Conscious compassionate awareness is a phrase that’s frequently used in our Practice. In all my years of practicing, no one ever stopped to ask me what it means.
But that doesn’t imply we don’t “know,” does it?
In fact, anyone who has been on retreat with this Practice is intimately aware of an experience of conscious compassionate awareness. When we’re invited to “close our eyes, lie back and get comfortable, and allow to arise in conscious compassionate awareness,” we segue magically into a mysterious world of wisdom that we navigate with intuitive expertise.
Life dropped in the suggestion to muse on this phrase for this article.
Conscious: present, here, paying attention, not attending to conditioned mind
Awareness: a way of seeing, a faculty of Intelligence that registers Life without a “self” needing to be involved
Ours is a practice of compassion, and yet this is the word that has been a personal koan for the longest time. What is compassionate really pointing us toward?
One answer to that question was revealed in a group I recently facilitated. Someone put their hands up to speak and launched into talking about an old, familiar process of struggle with the voices.
For a split second, ego was present on the cushion. “Really? Not that again! Come on! How long will you report on the same thing in every group!”
And right on the heels of that, “I know that place for me. I know what it’s like to be stuck in a familiar cycle. I know how it feels to be the object of a karmic program that controls me like a puppet and dictates my mood, my energy, and my actions.”
And BINGO! Life dropped in the experience of compassion…
Not pity, not sympathy, not sadness--
a mixture of humility,
comprehension of the First Noble Truth,
“There is suffering.”
As the Buddha taught, the human experience is to be subject to a process that imprisons us in a hell state of anxiety, loneliness, self-hatred, judgment, deprivation, comparison, resentment, resistance, envy…. In fact, when we’re identified with that process of suffering, we’re simply pawns in a game of ego-identity maintenance, but it appears to be real. It takes a lot of practice to recognize the state for the illusion it is.
Compassion, perhaps, is “seeing through the eyes of love” and recognizing the universality of having an ego.
Compassion witnesses suffering, and our response comes from also being a human subject to suffering. The poignancy of the love that arises is, perhaps, our first experience of inclusion in the theatre of life, a rite of passage before we take our place in the audience as witness, instead of believing ourselves to be the tragic hero of the play
This story from a recent retreat brings home the teaching.
When Bankei held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled.
Bankei ignored the case.
Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.
When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. "You are wise brothers," he told them. "You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave."
A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished. –- “Right and Wrong” from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
Most of us relate to the angered and self-righteous monks more so than we do to Bankei.
Perhaps it is because we’re so conditioned to listen to the self-hating voice in our head, a voice that so mercilessly condemns us, that we cannot but project that self-hate outward. For many, judgment is all we’ve ever known. Is it surprising that we can’t offer anything other than criticism to someone else?
This is why Practice encourages a relationship with the Mentor.
The Mentor is access to the Conscious Compassionate Awareness That Animates. Moving from being mentored to being the Mentor is the movement from an identity as a small ego-self to awareness of oneself as “conscious compassionate awareness. –-from What You Practice Is What You Have
We are on a spiritual quest, a hero’s journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell writes: The passage of the mythological hero may be over-ground, incidentally; fundamentally it is inward—into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world. This deed accomplished, life no longer suffers hopelessly under the terrible mutilations of ubiquitous disaster, battered by time, hideous throughout space; but with its horror visible still, its cries of anguish still tumultuous, it becomes penetrated by an all-suffusing, all-sustaining love, and a knowledge of its own unconquered power.
Cultivate “seeing with the eyes of love.” Where there is judgment, practice compassion. R/L