2021-10-31-From Compassion to Care
6:00PM Oct 31, 2021
So I'll tell you what, my main purpose or hope through this talk upfront, and then then I'll kind of give the talk to support that. And that is for you, too. Reflect on your life, to review your life. Like kind of your autobiography, through the lens of caregiving, emotions, feelings, like so you know, emote kindness, compassion, love, care itself, that's a whole thing I've talked about. And, you know, it's interesting to look at it versus your own life, and understand it in new ways and see new perspectives, and it's quite freeing or opening, or sometimes understanding one's life story, even from a new perspective sets the foundation for further growth, growth in the dharma even. And, and it's not, you know, it's not that it's, maybe that's interesting for everyone else. But you could, for example, probably tell your story, your life story from the perspective of your of your hair. And over, if you're old enough, you know, there has been a lot of a lot of history about how you've been with your hair, and maybe in so, so that would make a story, you know, so different things. So your life, your life story from the perspective of care. So, in that regard, then I'd like to talk a little bit about my own maybe as an example of this kind of way of thinking and orientation. And it brings together some of the different things I've been thinking about lately. So it's kind of topical, for me to give a talk on this. And the I don't think I gave a lot of thought, to caregiving feelings, emotions, motivations, until I'd have been a Zen student for a while. And then I reviewed a little bit my life at that point, and then I saw Oh, there were probably some influences on me. And the big one that I associated with, kind of being compassionate, or if the value of compassion was my mother. And, and I think one of the made a big impact on me, I grew up a little bit in Italy. And seemed like in Italy, she was regularly stopping for strangers who had learned car crashes. And that seemed to be a regular thing, this encounter. And she even bought a big first aid kit. So she'd be ready to help people and support people who are in car accidents. And, and she would pull over and stop if you saw something like that. And, and I that was I think that had a big impact on me, that's, you know, she would have this caregiving instinct for strangers, and it helped them out. And I didn't realize at the time that it had influence on me, but I think it kind of went in by osmosis somehow had an impact. And, and then, I remember both my father, but also later, when I was working for the xencenter, my brand new student there, and I was working at the bakery, both BOCES as to circumstances where my father made a donation to some nonprofit, I think, I think it was to save the children or something. And I thought, wow, people do this thing. You know, why would you do that? And then, and then, when I was at that working present center, they used to have a bakery called Tassajara bakery. And so over and cold Street, San Francisco, so I used to work there. And one day I was up in the office. And the person who ran the bakery is in priest was sitting at his table, somebody was sitting next to him. And he got a letter from a local association for the coal street association or something asked me for a donation. And he asked me, you know, how much do we give? And I think I could I probably didn't say anything, I didn't like what you give money. And, and he said, well, so he came up, I think we'll do $50. I said, Well, you know, in 1979 that was and, and so this idea that you would do such things was kind of novel for me, even the web site little bit growing up, as well. But it had a big impact that went into kind of deeply and, oh, this is an interesting way of living. And that as I practice in my first Buddhist practice, I suffered a lot and
and there was a The way I used to understand myself was that at the Zen Center, there was very little instructions on mindfulness, or none. And, and so there was no instructions for mindfulness of emotions and mindfulness of your suffering, the instruction, which is to sit there, upright, unmoving, and just keep showing up for the present moment in a kind of uncomplicated way, just be there, be there, be there. And so I didn't, you know, had any thought that should do anything different. So, that's what I was told, that's what I did. And so what I meant was, I sat with a lot of suffering. And, and, and so that had an impact on me to sit, sit with a lot of suffering and just sit and breathe and not react and not get caught up in stories and reactivity to it and just feel it and be with it. And I felt quite luckily, lucky, they didn't have a lot of instructions of what to do with it. Because then the suffering could kind of the simplicity of suffering could somehow became like a tenderizer for the heart. And something shifted and changed and I don't know, if they're suffering so much, it they definitely decreased. But I started to work on me. And this idea that suffering can work on you or you know, that it has a chance to work on you if you're not trying to solve that and fix it. And you know, and get away from it or something, but just be with it. And, but I didn't have a lot of psychological understanding the whole either about all this and it was pretty naive in many ways about my own suffering. And, and then I started remember I started recognizing suffering and compassion and other people. And they just and then I started recognizing compassionate objects. There was a a statue at the San Francisco Zen Center is still there, that was positioned before where you like you'd come out of meditation in the morning, and you'd go walk right up against it before you had to make a right turn. It's like like, it's right there. It's about was five feet tall or so. So it's and it's kind of a sin Ewing kind of Nero kind of thing that kind of spirals up a little bit. And I would see this as the as the embodiment of compassion as like Kuan Yin embodiment of compassion, agar eco of their feet, see this. And many years later, I discovered that the artists thought it was of a flame going up, and it probably looks more like a flame than what most people think of as compassion. But what I and then also, I started feeling compassion in the wind when it breezed against my cheek. And I would look for photographs, I started collecting photographs of Kuan Yin of Avalokitesvara, Condon. And just just, that's what I did, that I started drawing them, then different things. And what I think what was happening was I needed more compassion. And, and I was also beginning to feel something like compassion arising in me from all this, that he was suffering. And so I was kind of like, tuned into it around me to receive it, but some of the tuning in around me, I was projecting it on that situation. I remember telling someone that that person is so compassionate. And they look at me, you got to be kidding. And so I didn't know what I was picking up. But, you know, the fact that I was seeing it in the statute, you know, I really needed it. So I was finding it and getting it and, and so I don't know how enlightened I got insane. But I became compassionate, and Zen. And that made a big, huge difference from you that made you huge are so grateful for it. And at some point, I decided to become a Zen priest. And it was kind of a combination of that. But back then it was called out it was called a monk. And then he got ordained as a Zen monk. And then three days, three months later, they changed the name to a priest. And I said, What if I just sign up for a whole different feeling of what it was about, and I'm happy with word priests that I mind it but you know, technically still am. And, and so, but the reason to become a monk was in fact to respond to the suffering of the world. And slowly over time, especially the monastics and life, that something began to settle and open up. And that it seemed like it was just inherent in me to be not even you can't even say me, almost like inherent within me, this responsivity to suffering around me and, and that that's kind of what was wasn't like I chose to respond to it, but it's kind of like this. You know, that's what you do. That's what happens.
And, but they did take this form that I became as Ed monk, really the purpose of it was I thought that The deepest way fullest way I knew to address human suffering was through Buddhism, I didn't know anything else. And I wanted to have, I feel like I'd be dissatisfied if I did any other kind of care for the world. And I had other ideas in mind, I was supposed to go to graduate school and was going to do a kind of thing that was, and, but I felt like I needed to be able to, I felt like I had to for who I am, I didn't want that dissatisfaction or that sense of incompleteness, I felt, if I didn't try to meet the suffering of world address, it is the deepest thing. I knew how which was to do Buddhism. And it wasn't like I was thinking of becoming a teacher, I just thought I'd you know, I would, I thought what image I had was that I would have a little city, like a city storefront or something, where I had meditation, Zendo, meditation hall, and sati qi and I'd opened up, I keep it clean, I've opened up and people come in, they leave. So Who knew Who knew what I was spent a year and a half, just opening it up, and now again. And so, so then, so that, so then being ordained, the idea was that compassion was my motivating force in my life. And that's how I saw it for myself, that that's what I was all about. And then, and for years, I kind of still felt that was the case. But slowly, something began shifting, I was always kind of late to understand the shift. It's only retrospectively. So at some point, I left Zen Center for practicing there to practice Vipassana, first in Asia. And then here in this country. And, and, clearly something shifted in the meditation, because meditation no longer became about suffering and about compassion. And, and something began shifting. And I couldn't tell you what it was. But while things were shifting, I became an all along in this process, I became more and more acutely aware of how much suffering are there in the world. But what was I think, really meaningful, important to recognize is it because I was practicing so much that we became more and more Roman me to recognize the suffering more space for it, for me not to take it personally or for to touch my own suffering and irritate like put salt in the wound or something, that there was just I was more at greater capacity to be be with people suffering and pain. And that not because somehow wilt because of it or be burdened by it, the DIS openness is going to and so that, I think was a lovely thing to have that then. But then I went to practice in Asia, and then it was just there was a dramatic shift that happened there. And, and were my own suffering was no longer the salient issue. And, and then the practice opened up in a new way. And then something different happened to me. Again, this was kind of also a surprise. And it had this kind of funny kind of story maybe funny, sad, I don't know what was I came to practice United States and, and practice it at their retreat center in Massachusetts IMS for 380 to three month retreat. And that was like another first time to practice in the western teachers. And to my surprise, they started doing some of them beginning his ban some of the meditations with doing loving kindness meditation, a little guided loving kindness. And the first time they did they're all this is a great hypothesis. Nice, it's gonna surprise, but they kept doing it. And for the kind of Zen student I was, you don't talk to people in their meditating. And, and also, and also Zen is kind of like a plate. You know, Zen is more stoic and stern and like, you get to the truth directly and nothing sentimental, that kind of make it you know, whatever, something like that. It's, that's the way I took it in. I'm not saying that's what sign is about, but that's how I took it in. And kind of silly, but I did. And, and so I just did what a reasonable person would do maybe I was able to teachers will show up produce guided loving, guided meditation, just tune them out. Then, but at some point during that three month retreat,
this wonderful feeling of of clarity and kindness and goodness and started a well up inside of me. And then one day they came to do the guided loving kindness meditation. I said, Oh, that's what they're talking about. got, oh. And then I had my own reference for it. It wasn't insincere. It wasn't trying to make something happen, it was just, and then when they did it, like, I just tapped into that, and let and built on what was already there. And so then what happened in my practice and my life was set, I still kind of called it compassion. I didn't know any better. But I think I was out there slowly was realized I was more motivated by day to day, that kind of overall with a mood of kindness. And earlier, it was kind of like, there was a deep underlying mood that I recognize always there of compassion. But as it shifted to kindness as the underlying mood, I realized that that compassion is a wonderful and profound as it is involved at certain kind of little bit more activated internal state. For me, and, and the kindness turned out to be a simpler, less complicated or less involved statement, the difference here is very little. And so I want to be very careful not to do no disrespect or devaluing the importance of compassion. But I noticed this was a shift happened. And now that shift happened, I still thought it was and was motivated by compassion. But in fact, that over time, I realized it was a whole different sentiment at how to be, and it was simpler and, and sometimes it would morph into compassion, for sure. But it was kindness became, or friendliness or goodwill, became the salient kind of interesting kind of expression of what was happening to me in practice, and that kind of felt like the mood or where I was coming from. So that went along fine. For a while, and then at some point in the last 15 years or so, I have all these decades, you know, I could review you know, so it's a slow process, you know, this is not like, you know, sit down and you know, a three day process and get to what I'm talking about. For me, it was like a decade's long process of really simmering in the dharma and, and letting it unfold. And then I started noticing that one of the salient features that was happening to me was that there was a kind of a peacefulness associated with whatever, caregiving, compassion, kindness, goodwill, whatever way I was involved in, there was a peacefulness in it, where there was no very little inclination to give into clinging to anything, or reacting to anything, or being caught in anything or to define myself with it, or try to prove myself like, when I was a new teacher, I felt like when people came to see me, this is like, 30 years ago, right? So before we like, meet with people, one on one, I thought I had to give them something, I can't just have them show up and, and, and not, you know, have done something useful for them. And you have to show something for myself as a teacher. So that's a little bit crazy to have that attitude. But it's natural enough, maybe in the beginning of a new job like that. And the sort of peacefulness settled in and, you know, I certainly wanted to support people and meet them and respond to them best I could, but, and that extra attachment, the need to do something, he started to go away, and it was peacefulness. To at all, and I thought this was kind of interesting. Sometimes I felt that was a little bit. People didn't like it. Because people are some people are really are roused around all kinds of issues of justice and politics and all kinds of you know, even even sometimes one on one suffering someone's suffering and you know, they want you to worry for them, they want you to kind of be alarmed, or, you know, that's kind of the language of how we know we care for each other if we're, you know, angry or something or upset or something. And so sometimes I could feel the tension of being in these situations where certain expectation of how I was supposed to be, didn't match this peacefulness I had. And some people might thought I was aloof, or I was worried I'd be seen that way. But in fact, I wasn't mean I was certainly given my life over to try to support people in all kinds of ways and do things and that's what my life is about.
And so it was kind of interesting to discover this peacefulness or non attachment as a reference point for at all and, and then the challenge of and sometimes the inner debates, inner lawyers would come up and even tell me, you know, Gil, you're supposed to be a little bit more, you know, upset here or a little bit more attached or something. And, and so I had to navigate that and wonder about that. And, and so I still felt, you know, wanting to care for people and all that. And then I started I was started at some point studying the Pali canon, this teachings of the Buddha much more and in some ways more My real deeper study of this early teaching started about 1213 years ago, I really kind of spending a lot of time in it. And, and then a few years ago, I was interested in what the Buddha had to say about compassions partly was so important for me. And, and I knew that their word for compassion is Karuna. Many people know the word Karuna k r u n a. And it turns out he would the Buddha in these early texts have very little to say about it. In fact, the only thing he says about it has to do with what how you how something about how it's related to meditation practice telling meditation, you would have boundless Karuna. He doesn't even define what it is. So we don't even know for sure that it's supposed to be translated to English as compassion. Because the if we're doing building on as the evidence from the ancient teachings, so maybe compassion is fine to translate. So translation but but the fact that I was so surprised to see and but it's not so obvious because some of the translators translate in other word as compassion. So when I read that, in the old days, I used to think, oh, that's Karuna. That's Karuna. But it turns out that it's a Karuna is not the word, or the concept that involves everyday caregiving. And the word for that is anukampa. So the ANUK, a MP a anukampa. And in all the circumstances where the Buddha is offering some kind of cared if someone else is using this word, anukampa care, I know translators care. As I said, some people translate as compassion. And occasionally you see it translate is sympathy. But if the Buddha taught me, he spent, you know, 4045 years teaching out of anukampa, so it seems like a very important emotion. Because it's the basis of why Buddha taught, if someone asked the Buddha to come and teach for them, or even come to their house to have a meal, they would ask, Can you do it, please do so out of unaccompanied for me. And so the reason why this word is something different than compassion, is that the way that it's talked about in the suitors in ancient world language, is, it's always in relationship to caring for the welfare and happiness of others. It's never talked about explicitly about suffering. People if you want people to be alleviated and freed from their suffering, it can include that, for sure. But it's it doesn't it not limited to suffering, it's a broad why to caregiving kind of emotion feeling. It's also used in the ancient literature for much more ordinary simple kinds of care that people provide childcare providers of care for their children, teachers, you know, outside of Buddhism, you know, have have an accompanist care for their students. Parents have care for their children. And, and so, you know, so what is it? Now? It was yesterday, I think I talked to a friend of mine who has stage four cancer, and then beep starting treatments now. And so I asked him, he spent a lot of time at hospitals and stuff and, and, and I asked him, oh, what would you prefer? That all these people who are caring for you, the nurses, the doctors and all that, that they have compassion for you, or they have care for you? And he said, right away, or I'd prefer the healthcare.
So exactly why didn't ask him why. But there's something very different with compassion, which is, you know, I base my life on so I don't want to dismiss the disrespect or diminish its value. But it's a particular kind of caregiving. And I'm thinking about this as I was studying this word on a compa. I realized that if a friend of mine went along, we spend the day together, hanging out. And every moment that we were together, every conversation, they were expressing their compassion for me. Like I'd start to kind of stepping further and further away, like, you know, give me a break. But if if they were constantly if there was a continual feeling, oh, this person cares for me. There's care, I wouldn't feel troubled by it, I wouldn't feel like it's getting too much or a burden is a very different feeling to care than to compassion. And so to to overemphasize compassion as the primary way to be with people, maybe misses something. And, and so just care that involves care for people's welfare and happiness. So you can then you can have that kind of care for someone who's not suffering. You know, someone who's suffering, like the Buddha met people who are practitioners, who were not suffering, they were deep in meditation, they were filled with joy and happiness. And he would care for them by offering them further teachings that go further into a greater kind of happiness than what they're already feeling. And so I like this word care so much as a translation for an acaba. Because it's kind of humble word. And also has a double meaning in English, that it's to care for something is to value it. And so to offer value, that value for the people you're with, or to appreciate them, and to and to care. And to care also means to offer like, there's medical care, we say, or spiritual care, or childcare or eldercare. It's a very common word. And, and also my friend who was the hospital, he said, Oh, I prefer to have care, right to compassion. And he said, these nurses who were taking care of me, they were just like, inspiring by how much care they have, they care for everyone. You watch them, and there's so much care of what they're doing. But I don't think they have cooked it. I don't think they're having compassion for all of us. But they're just going around their job. They're doing fantastic job caring for people. So I think it's possible to care for people who you don't love. It's possible to care for people because love and compassion are kind of high, a kind of a high bar sometimes. And so this care thing is a lower bar, you can do it for someone who, you know, it's just a basic ordinary human activity to care. If you allow yourself to be basic, ordinary human being without preoccupations, attachments, and meet caught up. And then finally, this. In the suit does the motivation for anukampa they don't they don't talk much about why what motivates it, what's the rationale, you'd have it, it's conscious assume that people have it. When people were when some of the Buddha's disciples were, were fully enlightened, he told them to go forth out into the world for the welfare and benefit for others out of anicca, out of care for the world. So that was the motivating force. But he just told them to do that or expected it just kind of assumed. But, but there is a few places in the sutras where there's a word for care, is or is closely connected to the human capacity for to have respect. To respect to honor to esteem, or to venerate other people, or read better for each other, this idea of respect, and better veneration isn't a strong word. But may some people in the West talk about appreciating the sacredness of other people, the inherent they say sacredness, or some people use the word in the west of divinity divine in everyone, but Is anukampa coming not from suffering. It's not quite friendliness, but it comes from a kind of place of deep respect veneration. So there's something very, very
honored honor worthy of, of each person we meet, to have honor and respect and care. And you can do that for people who don't like there are people who are challenging, you know, who behave in ways that are, you know, maybe even distasteful or something. And so that's not to say that that's not you know, that was distasteful what the person did. But even so there can be this basic care can still exist. So get back to my story. When I started reading about this undercut BA, then I recognized it's that audit, this is the good I think this concept least how I'm understanding it. That speaks to this more recent change. I've had this peacefulness around caregiving. I think that the finding what I'm living from now is this very simple a care that is, for me is defined by non attachment by non clinging. It's just a simple ordinary thing. And it could morph into compassion, it can morphed into friendliness, all these, all these things, but it has a simplicity to it and ordinariness to it and, and sweetness to it. That, that just seems like that's what is evolved in and now I look back to kindness, you know loving kindness or something that seems like a more activated state. And there's nothing wrong to be a little bit activated. So if compassion is more activated than kindness than anukampa, then kindness is more activated than under compassionate care. And, and to be able to go about life without always being activated, or by something or, or having to evoke or to make something happened. You know, if, if your requirement is to always be claimed, you kind of have to gear yourself up a little bit sometimes. And then if the requirement is to be compassionate, you also have to kind of like, well, how do I do that now? And you know, what do I have to do? I'm supposed to be compassionate. Maybe, but for me, you know, please listen to me a little bit. This is a personal story. So I'm not want to say that it should be your away. But But anyway, finding this piece is non attachment in relationship to caregiving. And finding it kind of resonating with this word, a new compound with with care has been really kind of inspiring for me. And feeling it? Yeah, this is good. It kind of like, kind of you know, if the lawyers my mind, were arguing about is it okay to care for people without being attached? It's like, I got the star witness the expert witness on the stand and and, you know, made us made the case that it's okay. Yes. So, I knew compa to so there's movement towards that the care. So that was my story. And, and I told the story for the purpose of hopefully, inspiring you to think of your story. And maybe you even find someone you tell it to, say you've made maybe even that telling of it is not, is your discovery process. So you maybe find a good friend who you're willing to kind of stumble along? And the way we know, so what's what's been your relationship to care? Is it? Did you have no examples of it growing up and no and cared for you? And which happens to some people? It's like, the primary background for some people is the absence of it and, or worse? And, and then, has anyone ever shifted and opened and changed? And what were the influences on you and the impacts on you? And as you as you went through your life and and, you know, what have you learned over your lifetime about? Your care, your kindness, your friendliness? Or where have you received it? How have you been nourished by it from others and are influenced by others by it? What is your story? And whatever your story is, let's respect it. Let's honor it, let's venerate it, because your story and and see it as a stepping stone for further growth, the more clarity you have about it, then maybe you're ready to kind of find something more, or let it grow or evolve in new ways that maybe wouldn't have evolved if you hadn't really kind of seen it clearly what what it is. So those are my thoughts for today. And we have a couple of minutes. If any of you would like to ask a question or a comment. You're welcome to do so.
There's a question here is peacefulness similar to equanimity from the YouTube? It's, it overlaps. It'll be it I think of them as different. I think of peacefulness. This is less complicated than equanimity.
Yeah. I was thinking about empathy. As a way of, it's not quite as intense as compassion, and it's a way of feeling into a person and other person's state. Yeah. And that that might be closer to caring for someone. Yeah. Yeah,
that'd be it could well be there's a word. Another word that sometimes translated as sympathy. And the police who does that often goes together with the care that they that they're a pair. So empathy and care or maybe are closely related. Maybe one more.
So I think something that I've been struggling with, particularly, you know, in the events of the last two years or so is exercising compassion for people where the root of their sufferings is something that I fundamentally disagree with, like that their suffering is due to not being able to engage in their own selfishness, for example, and it's to the point that, you know, especially with so much like polarization and discourse around that, that it's extremely fatiguing for me to and I feel that that the answer to it seems to be having compassion for those people instead of, yeah, responding with more anger, but I'm not sure how to go about that.
I think it's completely reasonable and not have compassion for some of the reasons people suffer. But the reasons they suffer under the under the under that there is some kind of suffering. And and that is this is the is what's what underlies it, that's, maybe you can connect to others. Like so for example, if I'm really upset and sad, and I'm here crying, and you know, and I've had a really difficult day today, and, you know, Gil, what's wrong, what's happened? Well, I just didn't win the California Lottery today. So probably you just shrug your shoulders, then it's like what's going on here? And that wouldn't elicit a lot of compassion. But if you listen to me more deeply, you might say, you know, what, why, why is Gil interested in the California Lottery? And maybe he's really kind of insecure or something. And I can maybe feel for his insecurity. Is this idea relevant for you? Yeah,
I do think so. Yeah, yeah.
So kind of good. Listen deeper than the surface. So my friends, thank you for being here. And for those of you online, that Helen and Peter are the hosts for the edit that the host for the discussion group that happens after the dharma talk, so if you go on IMCs website, and I don't know if they're going to put it posted there on the chat, but the IMC website, so under what's new, or it's on the calendar, too, so on a calendar, you can see that the Zoom link, and to discuss a little bit the talk and just hang out a little bit in community. And so, thank you all very much.