Teen Buddha

an open discussion, extending old methods for modern problems

Tag: compassion

What Is Compassion?

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated color

When asked by his attendant Ananda”Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?” The Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.”


We might consider compassion an emotion we have not felt enough. We are certainly not saints and we are very caught up in our own narratives. Yet still we all feel compassion, in ways small and large. Whether we might feel the urge to lessen an animals pain, or a comfort a weeping child, loving kindness is a quality we have experienced before.

The Dalai Lama says that compassion is inherent in our nature. It begins with birth, and our mother. Compassion comes with a sense of selflessness, the sort a mother feels for her baby. At such a young age we experience a great amount of love. We start life with this sort of relationship. We are small and helpless, and someone cares for us when we cannot use words or walk, or hold up our heads.

But what about the idea of self love?

Self compassion is a radical thought. Why worry about “loving” ourselves? Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that what ego is all about? No. I would argue that self loathing is just another form of self obsession and that in accepting ourselves we disrupt this pattern. This pattern of: “Why can’t I be more ___? Why can’t I stop these habitual thoughts? Why can’t I be less full of ego? Why can’t I be good?” Instead of fighting to get over ourselves or putting ourselves down- we forgive ourselves.

A sort of healing takes place when we stop and say, “Its okay.” “You are still worthy of love and happiness, regardless of your negative qualities” Besides, we know ourselves best, and that means we judge ourselves very harshly. By creating a wave of love for ourselves, and beginning where we are – we find that all of this rubbish, this “baggage” is compost for growth.

It is what makes us beautiful.

How could we ever begin to love someone else unconditionally unless we offer this acceptance to the one we know best? It begins with compassion for ourselves. Right now.

Not when we are successful, or when we break our bad habits, or when we achieve something in the future. But now, when we think we deserve it the very least. Now, when we are hurting and judging and afraid.

If we can begin to appreciate the good qualities about ourselves, and view the difficult ones as compost- we are finally at peace with ourselves. Instead of falsely holding up things we think define us like our jobs or social standing; instead of thinking these external labels are what make us good, we instead draw attention to the inherent beauties we have. Our patience, our kindness, our sense of justice, our ability to constantly rise from depression and sadness.

When we appreciate our inherent goodness, we are celebrating the inherent goodness of all beings. When we are experiencing our own suffering, we are sharing in the suffering of all beings. When we feel compassion for ourselves, we feel compassion for all beings. In this way, it is all of our practice.


Not Good Enough and Feeling a Failure – a Practice in Tonglen

I recently received my practice SAT score at the end of the online test. It was embarrassingly low in the math section. It can seem a small thing to be concerned with, but it strikes me down hard. Comparisons find their way into my mind, I will not go to the university I want to, I will stay in this small town, I will never do anything with my life, I will have an uneventful, isolated life. They progress. Writing them down here, they seem ridiculous. But to me, at the time, they are very concrete.

I feel like I’ve been dropped in a deep hole somewhere, the soil eroding all above. I am, in this moment, a complete failure in my mind . I am not good enough. In this world, we are told unless we stand we will be trodden over. Thoughts such as these surface:

“There is not enough room for everyone in this over populated planet. Some people must be stepped on. In the “real” world, people do not care about your success, they do not care about your happiness. ”

The dreaded words, Not Good Enough. Not attractive enough, not smart enough, not creative enough, not wealthy enough, not driven enough…. Just give up now, some small voice tells me. You don’t contribute anything, anyway.

After some time, I ask, “What Now?” Okay, accepting this theory I am worthless and useless, what now? This way of thinking takes me no where but to a dark bedroom, crying.

And in these despairing moments, I sometimes have instants of light. Total release of my depression for about five seconds. Then its back again, but somehow not so bad. How can this be? This is where Tonglen comes in, this is where compassion comes in too. Through a crack in the monotony, in the “okayness” of everyday.

It helps to picture someone else, a friends or a complete stranger, lying in bed just as I am -crying. They feel what I feel. Immense depression and failure. I know its odd, but I find it easier to love this person than myself. They don’t deserve this. They are beautiful, complex, worthwhile person. These values we hold up in our world do not really matter. Success is just success. What matters is kindness.

This person, you and I are all closer to love when we are sad. Its a bit of a strange concept, but we are more open to kindness in this state. Because we can empathize. If I was a successful, perfect, (and completely fictional) human, how could i relate to sadness or failure?

I couldn’t.

So I practice Tonglen.

Tonglen means “Taking and Giving” in Tibetan. To practice Tonglen, is to breath in someone else’s sadness. A simple way of using Tonglen is to:

1) Sit upright (or lay down if you need to)

2) Picture a stranger suffering just as you are. Think of the emotion you are having, the situation that spurred the emotion.

3) Realize: I am feeling this emotion already, like it or not. So I will take on this persons sadness too.

4) Breath in their sadness. A specific one you both feel. Touch it to your heart. Release kindness, and happiness to them.

When I am done practicing this, I feel connected. I am not alone in feeling sorrow, I am not alone. Suffering is the face of humanity. It is found everywhere. It is very real, and I am experiencing it along with millions of others.

Typical and habitual thoughts of self doubt and distain will continue to effect us. But slowly, we will respond to them with self love and forgiveness. In doing this we have found a something, and have perhaps given a moment of light to someone lying in the darkness of depression. That someone starts with ourselves and then can spread to others.