Compassion & the Revelation of Negatives
by Art Ticknor
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The path to liberation has one ultimate obstacle, which is our conviction of being something individual. This individuality-sense rests on the foundation of personality and our identification with personal characteristics such as compassionate or not-compassionate. Nirvana is the blowing out of this ego-flame, liberating us from the binding sense of individuality.
Progress on the path to recognition of the truth about ourselves and the cosmos is a revelation of negatives. What's what is revealed by discovering what's not. The path is one of losing illusory and delusory views. We have an innate preference for the warm and fuzzy over the cold and prickly, and much advice on how to become more spiritual is on how to add or polish positive qualities and ditch negative ones. A teacher with perspective, though, knows that Truth is reached through a successive triangulation or transcendence of opposites.
Compassion literally means suffering with. This requires personal experience of suffering and the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes: "I've been there," or "There but for the grace of God go I." As we see more of what we're not, we become increasingly dispassionate free from bias, objective toward our emotions, detached. We become compassionate not through acquiring new or improved character traits but through a shifting of our perspective on the dividing line between self and other.
We as the mind cannot conceive of no-mind. We as the self cannot conceive of no-self. If the mind could subtract the mind, or the self subtract the self, what would be left? Our logic tells us (inadequately) that it would be only "other" with no "me" to cognize it. The path to liberation is subtractive, but since we cannot conceive of the final removal, we try to become whole by addition, by subduing the negative and enhancing the positive. Thus striving to become more compassionate toward our fellow creatures sounds like a move in the right direction.
The ultimate compassion-trip for the ego might be the bodhisattva vow: the refusal to "enter" nirvana until all other living creatures have preceded us. This is an admirable sentiment, but what you find when you return to the center is that there are no sentient creatures, self or other. And yet you may feel great compassion for them.
Don't worry work. Compassion and other good stuff comes as we go within. Keep your eye on the goal, which is permanent satisfaction, not temporary relief or forgetfulness. To find that, we must become permanent which is only a question of discovering our true identity.