October 04, 2007

Antidote of Compassion

In Buddhism we often speak of afflictions and antidotes. Afflictions are harmful emotions, negative mental states, and their affiliated damaging actions. Antidotes are the corresponding mental states which can help to first prevent damaging actions and then help us deal with strong emotions in a constructive manner. Anger is an affliction whose antidote is patience. It seems compassion is the antidote for an affliction I shall name downtrodden-ism.

Yesterday I was feeling downtrodden, demoralized, and depressed by my own unmanageable life and by my own neurotic tendency to make it unmanageable. Then I read In Limine and was reminded “[Shantideva] urges us to see the problems and challenges before us not as problems of how to find or preserve a good for ourselves and for those with whom we identify, but rather how to heal the entirety of problem, a perspective that cares as deeply for those causing us pain as for those feeling the pain, that values one’s own pain neither less nor more than any other’s.”

For whatever reason, I felt immediately better. And, of course, I giggled, not with my normal sardonic amusement but in lighthearted joy. After all, what could be better when you are feeling overwhelmed by your own life than a reminder that you once made a vow to save all sentient beings, in between term papers and team projects.

In any case, it sure brought about a shift in perspective. It raised my view from the dusty path I was just barely plodding along to the majestic mountains I was aiming for in the distance. My pace immediately improved.

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling bad, I lay alone in pain. At first I sought only to distract myself, then I remembered the teachings. I generated loving kindness for all those people affected by physical pain and illness, old age and infirmity. I felt immediately better. My mind state shifted until I was better able to bear my pain and in a few moments the pain itself began to subside (though that may be attributable to the aspirin).

So I remember Shantideva’s instructions in The Way of the Bodhisattva and I will strive, “So long as space endures/As long as there are beings to be found/May I continue likewise to remain/To drive away the sorrows of the world.”


TK said...

16 credit hours, three jobs, student senate, Buddhist club... Have you thought of the possibility that this over-taxing of yourself could be the cause of your afflictions? Maybe moderation, not compassion, is the true antidote.

Monica said...

Well, yes, moderation would be the sensible thing. See the prior post on that issue.

The antidote in this case is not making the affliction go away. Patience doesn't make the anger go away, it simply helps to deal with it. Likewise, compassion helps me deal with this crazy thing I call a life.

It would be easy for me to say "I can't quit my jobs - I need the money," but that's only true up to a point. If I were willing to accept the consequences it would entail, I could quit one of all of my jobs. (I could also go jump off a bridge if was willing to accept the consequences.) Likewise, I could drop one or more of my classes, or resign from one or more of my student positions. The simple truth is that I am not willing to do so. I value each and every one for different reasons. The trouble lies when these reasons start to conflict. So instead I tell myself the situation is temporary, only one semester, which is already half over.

Besides, I'm still getting 8 hours of sleep every night, which is really the most important thing. :-)

greenfrog said...

Metta, Monica.