Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
“The Path of No More Learning”
“Learning to cherish others is the best solution to our daily problems, and it is the source of all our future happiness and good fortune.” These words were written by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom. Gyatso is convinced that we live in a “spiritually degenerate time” and, furthermore, “there are five impurities that are increasing throughout the world: (1) our environment is becoming increasingly impure because of pollution; (2) our water, air and food are becoming increasingly impure, also because of pollution; (3) our body is becoming increasingly impure because sickness and disease are now more prevalent; (4) our mind is becoming increasingly impure because our delusions are getting stronger and stronger; and (5) our actions are becoming increasingly impure because we have no control over our delusions. Gyatso adds, “Because of these five impurities, suffering, problems and dangers are increasing everywhere.”
As Leo Tolstoy asks, “What then must we do?” The Buddhist approach is to use the difficulties in the world and in our own lives as spiritual lessons, the object of which is to develop compassion for all living beings.
The Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna lists eight benefits of “immeasurable love” toward all beings: (1) we accumulate greater merit “than we would do by giving food three times every day to all those who are hungry in the world”; (2) “we shall receive great loving kindness from humans and non-humans”; (3) “we shall be protected in various ways by humans and non-humans”; (4) “we shall be mentally happy all the time”; (5) “we shall be physically healthy all the time”; (6) “we shall not be harmed by weapons, poison and other harmful conditions”; (7) we shall obtain all necessary conditions without effort; and (8) we shall be born in the superior heaven of a Buddha Land.”
Wow! Where do I sign up? Actually these eight benefits are a bit beyond me, beyond my level of non-enlightenment; and as far as “the superior heaven of Buddha Land” goes, I think I would prefer to be born in Mohican State Forest in north-central Ohio.
More useful to me is a simple five-step Buddhist practice I have used for years. Simply fill your heart with immeasurable love and compassion for four persons in particular. I will name it the Loving Four People Practice. The first person will always be the same, but the other three may vary with each session. Spend a few minutes on each of the five steps.
First—Fill your heart with love and compassion for yourself. I like to remember Walt Whitman’s words, “I did not know I held so much goodness.”
Second—Fill your heart with love and compassion for a person you already think very highly of, or already love.
Third—Fill your heart with love and compassion for a person who at this point is “neutral” to you, a nobody to you, perhaps a clerk at a convenience store, a gas station attendant, a neighbor you have seen but do not know, the old woman you pass on the street.
Fourth—Fill your heart with love and compassion for a person you definitely do not like, perhaps a co-worker, or a family member, a former spouse or lover, a person who has ignored you, who has deliberately made life difficult for you, a person who has ridiculed you.
Fifth—Fill your heart with love and compassion for all four persons at the same time, and (this can be the hard part) with equal love and compassion for each.
When you have succeeded, let your love and compassion flow out over the entire world. As Gyatso suggests, “feel equal compassion for all living beings without exception; there is no single living being who is not a suitable object of our compassion.” When we have developed this compassion without ceasing, we are well on our way to “The Path of No More Learning.”