As I was reading Lauren Nagel’s excellent article, Holding Space for Oscar Grant, I was reminded how difficult it is to process emotions without having a daily practice of meditation. In the heat of a moment, where anger and rage need to be expressed, trying to remember that these emotions have no significance and come from the sufferings of the mind, just doesn’t hold water. The Buddha taught that all beings, without exception, are endowed with “buddhanature,” the heart of enlightenment, and that everyone has the potential to fully awaken to his or her truest state; but when faced with the atrocities carried out by fellow citizens it is an extremely hard lesson to remember.
Although the buddhanature is the natural state of our mind, we nevertheless experience various forms of confusion, disturbing emotions and uncertainty, what in Buddhist teachings are called the three kleshas, or root mental afflictions.
Greed: Grasping, attachment, clinging, fear of losing.
Hatred: Ill will, aggression, aversion, fear of being opposed.
Delusion: Illusion, ignorance, lack of awareness, fear of seeing the truth.
These mental afflictions block the perception of our true nature and are the cause for all actions that are harmful to ourselves and to others. The offspring of these root afflictions are fear, jealousy, anger, and avarice. Each one feeds off the other as one thought builds into the next and then the next thought. As long as your mind is ruled or controlled by the thoughts that pass through it, you will suffer from fear and the root mental afflictions. It is only after coming to understand your true nature that you can begin to free yourself of fear. However, you will need control of your mind in order to release the hold of your mental afflictions. And this is where a meditation practice is helpful.
You might ask how something as simple as sitting and doing nothing can lead us towards becoming more compassionate and understanding beings. The truth is that sitting in meditation provides a space in which to see ourselves and address our pain. In doing so we can better see others’ pain and open our heart to what they are feeling. The Buddhist warrior practice of Tonglon means to exchange yourself for another. As you breathe in the pain and suffering of others you send out love and happiness to the world. In Tonglon, you take on, through compassion, all the various mental and physical sufferings of all beings: their fear, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, doubt, and rage. In exchange, you give them, through love, all your happiness, well-being, peace of mind, healing and fulfillment.
Buddhist meditation teaches that the purpose to this lifetime is self-realization, which requires that you must first clear away the illusion that shrouds your mind in order to perceive the reality of existence. Amaro Bhikku, renowned spiritual teacher and Buddhist monk, says that, “Patient endurance is to hold steady in the midst of difficulty, to truly apprehend and digest the experience of suffering, to understand its causes and let them go.”
To begin a meditation practice it is best to find an experienced teacher and a group of people in which you can sit in community. I suggest you do not take on the fear and anger of the world without first knowing what you are doing. As with anything that requires discipline it is fundamental that you practice for a certain amount of time each day and slowly increase that time over weeks, months, and years. Then pass it forward to your friends and family teaching them how to practice. In this way we can each affect the world with our compassion.