The Good Heart - Selections

A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus

This landmark of interfaith dialogue will inspire readers of all faiths.



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Chapter 2: Love Your Enemy
Matthew 5:38–48

In the morning, His Holiness arrived promptly and took up his task of commenting on a passage from the Gospel according to Matthew with a few brief prefatory remarks. Throughout the Seminar he stressed that his aim was not to make Buddhists of the Christians in the audience, but to offer a Buddhist monk’s perspective on the Gospel passages.

Since this dialogue has been organized by the World Community for Christian Meditation and the main audience attending here is practic ing Christians who have a serious commitment to their own practice and faith, my presentation will be aimed primarily toward that audience. Consequently, I shall try to explain those Buddhist techniques or methods that can be adopted by a Christian practitioner without attaching the deeper Buddhist philosophy. Some of these deeper, metaphysical differences between the two traditions may come up in the panel discussion.

My main concern is this: how can I help or serve the Christian practitioner? The last thing I wish to do is to plant seeds of doubt and skepticism in their minds. As mentioned earlier, it is my full conviction that the variety of religious traditions today is valuable and relevant. According to my own experience, all of the world’s major religious traditions provide a common language and message upon which we can build a genuine understanding.

In general, I am in favor of people continuing to follow the religion of their own culture and inheritance. Of course, individuals have every right to change if they find that a new religion is more effective or suitable for their spiritual needs. But, generally speaking, it is better to experience the value of one’s own religious tradition. Here is an example of the sort of difficulties that may arise in changing one’s religion. In one Tibetan family in the 1960s, the father of the family passed away, and the mother later came to see me. She told me that as far as this life is concerned she was Christian, but for the next life there was no alternative for her but Buddhism. How complicated! If you are Christian, it is better to develop spiritually within your religion and be a genuine, good Christian. If you are a Buddhist, be a genuine Buddhist. Not something half-and-half! This may cause only confusion in your mind.

Before commenting on the text, I would like to discuss meditation. The Tibetan term for meditation is gom, which connotes the development of a constant familiarity with a particular practice or object. The process of “familiarization” is key because the enhancement or development of mind follows with the growth of familiarity with the chosen object. Consequently, it is only through constant application of the meditative techniques and training of the mind that one can expect to attain inner transformation or discipline within the mind. In the Tibetan tradition there are, generally speaking, two principal types of meditation. One employs a certain degree of analysis and reasoning, and is known as contemplative or analytical meditation. The other is more absorptive and focusing, and is called single-pointed or placement meditation.

Let us take the example of meditating on love and compassion in the Christian context. In an analytical aspect of that meditation, we would be thinking along specific lines, such as the following: to truly love God one must demonstrate that love through the action of loving fellow human beings in a genuine way, loving one’s neighbor. One might also reflect upon the life and example of Jesus Christ himself, how he conducted his life, how he worked for the benefit of other sentient beings, and how his actions illustrated a compassionate way of life. This type of thought process is the analytical aspect of meditation on compassion. One might meditate in a similar manner on patience and tolerance.

These reflections will enable you to develop a deep conviction in the importance and value of compassion and tolerance. Once you arrive at that certain point where you feel totally convinced of the preciousness of and need for compassion and tolerance, you will experience a sense of being touched, a sense of being transformed from within. At this point, you should place your mind single-pointedly in that conviction, without applying any further analysis. Your mind should rather remain singlepointedly in equipoise; this is the absorptive or placement aspect of meditation on compassion. Thus, both types of meditation are applied in one meditation session.

Why are we able, through the application of such meditative techniques, not only to develop but to enhance compassion? This is because compassion is a type of emotion that possesses the potential for development. Generally speaking, we can point to two types of emotion. One is more instinctual and is not based on reason. The other type of emotion—such as compassion or tolerance—is not so instinctual but instead has a sound base or grounding in reason and experience. When you clearly see the various logical grounds for their development and you develop conviction in these benefits, then these emotions will be enhanced. What we see here is a joining of intellect and heart. Compassion represents the emotion, or heart, and the application of analytic meditation applies the intellect. So, when you have arrived at that meditative state where compassion is enhanced, you see a special merging of intellect and heart.

If you examine the nature of these meditative states, you will also see that there are different elements within these states. For example, you might be engaged in the analytic process of thinking that we are all creations of the same Creator, and therefore, that we are all truly brothers and sisters. In this case, you are focusing your mind on a particular object. That is, your analytic subjectivity is focusing on the idea or concept that you are analyzing. However, once you have arrived at a state of singlepointedness—when you experience that inner transformation, that compassion within you—there is no longer a meditating mind and a meditated object. Instead, your mind is generated in the form of compassion.

These are a few preliminary comments on meditation. Now I will read from the Gospel.

You have heard that they were told, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But what I tell you is this: Do not resist those who wrong you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and takes your shirt, let him have your cloak as well. If someone in authority presses you into service for one mile, go with him two. Give to anyone who asks, and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow.
[Matthew 5:38–42]

The practice of tolerance and patience which is being advocated in these passages is extremely similar to the practice of tolerance and patience which is advocated in Buddhism in general. And this is particularly true in Mahayana Buddhism in the context of the bodhisattva ideals in which the individual who faces certain harms is encouraged to respond in a nonviolent and compassionate way. In fact, one could almost say that these passages could be introduced into a Buddhist text, and they would not even be recognized as traditional Christian scriptures.

You have heard that they were told, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who causes the sun to rise on good and bad alike, and sends rain on the innocent and the wicked. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Even the tax-collectors do as much as that. If you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the heathens do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.
[Matthew 5:43 –48]

This reminds me of a passage in a Mahayana Buddhist text known as the Compendium of Practices  in which Shantideva asks, “If you do not practice compassion toward your enemy then toward whom can you practice it?” The implication is that even animals show love, compassion, and a feeling of empathy toward their own loved ones. As we claim to be practitioners of spirituality and a spiritual path, we should be able to do better than the animals.

These Gospel passages also remind me of reflections in another Mahayana text called A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, in which Shantideva states that it is very important to develop the right attitude toward your enemy. If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience, and understanding. By developing greater tolerance and patience, it will be easier for you to develop your capacity for compassion and, through that, altruism. So even for the practice of your own spiritual path, the presence of an enemy is crucial. The analogy drawn in the Gospel as to how “the sun makes no discrimination where it shines” is very significant. The sun shines for all and makes no discrimination. This is a wonderful metaphor for compassion. It gives you the sense of its impartiality and all-embracing nature.

As I read these passages, I feel that the Gospel especially emphasizes the practice of tolerance and feelings of impartiality toward all creatures. In my opinion, in order to develop one’s capacity for tolerance toward all beings, and particularly toward an enemy, it is important as a precondition to have a feeling of equanimity toward all. If someone tells you that you should not be hostile toward your enemy or that you should love your enemy, that statement alone is not going to move you to change. It is quite natural for all of us to feel hostility toward those who harm us, and to feel attachment toward our loved ones. It is a natural human feeling, so we must have effective techniques to help us make that transition from these inherently biased feelings toward a state of greater equanimity.

There are specific techniques for developing this sense of equanimity toward all sentient creatures. For instance, in the Buddhist context, one can refer to the concept of rebirth to assist in the practice of generating equanimity. As we are discussing the cultivation of equanimity in the context of Christian practice, however, perhaps it is possible to invoke the idea of Creation and that all creatures are equal in that they are all creations of the same God. On the basis of this belief, one can develop a sense of equanimity. Just before our morning’s session, I had a brief discussion with Father Laurence. He made the point that in Christian theology there is the belief that all human beings are created in the image of God— we all share a common divine nature. I find this quite similar to the idea of buddha-nature in Buddhism. On the basis of this belief that all human beings share the same divine nature, we have a very strong ground, a very powerful reason, to believe that it is possible for each of us to develop a genuine sense of equanimity toward all beings.

However, we should not see equanimity as an end in itself. Nor should we feel that we are striving for a total state of apathy in which we have no feelings or fluctuating emotions toward either our enemies or our loved ones and friends. That is not what we are seeking to achieve. What we aspire to achieve is, first of all, to set the foundation, to have a kind of clear field where we can then plant other thoughts. Equanimity is this even ground that we are first laying out. On the basis of this, we should then reflect on the merits of tolerance, patience, love, and compassion toward all. We should also contemplate the disadvantages and the negativities of self-centered thinking, fluctuating emotions toward friends and enemies, and the negativities of having biased feelings toward other beings.

The crucial point is how you utilize this basic equanimity. It is important to concentrate on the negativities of anger and hatred, which are the principal obstacles to enhancing one’s capacity for compassion and tolerance. You should also reflect upon the merits and virtues of enhancing tolerance and patience. This can be done in the Christian context without having to resort to any belief in rebirth. For example, when reflecting upon the merits and virtues of tolerance and patience, you can think along the following lines: God created you as an individual and gave you the freedom to act in a way that is compatible and in accordance with the Creator’s wishes—to act in an ethical way, in a moral way, and to live a life of an ethically disciplined, responsible individual. By feeling and practicing tolerance and patience toward fellow creatures, you are fulfilling that wish: you are pleasing your Creator. That is, in a way, the best gift, the best offering that you can make to the divine Creator.

There is an idea in Buddhism of something called offering of practice (drupai chöpa): of all the offerings you can make to someone that you revere—such as material offerings, singing songs of praise, or other gifts—the best offering you can make is to live a life according to the principles of that being. In the Christian context, by living life in an ethically disciplined way, based on tolerance and patience, you are, in a way, making a wonderful gift to your Creator. This is in some sense much more effective than having only prayer as your main practice. If you pray but then do not live according to that prayer, it is not of much benefit.

One of the great yogis of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa, states in one of his songs of spiritual experience, “As far as offerings of material gifts are concerned, I am destitute; I have nothing to offer. What I have to offer in abundance is the gift of my spiritual practice.” We can see that, generally, the person who has a tremendous reserve of patience and tolerance has a certain degree of tranquility and calmness in his or her life. Such a person is not only happy and more emotionally grounded, but also seems to be physically healthier and to experience less illness. The person possesses a strong will, has a good appetite, and can sleep with a clear conscience. These are all benefits of tolerance and patience that we can see in our own daily lives.

One of my fundamental convictions is that basic human nature is more disposed toward compassion and affection. Basic human nature is gentle, not aggressive or violent. This goes hand in hand with Father Laurence’s statement that all human beings share the same divine nature. I would also argue that when we examine the relationship between mind, or consciousness, and body, we see that wholesome attitudes, emotions, and states of mind, like compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness, are strongly connected with physical health and well-being. They enhance physical well-being, whereas negative or unwholesome attitudes and emotions—anger, hatred, disturbed states of mind—undermine physical health. I would argue that this correspondence shows that our basic human nature is closer to the wholesome attitudes and emotions.

After you have reflected upon the virtues of tolerance and patience and feel convinced of the need to develop and enhance them within you, you should then look at different types and levels of patience and tolerance. For example, in the Buddhist texts three types of tolerance and patience are described. The first is the state of resolute indifference—one is able to bear pain or suffering and not be overwhelmed by them. That is the first level. In the second state, one is not only able to bear such sufferings, but is also, if necessary, prepared and even willing to take upon oneself the hardships, pain, and suffering that are involved in the spiritual path. This involves a voluntary acceptance of hardships for a higher purpose. The third is a type of patience and tolerance arising from a sound conviction about the nature of reality. In the context of Christian practice this kind of patience would be based on a firm faith and belief in the mysteries of the Creation. Although the distinctions between these three levels of tolerance are found in Buddhist texts, they are also applicable in the Christian context. This is especially true of the second type of tolerance and patience—deliberately taking upon yourself the hardships and pains that are involved in your spiritual path— which seems to come up in the next passage: the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.

Chapter 4: Equanimity
Mark 3:31–35

Then his mother and his brothers arrived, and remaining outside sent in a message asking him to come out to them. A crowd was sitting around and word was brought to him: “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” and looking round at those who were sitting in a circle about him he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
[Mark 3:31–35]

The first thought that comes to my mind in reading these passages from the Gospel of Mark is that not only do they give us a definition of what compassion is, but they also describe the stages in the development of a consciousness generating that compassion. For example, this passage shows on the part of Jesus a certain attitude of unimportance accorded to his own mother and brothers and sisters. To my mind, this tells us that true and genuine compassion is a compassion that is free from attachment, free from the limitations of personal bias. This is very close to the Buddhist idea of compassion in which, again, there is an understanding that in compassion there is a certain freedom from attachment. As I pointed out in our earlier discussion on the nature of compassion, the precondition for genuine compassion is to have a sense of equanimity toward all sentient beings.

Our normal state of mind is heavily biased. We have an attitude of distance from people that we consider as unfriendly or enemies and a disproportionate sense of closeness or attachment toward those whom we consider to be our friends. We can see how our emotional response toward others is fluctuating and biased. Until we overcome these prejudices, we have no possibility of generating genuine compassion. Even though we might be able to feel a certain amount of compassion toward some people, that compassion, as long as it is not based on profound equanimity, will remain biased, for it is mixed with attachment.

If you look at compassion that is mixed with attachment, no matter how intense and strong that mixed emotion may be, you will realize that it is based on your projection of certain positive qualities onto the object of your compassion—whether the object is a close friend, a family member, or whomever. Depending upon your changing attitudes toward that object, your emotional feelings will also change. For example, in a relationship with a friend, suddenly one day you may no longer be able to see in that person the good qualities that you had previously perceived, and this new attitude would immediately affect your feelings toward that person. Genuine compassion, on the other hand, springs from a clear recognition of the experience of suffering on the part of the object of compassion, and from the realization that this creature is worthy of compassion and affection. Any compassionate feeling that arises from these two realizations cannot be swayed—no matter how that object of compassion reacts against you. Even if the object reacts in a very negative way, this won’t have the power to influence your compassion. Your compassion will remain the same or become even more powerful.

If you carefully examine the nature of compassion, you will also find that genuine compassion can be extended even to one’s enemies, those whom you consider to be hostile toward you. In contrast, compassion mixed with attachment cannot be extended to someone whom you consider to be your enemy. Conventionally speaking, we define an enemy as someone who either directly harms or hurts us, or someone who is motivated to or has the intention to harm or hurt us. The realization that such a person is fully intent on hurting and harming you cannot give rise to a feeling of closeness and empathy as long as such feelings require an attachment to the person. However, this realization that another person wishes to harm and hurt you cannot undermine genuine compassion—a compassion based on the clear recognition of that person as someone who is suffering, someone who has the natural and instinctual desire to seek happiness and overcome suffering, just as oneself. In the Christian spiritual context, this could be extended by thinking along the following lines: just as myself, this enemy shares the same divine nature and is a creation of the divine force. So on these grounds, that person is worthy of my compassion and a feeling of closeness toward him or her. This kind of compassion or feeling of empathy is genuine compassion free from attachment.

The last sentence of this Gospel passage states that “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” According to the literal reading, it seems to give a sense of partiality, a discrimination based on a condition: only those who obey the will of God are my brothers and my sisters and my mother. However, in the Christian context, I think you can approach this passage in a more interpretive way by extending the meaning. Although in literal terms it says that “whoever obeys the will of God are my brothers and sisters and mother,” it could also imply that all those who share the divine nature, who have the capacity or potential to follow the will of God, are also my mother and brothers and sisters. This would include or embrace the whole of humanity and underline the unity and equality of all human beings.

In this context, I would like to point out a particular element in the practice of the bodhisattva path that might be suitable for a Christian to practice. There is a special category of teachings and practices known as lo jong : thought transformation, or mind training. There is a special way of reflecting upon the kindness of all sentient beings, in this context all human beings, that is described in some of the literature. For example, we can easily perceive the kindness of someone who is directly involved in our life and our upbringing. But if you examine the nature of your existence, including your physical survival, you will find that all the factors that contribute to your existence and well-being—such as food, shelter, and even fame—come into being only through the cooperation of other people.

This is especially true in the case of someone who lives an urban life. Almost every aspect of your life is heavily dependent upon others. For example, if there is an electricians’ strike for even just one day, your whole city comes to a halt. This heavy interdependency upon others’ cooperation is so obvious that no one needs to point it out. This is also true of your food and shelter. You need the direct or indirect cooperation of many people to make these necessities available. Even for such an ephemeral phenomenon as fame you need others. If you live alone in a mountainous wilderness, the only thing close to fame that you could create would be an echo! Without other people, there is no possibility of creating fame. So in almost every aspect of your life there is the participation and involvement of other people.

If you think along these lines, you will begin to recognize the kindness of all others. And if you are a spiritual practitioner, you will also be aware that all of the major spiritual traditions of the world recognize the preciousness of altruism and compassion. If you examine this precious mind or emotion of altruism, of compassion, you will see that you need an object to generate even this feeling. And that object is a fellow human being. From this point of view, that very precious state of mind, compassion, is impossible without the presence of others. Every aspect of your life—your religious practice, your spiritual growth, even your basic survival—is impossible without others. When you think along such lines, you will find sufficient grounds to feel connected with others, to feel the need to repay their kindness.

In light of these convictions, it becomes impossible to believe that some people are totally irrelevant to your life or that you can afford to adopt an indifferent attitude toward them. There are no human beings who are irrelevant to your life.

I would like to clarify my use of the word “emotion.” I’ve been told that the word “emotion” often has a very negative connotation—a rather base, instinctual, almost animalistic connotation—for many people. However, several years ago during discussions with biologists and psychologists as part of a scientific conference, we discussed the nature of emotion and how we could define it. As a result of long discussions, the consensus was that emotion could be positive, negative, or even neutral. In this way, even from a Buddhist point of view, there is no contradiction in attributing emotion to a fully enlightened buddha. It is in this broader sense that I use the word emotion.


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© His Holiness the Dalai Lama and World Community for Christian Meditation, The Good Heart (Wisdom Publications, 1996)

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