Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying

Noble Caring and Compassionate Heart

Phakchok Rinpoche explained compassion in the following way:

In Tibetan, the word for compassion, nying je (snying rje), means “noble heart”. It refers to our own heart and to the heart of the world. Our noble heart of compassion is the key to caring and noble relationships. Our noble heart turns inward towards ourselves and outward towards others.

We practice the noble heart of compassion and bodhicitta for those we provide care for. Through the common heart of oneness our caring is noble and kind.

Compassion in Action

Rinpoche reminds us that we need to act compassionately, not just talk!

Compassion… what is compassion? Just “talking” about compassion everyday, like so many Buddhist like to do, is so boring. Honestly speaking, boring. Compassion needs skillful ways to deal with what arises in your life, compassion needs to act, and compassion needs dignity.

Noble Caring: Aspiration and Compassion

We need to fuel our compassion, Phakchok Rinpoche reminds us:

Your compassion needs fuel, so that it can generate more and more. So how do we do that? Through aspiration. You must know how to make aspiration. My aspiration is “to fulfill how much I can meet the needs to help human beings”. That is my fuel. Compassion needs skillful ways, compassion needs dignity, and compassion needs aspirations, my dears.

Aspiration only comes when you gain your own direct experience of dukkha, which means your suffering. Do you understand? You cannot have aspiration if you don’t recognize your own suffering. Please understand that aspiration is fuel, and you can only get it from experiencing your own suffering. I think maybe we Buddhists don’t have enough suffering, I don’t know. 

You have compassion there, the “compassion car” but it’s not moving. Because the fuel is not there, there is no fuel, almost completely empty. All the time Buddhist teachings say, put yourself in other people’s position, put yourself in other people’s place. Why do they say that? To gain genuine aspiration.

What Is Compassion?

You feel you have a perspective on compassion; you need to ask some questions, does it mean sympathy, understanding, love, what is it? It starts from equanimity. Look inside yourself, I wish happy, healthy, no suffering, wherever you live, everyone wants happiness and not to suffer.

Let go of yourself. You need to let go of yourself when you are practicing compassion. Trying to practice compassion while remaining absorbed with yourself is going to exhaust you, you’re going to feel very tired, you’re going to feel that you can’t change anything, that you aren’t helping enough, you think you need to do something good and then feel guilty about not doing enough. If you are filled with worry, with fear—that is not actually compassion. We become exhausted by our ideas, but genuine compassion is bigger than our ideas, it’s stronger, it has no exhaustion.

Compassion Does Not Drain Us

Most importantly, we need to set our egos aside. Many of us may make the mistake of personalizing our compassion—and then we begin to talk about “compassion fatigue”—we night think we feel drained. But this drained state shows that we are relating emotionally, and not acting from a selfless ground. Phakchok Rinpoche emphasizes that real compassion cannot involve our egos:

What really drains you is when you try to practice compassion while being absorbed with yourself.

Check for yourself, look at yourself. Don’t believe me. Experiment with yourself and see if it is true. Our Buddhist compassion these days, I’m sorry to say but it’s merely lip service. Really. We’re very egocentric, I’m not kidding. Like, “May all sentient beings…..” we like to TALK about sentient beings and compassion but we never do anything! Non-dharma practitioners they are sometimes better at compassion than us.

What is wrong with that? Think. We like to say something is wrong with the dharma because of course we never like to say “I’m wrong”—we need to blame somebody, so we blame Dharma. Totally wrong understanding, baby!

Reflection Questions

  • Check your own motivation and compassion. First, we recommend that you take the time to watch this short video teaching, Motivation and the Real Meaning of Bodhicitta, where Phakchok Rinpoche discusses motivation and compassion.
  • Then reflect on your own experience—do you recognize your own suffering? If so, how do you then use that to extend compassion to other beings?
  • Try to come up with concrete examples and observe your behavior. Are you able to put that compassion into action?

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.