The next four meditations are about gaining imaginative experience of what it is like to be a Buddha. On the basis of cherishing the happiness of all living beings, we geneate great compassion for them – a mind that actively wishes to free others from their suffering. We then imagine doing so as a Buddha would through the practice of taking. Then, again on the basis of cherishing all living beings, we generate wishing love for them – a mind that actively wishes to bestow pure and eternal happiness on all living beings. We then imagine doing so as a Buddha would through the practice of giving. Seeing how amazing it is and understanding how Buddhas work makes us extremely motivated to become a Buddha ourselves. Thus, if we do these meditations well, we will find it effortless to generate bodhichitta itself. The perfection of these meditations is engaging in them understanding how they are the essential building blocks of the bodhichitta mind. The ultimate perfection of these meditations is engaging in them conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.
In the previous meditations we built up the mind of exchanging self with others – a mind that cherishes only others. Again, to cherish means to consider something to be important or valuable. Practically, it means something worth working for. To engage in the meditation on great compassion, we simply re-generate our cherishing love for others and then consider how they suffer. If we did our meditations on cherishing love and our meditations on suffering well, by simply combining the two the mind of great compassion will effortlessly develop in our mind, like the next domino falling in a chain. We consider how living beings are trapped in a cycle of delusion and contaminated karma that throws them again and again into the lower realms. We can consider how they experience manifest, changing and pervasive suffering. We can recall manifest suffering is some form of pain as we normally think of it, changing suffering is contaminated pleasure as we normally think of it (it is called changing suffering because the more we try secure contaminated pleasure the more it turns into pain), and pervasive suffering is the suffering that comes from identifying with contaminated aggregates (we suffer from human problems becuse we identify with a human body and mind, animals suffering from animal problems because they identify with animal bodies and minds, etc.). We can consider how until living beings free themselves by travelling the path, there is no escape for them. Since we consider their happiness to be valuable, something worth working for, we will naturally develop the mind of great compassion actively wishing to do something to free them from their suffering.
Ultimate compassion, or unobservable compassion as it is referred to in Ocean of Nectar, is a compassion combined with an understanding of emptiness. It can be developed as follows: First, we recall how we are responsible for all of the suffering of all living beings (analogy of tapping water or considering how our enaging in negative actions towards others creates the karma for others to engage in negative actions towards us which then condems them to suffering). Second, we consider how each being is actually a wave on the ocean of our mind – they are not separate from us but are in fact parts of us. So just as my right hand cares for my left foot, so too the Ryan wave should care for all the other waves. If we understand we are the ocean, and not just an individual wave, then great compassion becomes an obvious – wanting to free all of our self from suffering is exactly the same as wishing for all living beings to be free from suffering. Third, we can consider how others are mere karmic appearances generated by our mind. Others suffer because we dream them that way. Our uncontrolled mind dreams a world of uncontrolled suffering for all. We must stop dreaming such a world.
Great compassion means we generate this mind (1) for all living beings without exception and (2) with respect to all three types of suffering, manifest, changing and pervasive. Anything less than this is compassion but not great compassion. For example, if we wish our children were free from manifest suffering, it is compassion – and therefore very good – but it is not great compassion because we do not wish the same for others and we are not taking into consideration the three types of suffering. But we need to be careful to not make the best (great compassion) the enemy of the good (anything less than great compassion). Sometimes people intellectually understand what great compassion is, realize that the compassion they generate is less than that, and then mistakenly think that it is not good (and even bad) to feel more limited compassion for a more limited number of beings. So they wind up denying the compassion they do feel becasue they cannot yet feel that same compassion for all living beings for all of their suffering. This is a huge mistake, and one that is commonly made. Great compassion is built up on the basis of growing our less than great compassion. So we need to start smaller, generate a real taste for genuine compassion towards anyone for any of their suffering, such as victims of rape warfare or our children in Middle School, and then gradually build up this mind for more beings and for more types of suffering.
To grow our compassion in a qualified way, we need to avoid the extremes of abstract compassion and grasping at the feeling of compassion. If by expandng the scope of our compassion too far we lose the feeling and start intellectualizing about what are still for us abstract concepts of “all living beings” and “pervasive suffering” then we have fallen into the extreme of abstract compassion. If we start to grasp at the feeling of heart felt compassion, thinking it is our object of contemplation, then we have fallen into the extreme of grasping at the feeling of compassion. This is more subtle. The feeling of compassion is a natural by-product of holding the two minds of cherishing love and a wisdom understanding their suffering at the same time. When these two minds are held together, compassion naturally arises like a candle from a flame. But if we grasp at the flame and thereby drop the candle we will hold neither.