Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reflections on Suffering, Compassion and Karma

In one of the group discussions during a Buddhist course that I did last July at Kopan monastery in Nepal we were asked to share between the group any painful experience from our past. The purpose was to develop a compassionate attitude towards each other and to ourselves, without any judgments. These are my reflections on suffering, compassion and karma, the three main lessons that I learned during this exercise.


A traumatic event


One of the girls in my group shared a very painful and traumatic experience, it was not her own experience but of somebody that she had met at a hospital.

A healthy woman in her early forties, after just having a small cut in her foot, got a rare infection that send her to the emergencies room. While she was unconscious under the influence of anesthesia the doctors realized that her whole leg needed to be amputated and there was no time to let her know about it.

This was not the first time that I had heard of a painful experience like this one but for some reason this story left a big impression in my mind and my heart, I was shocked.

After hearing this story I could hardly pay attention to the other group member's past painful experiences and I refused to tell any painful personal experience of my own, everything seemed so trivial to me after hearing about this woman's tragedy.


Meditation on compassion


That story stayed with me all day long but somehow it became more vivid during the evening guided meditation, it became my meditation. My ears were actually deaf to whatever the teacher was saying.

I couldn't stop thinking about the intense pain and suffering that such an event must have caused to this woman that I've never met, and to her husband and their children, to her parents and friends. So much suffering, so much pain. I couldn't avoid to silently shed some tears in the middle of the meditation.


The preventive medicine against suffering


I felt her pain but I also felt a bit afraid and paranoid because I realized that this is something that could happen to me or to the people dear to me, and at any time. But then, after a little while, what we were learning at this Buddhist course started to make a lot more sense.

I understood that the only real "preventive medicine" against such incidents is to transform our minds by replacing all our negative believes and negative habits by positive ones so we can stop doing actions that continue to create more future negative karma for ourselves. There is no other way around.


The teachings of the enlightened beings


This is actually what all the spiritual traditions and religions try to teach us. "Repentance from our sins" simply means to become aware of how our negative actions pull us away from God, the Supreme Consciousness, our True Nature or whatever you want to call it.

This separation, or ignorance of our true Self, is what causes all suffering and the way to stop creating those negative actions is to put in practice the teachings of the enlightened beings like Jesus or Buddha.


The masters compassionate vision


I was also able to understand why the Buddhist Lamas (teachers) are able to express so much compassion for all sentient beings.

When they look at us they probably see right through us, straight into all our delusions and misconceptions. They can probably see how our actions our constantly creating more future suffering for us because of our selfish motivations and lack of wisdom. Because of their empathy they can probably feel that suffering in their own beings and that's why they decide to dedicate their lives for the benefit of others by teaching us how to develop that same compassionate attitude.


Developing the compassionate attitude


In the Buddhist text "The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation" that we studied during the course it says that we need to feel compassion for all, especially for those who are evil and wicked in nature. But how can we feel compassion for those who harm us, mistreat us, insult us or abuse us? How can we feel compassion for somebody who hurt somebody dear to us?


Understanding the law of Karma


That's why it's important to understand the law of karma or cause and effect. The law of karma says that to whatever action we perform today there will always be a result or consequence that we will need to experience in the future. In other words, what we experience today is the result of our past actions and what we will experience in the future will be determined by our present actions. There is no unfairness or injustice, everything that we experience in our lives, the good or the bad, is the result of our past actions.

So, in the same way that we can experience compassion for somebody who is in suffering in the present moment, in whichever form that suffering might manifest, we could feel compassion for those who mistreat us, abuse us or hurts us in any way because we know that their actions are based on a lack of wisdom and in the future this person will inevitably experience the consequences of his actions. Moreover this compassionate attitude will also help us to stop creating more negative karma for ourselves by not responding with anger or hatred.

"If all sentient beings get angry at you and harm you or even kill you, you are just one person. But if that one person, you, doesn't practice compassion, the good heart, numberless other sentient beings are at risk of being harmed by you - there's the great risk that the one person, you, will harm numberless others. Therefore, whether other people practice compassion or not, first you should do so. Develop the good heart." Virtue and Reality - Lama Zopa Rinpoche

And in case you might be thinking about it I should clarify that this philosophy is not to point fingers at anybody saying "you deserve it" or to create a guilty feeling in ourselves because of our past negative actions. This knowledge can actually empower us by knowing that our future depends on the actions that we perform today and it can help us to accept and learn from our present circumstances knowing that our present is the result of our past actions.

That's why it is so important to embrace the teachings of whatever religion or spiritual tradition you follow. Unless we put in practice their teachings to be good and do good with a loving and compassionate attitude, but with the right understanding and without any fundamentalism or fanaticism, our actions will continue to be based on ignorance creating more future suffering for ourselves and others.


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