by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 16
The Compassion With‌in Impermanence

Hells, evils spirits, beastly creatures, all the evil ways of living, all the pain that comes from birth, old age, disease and death
Will for eternity all pass away.
Great Kanzeon views all the world in Truth,
Free from defilement, loving, knowing all,
Full of compassion;
He [She; It] must always be prayed to, adored for all eternity.

The Scripture of Avalokiteswara Bodhisattva (from The Lotus Sutra)
translated by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett

No Pain Endures Forever

No state of feeling lasts forever. All states of pain are states of feeling, and they are all impermanent.

Great pain is hard to endure. It may drag on, but it always comes to an end.

A person who has been very ill and then returns to excellent health, may indeed see a "kindly Light" within a world in which suffering is transitory. The relief from suffering experienced by such a person may be so great that he blesses a world in which "all the pain that comes from birth, old age, disease and death" passes away for all eternity.

The Other Side of the Coin

Of course, it is not just painful feelings that pass away: all feelings are impermanent. So the most pleasurable feelings--including even the most spiritually ecstatic--are also transitory.

We cannot remake the world so that the things that we do not like pass away, whereas the things that we like last forever. In truth, in our modest (and sometimes not-so-modest) ways, we have all tried to do just that, but no one has yet succeeded: the world is not subject to anyone's personal will.

Would the world be kinder to me in a real sense if it were to cater to my likes and dislikes?--I think not. I think the world manifests a greater kindness by providing an incentive for me to seek a Refuge within my own heart that is deeper, more real and more enduring than states of feeling.

In other words, the universe's seeming indifference to our likes and dislikes is itself an expression of Great Compassion, for it provides a recurring reminder that we need the Eternal.

Praying to Great Compassion

There are many stories in all religions of the prayers of devout people, and the ways in which these prayers have been answered. Many of these stories have seemingly-miraculous aspects: a woman judged to be incapable of conceiving a child prays to a Bodhisattva or saint to become pregnant, and the pregnancy happens; a sick person with a seemingly-incurable disease prays for a cure and the cure happens, etc.

I do not query such stories. Indeed, I am inclined to regard such prayers as constituting one among a number of types of generally-reliable faith-based (and not scientifically-verifiable) aspects of the common experience of mankind.

I think it is worthwhile considering that such prayers are actions that have consequences. In other words, one is making karma when one prays for anything--in which case, it is always a good idea to "be careful what you wish for." For example, in praying for relief from a particular form of suffering at a particular time, one might unknowingly set up a chain of causation that might result in a greater state of suffering at a later time.

If someone comes to me as a priest and asks my advice on whether it would be good to pray, say, to Kanzeon (Avalokiteswara) or Jizo (Kshtigarbha) for a particular kind of help, I have two things to say:
First, in the consciousness of one's need, one can always just ask for help while entrusting the form in which that help is to come entirely to the Eternal. In asking for help in this way, one is relying on both Great Compassion and Great Wisdom: the Eternal knows better than me what help will truly do the best for all beings.
Second, if one is feeling strongly drawn to specify the form of the help, I recommend putting the question whether this is what is truly good to do to the Eternal, and then meditating.

Of course, in many crises one has no opportunity to consult a priest and no time to formally meditate with a question. It is amazing how a great cry for help can fly up out of our heart in an instant. And we can find that somehow we know how to proceed, what to do, and what to ask for. Never underestimate the capacity of anyone to act immediately, simply and directly from the Buddha Nature.

Non-Dual Compassion

This picture of Great Compassion is non-dualistic. That is, it shows Great Compassion as being immanent within the world of impermanence and suffering. In so doing, it neither attempts to deny the painfulness of existence, nor use that painfulness as proof that Great Compassion is not to be found within the world. In short, the reality of things is not "pain or Compassion," but "pain and Compassion."




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