It strikes me how important compassion is when it comes to training the mind. Mindfulness is on everyone’s lips now, but it is compassion that brings about real change. Certainly, mindfulness can bring about significant change too – for many people it is a revelation to realise that they do not have to follow all the thoughts that pop up in their mind, and that their negative thoughts and feelings do not define who they are.
But the real issue is self-centeredness – revolving everything around ‘me’: what I want and what I do not want. Modern consumer society feeds this self-centeredness. It lies at the heart of unhappiness and it is like a fierce demon that rules us. Thousands of years ago, the Buddha identified it as the root cause of suffering.
Through mindfulness we can become very aware of the thought patterns that lock us into self-centeredness, and we can start to see that we have a choice as to what we feed. But the force that frees us from this trap is compassion. It starts with genuinely taking care of ourselves – self compassion – which is very different from the egocentric process. The strange paradox is that we suffer greatly when we feed the egocentric process; it does not really serve us even though it might appear to do so. Self-compassion is about identifying our genuine needs, and learning to meet them; while the egocentric process is all about what being enslaved to what we want and what we do not want. It tends to be an unconscious process, whilst self-compassion is a form of self-awareness.
The real task at hand, however, is that once we take care of ourselves we don’t stop there; we then reach out to genuinely take care of others. Compassion is the heart energy that propels us out of the egocentric prison into a much bigger world where we see how we are intimately connected with other people and with all of life. In a famous Buddhist text called the 7 Points of Mind Training, compassion is called the sacred mystery that leads to true happiness.
In essence, mindfulness serves compassion, so it is very important not just to stop with mindfulness training but to continue to train the mind in compassion. And compassionate mindfulness is not enough. It needs to be mindfulness going in the direction of self-compassion that goes in the direction of compassion for others.
Watch Choden speak on the importance of Compassion:
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