Sunday, December 11, 2011

Empowered by Avalokiteshvara, 1,000 Armed Buddha of Compassion

Statue of 1,000 Armed Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion
i spent this weekend at the First Annual Florida Dharma Celebration of the New Kadampa Buddhist tradition. This included a ceremony called 1,000 Armed Avalokiteshvara Empowerment. i learned that this figure is a representation of the compassion of all buddhas. (Buddha, here as a non-proper noun, refers to all enlightened beings.) He has 1,000 arms to represent the thousands of buddhas that are alive in this age, and, i believe, in every age. And he has 11 heads - 10 to represent his manifestations in the 10 directions (North, East, South, West, NE, SE, NW, SW, up and down) plus the one on the top that represents his own spiritual teacher.

The 3day retreat took place at the Kadampa World Peace Temple, here in Sarasota, FL. i had never heard of the Kadampa tradition until i visited my parents here in Sarasota two years ago. i was getting my hair cut when i noticed the stylist had a tattoo of  "om" on her forearm. i asked her about it and the conversation lead to her telling me about the Kadampa meditation center that, at that time, was held in a small, normal looking house. OM lead me directly to exactly what i needed at that time! (meditation:-)

 They have since built a complete Buddhist temple right in the center of downtown Sarasota!

Kadampa World Peace Temple, Sarasota, FL

The retreat was wonderful. i learned a lot, met some wonderful people, and came away feeling great. i am sure that some of the ideas and lessons i learned there will stay with me, and i think they might be helpful to you as well.

Each day began with a guided meditation led by Gen Demo, the (wonderful) resident nun in Sarasota. i am really learning the value of daily meditation, it is powerful and positive and tangibly helpful, but that is for another blog post.

The actual teachings of the seminar were on the development of compassion. These teachings were given by Gen Kelsang Jampa, the National Spiritual Director for the NKT-IKBU, whose programs are based on the teachings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, their tradition's founder, whom they call Geshe-la.

Gen Jampa teaching in the Kadampa World Peace Center, Sarasota
Jampa really struck me with one simple idea: "Everyone's name is 'me,'" he said. "Everyone is having a very vivid experience of self." i am not the only me!? As Demo pointed out, i see me as "me" - but nobody else does. Everyone else looks at me and sees, "you" or "him." And i certainly do not describe anyone else as "me" - i call them "you" even though they certainly feel like a "me."

Point? We are all "me." And we are all "you." And we are all a part of "us" and part of "them" - it depends on nothing more than your point of view. (As Lost taught us, anyone can be one of The Others.) There is in fact no difference among us.

And, in a point that i have learned from all of the religious traditions i have studied, we are all connected, we are all made of the same stuff. And this is why we should have compassion and be helpful to everyone around us.

As Jampa said, if there is a thorn in our foot, our hand will remove it, even though it is not directly affected. It could just go on being a hand, doing its hand thing, and not worrying about the foot. It is not a foot, why should it care if the foot suffers? In the example of the body, it is obvious - if the foot is hurt it will not walk to get food to put in the belly to give fuel to the brain which make it possible for the hand to be strong and healthy being a hand. The parts of the body are distinct, Jampa said, but they are not seperate. By implication (and i believe), in this way, all people are connected as well. Even all living things.

Jampa also shared with us a meditation or exercise that would help us to actively develop the compassion that will help us in our lives. He was sharing it from oral teachings he had gathered from Geshe-la. i pass it on now only from notes i took live while it was happening. Surely it is not as perfect or eloquent as Jampa actually was, let alone as perfect as they would be from the higher teacher, but i hope you will still find it helpful to read here. It went something like this:

1. We should bring to mind the living beings that are associated with me. i imagined that this would mean our family, friends, pets, colleagues, etc. Then we should think (this is an attempt at quotation but surely it is paraphrasing):
"Just as I want happiness and not suffering, so do all of these people associated with me. In this respect, we are exactly the same. Therefore i must believe we are equally important. My freedom is equally as important as all of these people associated with me. My happiness and health is equally as important as all of these people associated with me."
Then we should contemplate this truth, and meditate on the caring attitude that this contemplation creates.

2. We should bring to mind all other human beings, including our family, and repeat process.

3. We should focus on all animals, including insects, and repeat process.

4. We should focus on all other sentient beings in the universe, and repeat process.

This practice can help us to develop the presence of Avalokiteshvara, the compassion of all the Buddhas.
Shrine for the 1,000 Armed Avalokiteshvara Empowerment
This campasion can be tangibly helpful in our lives - plus i think it makes us feel good:-) i even think that compassion can give us power, in a very healthy way. The Center for Non Violent Communication, which i have written about before, calls it the power of empathy and they describe how it can actually save you from imminent violence and danger. (NPR recently did a story where exactly this happened!)

i have learned that compassion, like any other virtue or useful characteristic, is an acquired ability. It requires learning and practice. And so i greatly enjoyed advice that Jampa told us Geshe-la gives: 

"Please continue. Study. Meditate. One day you will be shocked." :-)

In the mean time, as Jampa says, "Just enjoy being a buddha." ;-) 

Tibetan decoration over the Kadampa World Peace Center, Sarasota


(All photos by the author.)

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