendship, those things DO have potential to make people happy. So if you do this exercise, you are opening your heart and allowing compassion to grow in it.

First, let me explain something about the mantra you are going to use here. Om mani padme hung is a very old mantra, used in Buddhism. It is the mantra of the Boddhisatva of Compassion: Avalokiteshvara, or in Tibetan: Chenrezig.

Avalokiteshvara is one of the students close to Buddha Gautama. He vows during his life, not to reach enlightenment himself, before he frees all living beings in all realms of samsara of their suffering. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitabha Buddha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara attempts to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitabha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.

So actually, one could say that Avalokiteshvara is the archetype of a compassionate being.

Om mani padme hung is often pronounced as Om mani peme hung, which is the Tibetan way of pronunciation of this mantra. It should not be translated literally. It is said to contain all the teachings of the Buddha. When you recite this mantra, it is said to be very beneficial. I've experienced that this is true, the mantra helps to awaken compassion.

Read more information on these subjects here.

Let's start with the exercise!
Just sit in meditation posture, or on a good chair that allows you to keep your back straight.

Focus your eyes at a point just 1 meter before you, preferably on the floor. An image of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is also good. Just notice how you feel. Notice your breathing, notice any pain or discomfort in your body. Do not elaborate on these things, just be aware. For ten minutes, just sit like this. Keep your head up straight, in line with your spine, and just sit. If a thought comes into your head, do not elaborate on that thought. For example, you start thinking:
"Oh, I have to remember to do the dishes, and what was it that I had to buy in the..." Stop, your thinking. Just stop the thought dead in its tracks. Your not sitting here in order to listen to your own chit chatter. Just focus on your breathing and body again.
After ten minutes or so, you will notice that your mind starts to quiet down. The train of thoughts will go slower and slower. At a certain point, you may start to notice "voids", moments not filled with any thought. Only awareness. If you start to feel more relaxed, you're ready for the exercise.

Keep sitting in the same posture. Put two fingers on your stomach, slide upward until you feel your breastbone. Go two fingers up until you touch your breastbone just below your heart. Keep your fingers there. Just apply enough pressure to feel your fingertips and breastbone well. Focus on this area. After a couple of minutes, remove your fingers, but keep your attention on this spot. If your mind starts to dwell, if you start having thoughts, don't do anything else but bringing your focus back to that point where your fingers have just been.
Say in your head "Om mani padme hung". Say the syllables slowly. Allow empty spaces to fall between the words. Think of the mantra again. And again. If it gets softer or louder, that is all OK. If you want to change the pace of saying the mantra, make it faster or even slower: that is fine.
Now after a couple of mantras, think of someone you really love. Think of something bad that has happened to this friend, or that might happen to him/her. See it as clearly in your mind as possible. Notice how you feel. Notice how a natural feeling of wanting to protect that person from such harm comes up. Probably it is located in your chest, at the same point you held your fingers. Focus on that feeling. Repeat the mantra: Om mani padme hum. Focus again on that feeling. If you cannot feel it anymore, again picture in your mind something bad happening to people you love. Feel how you want to prevent them from being hurt, from feeling bad. How much love you feel for them, how badly you want them just to feel happy. Make this feeling stronger, stronger, stronger. If it gets hard, repeat the mantra until you feel comfortable again. Now if you succeed in making this feeling very strong, think of all the living beings on this planet. Think of how all of them suffer. Send this same feeling of compassion to them. Embrace them with your love, give them your protection. Shelter them in your heart.
Do this exercise for at least ten minutes every day, and increase the time you spend on it if it feels good for you. It is very important that during the day, you try to feel that compassion again, when dealing with other living beings (people, animals, plants). Be kind to them. Protect them from harm. You may not succeed in doing that all the time. You may even harm other beings. Do not punish yourself or give up! Remember Avalokiteshvara, there is so much suffering in this world that his head split in eleven pieces! You don't have to be perfect like him, just try to be like that sometimes. With practice, you'll find that more and more compassion comes into your heart naturally.

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