When we use the word compassion, in one way it is a word that touches our heart deeply. We feel that it somehow takes our breath completely to think about it. On the other hand sometimes we use the word compassion so much that it begins to numb us. We lose the value and the meaning of the word, and instead of taking our breath away it becomes some kind of lukewarm water. I think that is our problem. The essence, the bottom line of Buddha’s teaching, boils down to two things: one is compassion, the other is wisdom.
Compassion is such a wonderful tool, such a wonderful way of not only improving ourselves, but also improving everybody. If it becomes lukewarm, it is not good. So we have to take care that it does not go that way. Buddhist teachings normally say the buddhadharma is what really makes one’s mind kind and useful. We say it is the best method to tame our wild, crazy mind. But when that best tool, that best way to tame our mind, becomes lukewarm, then it becomes difficult to make any progress. Judging from our way of thinking, when the word compassion becomes that way, it may be harmful for us, because compassion is the thing that lets us feel the pains, miseries and sufferings of people—mentally, emotionally, physically.
Compassion is something wonderful, but if that word is overused it becomes just a buzzword. That is what Allen Ginsberg told me once. I did not know what the meaning of buzzword was at that time. We were sitting on a stage. Something like 4,000 people were watching. I just sort of smiled a little bit and tried to get out of the situation, but the moment we were off the stage Allen said, “I do not think you heard what I said; I said, buzzword. I said, “Well, I heard the sound, but I do not know what it means.” He said, “I thought so.” So he gave me a long history about the origin of the word. He said it comes from Brooklyn, and this and that. He was very kind in that way.
At every opportunity Allen tried to explain to me each English word—what its equivalent is in Latin, what it means, and how it was picked up in English. When I regretted not having learnt more, it was too late. That is how life is. We all do that anyway. When the opportunity is there we cannot take it. When we finally realize it, it is too late. That is why, before I use the word compassion too much, I want you to know that it has to be heartfelt compassion. The ultimate unlimited unconditioned compassion and love is what Buddhists call bodhimind: the mind that seeks total enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
When I say bodhimind, I am referring to the mind that wants to be perfect. Bodhimind is unlimited, unconditioned compassion and love. Why do I say unconditioned? Because that mind does not raise the question, “What is in there for me?” That question comes out of our ego, our selfish thoughts, our self-interest. I am not saying we should ignore ourselves completely, but we shouldn’t give undue priority to self- interest. That is why compassion and love should not be conditioned in a way where you think, “If you do this for me, I will do that for you.”
We have a lot of limits, but bodhimind should not be limited. It should be for all living beings. That is almost impossible, right? Yes, it is almost impossible. However, the capacity of our mind is such that we can make every impossible thing possible. The human mind is fantastic. There is no equivalent. This is not a modern statement: it is what Buddha showed us 2,600 years ago and is continuously showing. When we are able to use it, there is no limit to what our mind can achieve. If we have the know-how and the will to do it, then unlimited, unconditioned compassion is possible for our mind. It requires that we put effort in. All these meditations, all these practices are meant for this.
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Excerpt from The Four Mindfulnesses by Gelek Rimpoche, From Jewel Heart International’s Digital Dharma Archives