The Awakening Mind
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
The Awakening MindHow we learn compassion.
As human beings, we have intelligence and courage. Provided we use these attributes, we will be able to achieve what we set out to do. I personally have no experience of the awakening mind, but when I was in my 30s, I used to reflect on the Four Noble Truths and compare the possibility of attaining liberation and developing the awakening mind. I used to think that attaining liberation for myself was possible. But when I thought about the awakening mind, it seemed quite far off. I used to think that even though it was a marvelous quality, it would be really difficult to achieve.
Time has passed, and even though I still have not developed the awakening mind, I feel quite close to it. Now I think that if I work hard enough, I may be able to develop it. Hearing and thinking about the awakening mind makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. Like everyone else, I, too, experience negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and competitiveness, but due to repeated familiarity, I also feel that I am getting closer to the awakening mind. It is a unique quality of the mind that once you get familiar with a particular object, your mind gains stability in relation to it. Unlike physical progress, which is subject to natural restrictions, the qualities of the mind can be developed limitlessly. The mind is like a fire, which, if you continually feed it, will grow further. There is nothing that does not get easier with familiarity.
The first step in actually developing the conventional awakening mind, which is concerned with the interests of others, is to appreciate the faults of self-centeredness and the advantages of cherishing others. A principal practice for developing this awakening mind is the practice of exchanging oneself with others. There are different explanations about how to engage in this practice. In all the explanations, one factor is common: It is necessary at the outset to regard sentient beings with affection. We should think of them as pleasing and attractive and try to cultivate a strong sense of affection for them. This requires generating a sense of equanimity that regulates our fluctuating emotions toward other sentient beings.
To do this, it is very helpful to visualize three people in front of you: one who is your relative or friend, another who is an enemy, and someone toward whom you feel neutral. Observe your natural reaction to them. Usually we are predisposed to feeling close to our relatives, distant from our enemies, and indifferent to everyone else. When you think about your friend, you feel close to her and immediately have a sense of concern for her welfare. When you think about your enemy, you immediately feel uncomfortable and ill at ease. You might even be pleased if he were to run into difficulties. When you think about the person toward whom you feel neutral, you find you do not really care whether that person is miserable or happy. You feel indifferent. When you recognize such fluctuating emotions, ask yourself whether they are justified. If you imagine your friend doing you harm, you will find that your reaction to her will change.
Those whom we call our friends in this present life have not been our friends forever. Neither have those we presently think of as enemies been hostile forever. This person who is a friend or relative in this lifetime could have been our enemy in a past lifetime. Similarly, the person whom we regard as an enemy now could have been one of our parents in a previous life. Therefore, it is foolish only to be concerned about those we think of now as friends and to disregard those we think of as enemies. The aim here is to reduce attachment toward your relatives and friends, while reducing anger and hatred toward your enemies. Reflect upon the notion that there is no sentient being who has not been your friend. This is how you cultivate equanimity toward all other sentient beings.
It is also only in relation to other sentient beings that we can observe pure ethics. None of the ten virtuous actions can be undertaken except in relation to other sentient beings. Similarly, we can cultivate the practice of generosity, ethics, and patience only in relation to other sentient beings. Only in relation to them can we develop love, compassion, and the awakening mind. Compassion, for example, is a state of mind that comes about when we focus on the sufferings of other sentient beings and cultivate a strong wish that they be free from such sufferings. Therefore, without other sentient beings as the object, we would be unable to cultivate compassion.