If, as stated, a buddha has the ability to relieve all beings of their suffering, why have the countless buddhas of the past not yet led everyone to enlightenment by now? The answer is as follows. Because buddhas have overcome all obstructions and limitations they possess all the wisdom, compassion and skilful means necessary for leading others to buddhahood. However, if sentient beings from their own side do not exert the necessary effort - if they do not bother to follow the path shown to them by the buddhas - they will remain stuck within cyclic existence.
If we meditate deeply by considering the constant suffering to which we are subjected we can develop the wish to be liberated from all the unsatisfactory states that make up cyclic existence, or samsara. This wish to be free is called renunciation. If we reflect on the sufferings of those who are in the same situation as ourselves - and realize that all sentient beings are suffering throughout samsara - the wish will arise that they also be freed. This is the development of true compassion and leads to the generation of the bodhichitta wish.
Science journal recently published a sobering study that has not surprisingly created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. Get this:
“In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.”
6 to 15 minutes?! Apparently they reached for their Smartphones after only a couple of those minutes and, when these were denied them, they even administered themselves electric shocks — anything to stop themselves from being left alone with their own minds.
It’s true that people hate waiting in line, at airports, for friends, in traffic, in doctor’s offices, etc. What did we do in the old days, before we had our gadgets?
The study said people found it “unpleasant” because a lot of their thoughts were unpleasant or negative. There’s a lot of unprocessed sadness, loss, sorrow about. Louis CK does a very good riff on this in this video, worth a watch:
Extract: “Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness,” he said. “And that’s why we text and drive.”
He describes sitting through his sadness one day, and coming out the other side actually happier, accompanied by a Bruce Springsteen song. Ironically, the day before seeing this video I was listening to “Philadelphia” and had a similar experience of a loss coming up and then subsiding, good old Bruce. You know how people say, “It’s okay to be sad”? There is truth in that. (As long as we are not identifying with the sadness, though – see below). If we let ourselves experience our thoughts, we see that they are not as scary as they seemed while they were still lurking in the shadows. The more we understand what our mind actually is — a clear formless awareness that is naturally peaceful — the more we realize that the passing shadows of clouds can in no way affect its spaciousness and natural freedom.
I love the conclusion of this article.
I think we as a society are trying to numb our pain and run away from our problems, but avoidance doesn’t work. As long we keep doing this, we will remain unhappy.
At present we are unable to bear our own suffering because we cherish ourselves so deeply. In addition we cannot bear to see the suffering of our parents, family and friends because we cherish them as well. However, when we see our enemies in pain we take delight in the knowledge that suffering has befallen them. Why? Because we do not cherish them at all. It is this prejudiced mind that we must tame and transform.
Nowadays, with the world in turmoil, there is a particular need for westerners to cultivate bodhichitta. If we are to make it through these perilous times, true bodhisattvas must appear in the West as well as in the East.
To stress the supreme value of bodhichitta, Shakyamuni Buddha has said that it is even more important to prostrate, or pay homage, to a bodhisattva - someone who has developed bodhichitta - than it is to prostrate to a buddha. He explained this by using the example of the waxing moon. If someone bows down before the new moon it is the same as bowing down to every phase of the moon between new and full. Why? Because by paying respect to a cause we are implicitly paying respect to each of its succeeding effects. Thus, if we prostrate to a bodhisattva we are implicitly paying homage to all the future states of his or her development, up to and including the attainment of buddhahood. For such reasons then, bodhichitta is very precious and anyone who develops this mind becomes worthy of veneration.
It is important to remember that we do not need to be a monk or of aristocratic birth or possess a male body in order to develop bodhichitta. Although Shantideva uses the title ‘son of the buddhas,’ he is not using it restrictively. When a woman develops the mind of enlightenment she becomes known as a daughter or princess of the buddhas and likewise becomes an object to be venerated by all gods and humans.
We know that when our mind is impure because we are feeling angry with our friend, we see him as bad; but when our mind is pure because we are feeling affectionate love for the same friend, we see him as good. Therefore, it is because of changing our own mind from pure to impure or from impure to pure that for us our friend changes from good to bad or from bad to good. This indicates that everything that is good, bad or neutral for us is a projection of our mind and has no existence outside our mind.
One of the advantages of humility is that it enables us to learn from everyone. A proud person cannot learn from other people because he feels he already knows better than they. On the other hand, a humble person who respects everyone and recognizes that they may even be emanations of Buddha has the openness of mind to learn from everyone and every situation.