November 9, 2011

Buddhist Yoga: Joining with Naturalness, Part III. ~ Ari Goldfield & Rose Taylor Goldfield

About this series:

The tradition of Buddhist Yoga is vast and wonderful. It is profound in its insights that we can discover for our own and others’ benefit, and rich in its variety of skillful methods that we can use to put it into practice. This seven-part serialization aims to present the key points of Buddhist Yoga in a way that Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike will find helpful and applicable to their own practices of yoga and meditation.

We will begin by looking at what the phrase “Buddhist Yoga” means, so that as we proceed to explore the practice of Buddhist Yoga, we will be well-equipped with a clear understanding of what Buddhist Yoga is all about. In the subsequent three pieces, we will examine the three qualities of mental outlook that form Buddhist Yoga’s foundation: renunciation, compassionate bodhichitta, and the profound view of the true nature of reality.

In the fifth piece, we will be ready to learn how to apply the principles of Buddhist Yoga in physical exercise and dance. Then, we will see how we can practice Buddhist Yoga when our bodies are afflicted by illness, and learn why the great masters have taught that being sick is actually a more conducive condition for practice than being healthy. In the last piece, we will explore how to practice Buddhist Yoga in the activities of daily life, so that no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can live fully and joyously as yogis and yoginis.

~ Ari and Rose

See here for Part I. And here for Part II.

PART III: Buddhist Yoga: Joining with Naturalness

The Second Characteristic, Compassionate Bodhichitta

In this third of seven pieces on Buddhist Yoga, we will focus on the second of the qualities that are foundational aspects of Buddhist Yoga—the first being renunciation and the third being the profound view.

The second quality cultivated by practitioners of Buddhist Yoga is bodhichitta,[1] the motivation to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. By attaining buddhahood ourselves, we will be able to help others reach the same level of full awakening, which will completely free them from suffering and bring them boundless happiness.  The great masters have taught that bodhichitta is the most positive and powerful motivation we can have for our practice.  As the Indian teacher Shantideva[2] proclaimed:

If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds.

No need to speak, then, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded excellence.[3]

The cause of bodhichitta is compassion, the wish that sentient beings be free from suffering. Compassion keeps our practice free of selfish purposes, gives it great energy, and keeps our minds open and spacious. And compassion is accessible to us all, because it is inherent in mind’s true nature. Remembering this is important because it gives us confidence in our ability to be compassionate. We simply need to train in helping our naturally present compassion manifest.

The main way to develop compassion is to generate good feelings towards others. Firstly, we can bring to mind someone we are very fond of; we can recall how we enjoy being with them and the times when they have helped us. Then we should develop that natural friendliness towards those whom we have no particular feelings for; and then towards those people we have difficulties with and tend to view in a negative way.

The following verse, commonly recited in Tibetan Buddhism, is an excellent way to focus the mind in order to arouse these qualities of love and compassion for all beings:

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness,

May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering,

May they always have genuine happiness that is untarnished by suffering,

And may they reside in great equanimity, free of attachment and anger towards

anyone near or far.[4]

We also have good reason to be grateful to others, because it is in relation to them that we are able to develop our own good qualities of love, compassion, generosity, and patience. In the context of relating with others, we test the strength of our good qualities, and discover where we get stuck and need to work further.

Also, the more we learn about the true nature of reality, the more our compassion awakens and expands. For we discover that in genuine reality, non-dual and luminous awareness, there is no difference between ourselves and others; there is no difference between the true nature of one being’s mind and that of another. The true nature of mind of all beings is basically good. Whatever faults we and other sentient beings may appear to have, they are all temporary. As practitioners of Buddhist Yoga, we develop compassion for all beings that is grounded in our awareness of equality.

Opening Up From Narrow Self-Concern: Others are as Important as Ourselves:

When we train in compassion, we practice shifting our focus from narrow self-concern to considering the possibility that the happiness and suffering of others is as important as our own. Usually, unless it is expedient for us, we disregard the needs of others in our personal quest for satisfaction. So let us challenge that tendency.

If we imagine a world where we ourselves were completely happy, would we really consider it so perfect if those around us were suffering? Our happiness would be that much greater if everyone else were happy too. So when we have moments of joy, instead of selfishly guarding that feeling, we can share it with others by making the wish that all beings experience such happiness.

When we suffer, we have the opportunity to develop compassion by connecting with the suffering of others. For when we feel sad or despondent, we can think about how others have these feelings too. We can be willing to open up to the suffering of others. Sometimes in a moment of our own pain, if we try to help another person feel more uplifted—even with a simple gesture of friendship such as a smile or inquiry into their well-being—it can actually make us feel better too.

Great Compassion is Unbiased:

We do not do this only for close friends and family; in Buddhist Yoga compassion’s scope is vast, which is why it is known as “great compassion.” Ordinarily, we only have compassion for those whom we feel fond of and whom we feel are sympathetic and worthy of compassion, like the victims of aggression. It is less often that we feel compassion for our enemies and people whom we dislike; whom we feel are unsympathetic, evil, or unworthy of compassion, like the perpetrators of aggressive acts.  However, that type of bias is not great compassion.

Great compassion includes friends and enemies, victims and aggressors in a completely equal way; it does not have any bias in terms of having more affection for one sentient being and less for another. To the extent that they do not realize their true nature, all beings suffer and are worthy of compassion. All beings have within them the completely pure, true nature of mind. So all beings—friends, enemies, victims, and aggressors—are equally worthy of compassion.

The Power of Compassion:

In one yoga class, after practicing upward bow or wheel pose (Skt.: urdhva dhanurasana), we repeated the posture by first arousing a mind of compassion towards someone we wished to benefit. This simple technique enabled us to hold the posture longer, with more precision and energy. Mind’s power really does increase when we harness it for a positive end.

In Buddhist Yoga, we are taught to arouse the mind of bodhichitta before every practice. This infuses our whole practice with compassion’s power. And at the end of every practice, we dedicate its positive results to others. An example of such a dedication is the following verse from the King of Aspiration Prayers:

May all beings throughout the ten directions, however many they may be,

Always have happiness, be free from illness;

May all beings be in harmony with the aims of the dharma,

And achieve what they hope for.[5]

Dedicating the merit of our practice in this way is traditionally compared to pouring a glass of water into a great ocean. The fruits of our individual practice may seem small, but when dedicated to others, they join with a vast ocean of positive altruistic energy. Then the potency of our practice is never lost, and benefits sentient beings until every single one attains enlightenment.

[1] “The awakening mind.”

[2] 7th-8th Century

[3] Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Padmakara Translation Group (Shambhala Classics, 1997), Chapter 1, Verses 21-2, p.34.

[4] From the Tibetan text for the Kagyü lineage preliminary (ngondro) practices, sgrub brgyud rin po che’i phreng ba karma kam tshang rtogs pa’i don brgyud las byung ba’i gsung dri ma med pa rnams bkod nas ngag ‘don rgyun  khyer gyi rim pa ‘phags lam bgrod pa’i shing rta, 9.  Verse translated by Ari Goldfield.

[5] The King of Aspiration Prayers, the Aspiration for Noble Excellent Conduct, translated by Elizabeth Callahan, ©1994, verse 15.

[to be continued here on elephant, next week]


Ari Goldfield’s Harvard Law School training led him to a six-month unillustrious career in corporate law before he set off for Asia to study Tibetan and find his Buddhist teacher. He went on to travel the world for thirteen years with his teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, acting as Rinpoche’s translator and secretary. Rose Taylor Goldfield grew up in a Dharma household, where she learned meditation at a very young age, and progressed through the practice and study lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She received her masters from Naropa University in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies with Tibetan language. Ari and Rose translate and teach Buddhist philosophy, meditation, yogic exercise, and dance in their local San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. They are spiritual directors of the Wisdom Sun community. You can explore more about them and their offerings on their website.

Read 4 Comments and Reply

Read 4 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490