I’m co-leading the Free Meditation Workshop for the Rime Center.
May 25 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Meditation has been proven to: lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and help you cope with anxiety. It has also been shown to be very effective with chronic pain, insomnia, and panic disorder. The wonderful thing about meditation is that it can be used anywhere, even on the way to work and has no dangerous side effects. In this one session class you will learn this simple technique that can change your life. This class is based upon the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
I’m going to share with you a meditation prayer that we recite at the Rime Center. I started reciting it in all my meditations at home as well. It goes like this:
“May all beings be endowed with happiness;
May all beings be free from suffering;
May all beings never be separated from happiness;
And may all beings abide in equanimity,
Undisturbed by the eight worldly concerns.”
This is how we set our intention to cultivate what is called “the four immeasurables.”
I used to think these kinds of things were silly. But setting an intention is important. It motivates and inspires us. It reminds us what’s important. In my opinion we all spend much of our lives on auto-pilot. Living in a more intentional way is a good thing. When we set our intentions we are helping ourselves to remember what direction we’re trying to go in. In this case we are inclining ourselves toward having open hearts.
In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa says, “When we set an intention in the morning, we’re making a choice about what kind of day we want to have. We’re taking life into our own hands instead of waiting for it to happen to us.”
This set of virtues is called “immeasurable” because it’s said to be a list of things that you can never have too much of. They are: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
Thupten Jinpa goes on to say, “We all have these qualities; they’re part of – the best parts of – being human.”
All of these are about wishing it for all beings. That can be hard. It’s easy for us to wish for our own happiness and the happiness of our friends and family. This is much more broad. We are called to cultivate the wish for all beings to have these things because that will build a better world. It’s easy to say, “No one gets left out” but that can be very hard to really embody. If we suggest everyone is deserving of kindness and compassion, this can be a tough thing for us to relate to. Every one of us stops and thinks, “Even that person?” if we’re really reflecting on this. And the answer is yes, even that person. Opening your heart helps you…and everyone else.
May all beings be endowed with happiness
This is what we call loving-kindness. Some prefer the term loving-friendliness and some just call it kindness. The original word is Metta. Jinpa calls it, “The pure wish for someone to be happy.”
May all beings be free from suffering
This is compassion. I imagine some people wonder “what’s the difference between kindness and compassion?” This is it. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. Compassion is wanting others to not suffer. They are not far apart, but they’re a little different. Kindness is wanting good things to happen to people. Compassion is wanting bad things to not happen. The original word is Karuna. Jinpa says, “Our concern, if it comes from genuine compassion, is based on the recognition that, just like I do, this person wishes to be free from suffering.” and also, “In the Tibetan tradition we recognize compassion as both the highest spiritual ideal and the highest expression of our humanity.” This is what makes me like the Tibetan tradition.
May all beings never be separated from happiness
This is sympathetic joy. What if we can really be happy when someone else succeeds? I’m not talking about when we just say empty words like, “I’m happy for you,” because that’s what you’re supposed to say. What if we can take real joy at someone’s success? And I’m also not talking about just your kids or your partner. What if we can apply this kind of joy to everyone? Then there will be no end to where we can feel joy. The original word is Mudita. Jinpa says it is, “Experiencing happiness at someone else’s happiness and good fortune.” To me this is probably the most challenging one of the four to really reflect on and embody.
And may all beings abide in equanimity, undisturbed by the eight worldly concerns.
This is equanimity. It’s our ability to weather the storms of life, to keep it together when things are falling apart. It’s that quality that stops you from freaking out and falling to the floor when there are setbacks in life, as there are for everyone. The original word is Upekkha. Jinpa describes it as, “Staying calm no matter what life throws at us – pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes, praise and blame, fame and disrepute – and it lets us relate to everyone as human beings, beyond the categories of friend, foe, or stranger. With equanimity we are free from the habitual forces of expectation and apprehension that make us vulnerable to over-excitation and disappointment.” Those pairs he listed are called ‘the eight worldly concerns.’ The point of reflecting on those is that we can get carried away by being blamed too much, of course, but we can also get carried away by being praised too much. Equanimity is what helps us keep an even mind whether things are going very well or very badly.
So, these are the four immeasurables. Learning to cultivate these four qualities helps us to open our hearts and deepen our relationships to ourselves and others. They’re sometimes called ‘divine abodes’ which is not a term I like that much. But it does convey that they are considered important things to cultivate.
Click here if you want to help support building a new Buddhist temple in Kansas City.
The Sunday service consists of various chants along with short periods of meditation, music consisting of singing the Tara and Chenrezig mantras, a guided meditation, and concludes with a short Dharma talk. This is going to be streamed on the zoom platform. The Rime Center isn’t fully open for in person services at this time. Come see me give a talk on zoom.
“It takes courage to open our hearts to others and to expose our vulnerability.”
-Thupten Jinpa, PhD
In 2016 I received teachings from Lama Lena on a retreat at the Rime Center. At that time she would come visit us in Kansas City every year and give teachings, so I’ve been on retreats with her a few times. At that event she taught us something called “The Practice That Takes the Open Heart as the Path to Awakening.”
At that time I really didn’t want to receive that kind of teaching. I just wanted to go on retreat with a teacher. I was still feeling inspired to try to be a Zen Buddhist then and these kinds of practices weren’t what I wanted to explore. I thought I could work on opening my mind and not worry about my heart so much. My thoughts on the subject have evolved. This is not to say that there isn’t emphasis on opening the heart in the Zen tradition. I don’t want to suggest there is no heart-centered practice in Zen. But to my mind compassion isn’t nearly as central as it may be in some other traditions.
Anyway, when she was giving this teaching she said something that stuck with me and still sticks with me now.
She said, “It can be hard to open our hearts because we’ve all been kicked in the heart in the past. This causes us to want to have closed hearts for protection.”
This was such a big revelation to me. We have all been kicked in the heart. Everyone on this planet has. Most of us have many times. I like that line so much I use it in my own talks and writings.
I’m telling you that because opening our hearts is brave. Kindness is courage and vulnerability is strength. Sometimes people seem to imply that kindness is bad, that sensitivity is a weakness.
Opening your heart helps others feel empowered to open theirs. In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa says, “When people understand the reasons why we chose to do something, when they get the basic message that we don’t want to hurt them, they tend to be more accepting of our decisions and compassionate toward us. This is human nature.”
He goes on to say that we are afraid of opening our hearts and showing compassion because “These fears stem from confusing compassion with submissiveness, weakness, or sentimentality.”
We are afraid people could hurt us, but there is more than that to it. We are taught sometimes that compassion isn’t cool. People have been throwing around terms like “bleeding heart” and “snowflake” to describe someone with an open heart in a negative way.
The thing is that opening our hearts empowers others to open theirs. AND armoring our hearts doesn’t work. Compassion is in our nature. Closing our hearts will not make us happy. We can dare to be compassionate instead. We can try to protect ourselves against all the suffering and pain in life, but we can’t do it, not really. It’s like trying to cover the world with leather instead of putting on shoes. We can’t really do that.
If we open our hearts our hearts can be stronger. We can develop an inner strength that we don’t have now. We can become more patient, wiser, and more motivated to do the work of helping ourselves and others.
An open heart brings connection with other people. And we should connect with others even when we’re afraid of being hurt. One thing we’ve learned in a the last few years is that isolation can be really hard on us.
Jinpa goes on to say, “Through training we can make compassion our basic stance, the very outlook with which we perceive ourselves and the world around us, so that we engage with the world from that place.”
What if we can open our hearts and change our way of thinking?
Kindness, Compassion, and Open-heartedness are virtues. We should be cultivating these things.
Self Compassion is a concept I had trouble understanding at first. I heard we need to cultivate self-compassion and I thought to myself “I am selfish. I have no trouble making sure I go after the things I want. How could I be struggling with self-compassion. How is this an issue for anyone?”
You may have felt this way too.
But the truth is I tell myself negative stories and I think we all do. I put together a cabinet for my office and one of the drawers doesn’t work right. It’s not in exactly right, so it doesn’t close all the way. Instead of working to fix it, I’m telling myself the story that I’m really bad at putting furniture together. Telling this story about myself is a lack of self-compassion. I suspect we all have little stories like that. Little stories we tell ourselves matter. You may say, “I’m a clumsy,” “I’m lazy,” “I have a terrible temper,” or even worse…”I’m unlovable.”
I definitely told myself that last one for many years, but not now.
These are examples of failing to have self compassion.
In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa PhD, Professor and former monk says, “When we lack self compassion, we are less self accepting, less self tolerant, and less kind to ourselves.”
In ‘Daring Greatly’ Brene Brown PhD says, “Self-compassion is key because when we’re able to be gentle with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect, and experience empathy.”
I’m defining Self Compassion as taking care of ourselves while being attentive to the feelings and needs of those around us.
It’s not the same as Self Pity. Self Pity is narrow because it really comes from a place of being obsessed with yourself. It’s also not the same as Self Esteem. Self Esteem involves judging yourself and finding yourself worthy. Self-Compassion really gives us the opportunity to be honest with ourselves. It gives us the chance to say to ourselves, “I did this wrong and I’ll try to do better.” Instead of “I did this wrong and I’m a bad person.”
We sometimes have a sort of generalizing tendency. This gets in the way of our Self compassion and our compassion toward others. Like my example above, if I fail to correctly build a cabinet, then I think I’m really bad at building things. If I lash out in anger at someone I can easily tell myself I’m bad at self control. It’s stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. But there’s a lot going on and one incident doesn’t define us. One incident doesn’t define anyone. So give yourself a break.
In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa goes on to say, “In cultivating self compassion, we don’t evaluate ourselves according to our worldly successes, and we don’t compare ourselves with others. Instead, we acknowledge our shortcomings and failings with patience, understanding, and kindness. We view our problems within the larger context of our shared human condition.”
It’s all about loving yourself and having some perspective.
Self compassion helps us relax when we need to, understand our limitations when we set goals, and learn from our life experiences. Because if we’re overcome with self doubt or self pity, it affects everything in our lives. If we can just learn to love, care for, and respect ourselves…it can change everything for us.
Click here if you want to help us build a new Buddhist temple in Kansas City:
Cultivating compassion benefits us and the world around us in many ways.
-motivates and inspires us
-helps us deal with stress
-helps us deal with loneliness
-inspires others to be compassionate
Compassion is a worldview that can help us have the opportunity to be home anywhere and create and strengthen communities.
In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa says, “Kindness affirms something fundamental to our human condition – our need for and appreciation of connection with our fellow humans.”
Compassion brings us together and connects us to other people. It brings us together in a way that few other things can but more importantly it penetrates the rigid walls we put up that separate us from other people. We’ve been kicked in the heart so we try to put our hearts in cages. But that’s not a good way to live. We can uncage our hearts instead and dare to be kind and open.
Jinpa goes on to say, “If we look, we will always find people who are helping, in big ways or small, because it’s one of the things humans were born to do.”
This echoes the quote from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
It can be easy to have a negative view of humanity. We see so many things that make us think people are bad. I was going to say this is especially true with the strife and division that is happening now, but it was probably true throughout human history. But we can always look for the helpers. Big and small acts of kindness are happening all the time.
One more quote from Jinpa. He said, “We humans haven’t given ourselves enough credit – and we suffer from the self-fulfilling prophecy of selfishness.”
When we look for trouble, we can find it. When we start from thinking the worst about people, we can find faults.
But what if we don’t look for trouble? What if we stop looking for signs that people are bad?
How can we be confident that people are good, that our true nature is compassion and wisdom?
Is this an article of faith? Is this what I believe in in spite of evidence? I get a lot from looking for the helpers. You can see selfless people all the time if you’re looking for them.
Also, studies show that being compassionate and seeing the world in a positive way are linked. Caring about other people brings you some measure of happiness and joy. Thinking it’s a terrible world and other people are all jerks will make you sad.
I was a depressed and negative teenager before I was a positive adult (as many people are). I thought the world was awful, I thought other people were out to get me, and I hated movies with happy endings. And I was endlessly unhappy.
When I set an intention to be a more positive person, it changed everything. Compassion isn’t just a virtue we’re trying to cultivate. It’s a worldview. If you change how you see the world, you can change your life.
Click here if you want to help us with the goal of building a new Buddhist temple in Kansas City:
Compassion is something that we all agree is important. It’s fundamental to all religions and systems of virtue. We all agree that it’s important, but at the same time we so often and clearly fall short of really trying to embody it. When you see someone that needs help and you make excuses not to do it, or when you see someone being harmed and think “they had it coming”…these are examples of falling short in generating compassion.
What is it, really?
Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted by another being’s suffering and when we feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.
In his book ‘A Fearless Heart’ the former monk and professor Thupten Jinpa says, “Compassion is fundamental to our basic nature as human beings.”
It’s part of who we are. At the core of our being we are good. We are not broken and hopelessly selfish as we sometimes think we are. We are good and compassion is our nature. It can be easy to believe that human beings are bad, that things are awful out there. But I’m here to tell you compassion is our nature. We just have layers of delusion that keep us from embodying that good true nature. We’ve all been kicked in the heart many times and it has made us feel like people are out to get us and vulnerability is a weakness.
We are called to be vulnerable anyway. An open heart is so important to our spiritual journey and opening our hearts is the way to cultivate compassion.
Jinpa goes on to say, “Compassion offers the possibility of responding to suffering with understanding, patience, and kindness, rather than, say, fear and repulsion.”
Compassion is powerful. It can take us all the way to awakening. We just have to open our hearts and be Fearless and Vulnerable.”
Brene Brown said, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.”
I think she’s right.
Click here if you want to help support building a new Buddhist temple in Kansas City.
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth” .
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away at the age of 95. He’s been in poor health for many many years and this is no surprise. But it’s still incredibly sad.
He was an amazing Buddhist teacher and a big inspiration to me. Two of my teachers died in 2021, Lama Chuck Stanford and Zen Master Wonji Dharma. Both of those deaths hit me hard. And now at the beginning of 2022 Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away. Three deaths in rapid succession. The world is changing. All things are impermanent.
I’m reminded a little of when my parents died, over 20 years ago now. 3 years apart and both from different cancers. This isn’t the same as losing a parent (or two), not even close. But it’s still…. something.
I never met him and I’ve never practiced in his community, but Thich Nhat Hanh has been a big inspiration to me. The first book I read on the subject of meditation was “The Miracle of Mindfulness” way back in 2000. And his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” is still, in my opinion, the best introduction to Buddhism that there is.
He was one of the most well known Buddhist teachers in the world. He was born in Vietnam and he became a monk as a teenager, in the 1940s.
In 1966, he became a Zen Master.
He traveled the world as a peace activist throughout the 1960s, and in 1967, his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize saying, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” He wasn’t given the award—it wasn’t given to anyone that year.
He was denied permission to return to his home country in the 1970s, so he moved to France.
He founded an organization called “The Order of Interbeing,” and spent his life spreading Buddhist teachings and advocating for a peaceful world.
There’s a story that gets told about the death of the Buddha. It’s said that his cousin Ananda was at his side and had time to ask two final questions.
Ananda asked, “Do we have to follow all the rules that you set out?” And the Buddha replied, “Just follow the important ones. Don’t worry much about the minor ones.”
(Ananda forgot to ask which rules were the minor ones)
Then Ananda asked, “Who is going to lead us when you’re gone?”
And the Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”
It was up to his followers to figure out how to go on. And when our teachers pass it’s up to us to figure out how to go on too. We can get through losses like this. And we will go on.
I think he was aware of just how much people put him on a pedestal. He was almost worshiped. The fact that there even are celebrity Buddhist teachers is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like a bit much and I wonder if it felt like a bit much to him.
He wrote over 100 books and he taught many many students. There is little doubt that he had a large impact on modern Buddhism.
Thich Nhat Hanh stated that the way forward is to strengthen our bonds of community. We need each other just as much as we need teachers, maybe more. I believe he would like that to be part of his legacy, although of course I don’t claim to speak for him.
Teachers arise and pass away. It’s up to communities to (hopefully) carry on.
Don’t be sad he’s gone. Be happy he was here. We’re all better off because this great teacher existed.