Rays of the Sun

Chapter 3: Kindness Mind


I would like to explore something with you this evening that’s so close to my heart that I don’t often speak about it. I’d like to offer some thoughts about kindness and how we can actualise it in our lives.

Now mostly—in Buddhist circles—people speak about compassion. I like to use the word ‘kindness’. In a basic way—in a down-to-earth sense—kindness simply means just what it means. Kindness is a word that has a direct meaning for anyone. We know what it means to be kind. We know what it means to be unkind. That is straightforward, isn’t it?

When Geshé Damchö used to give courses in Wales before the days of the Lam Rim Centre, he had a relatively small vocabulary. He used to speak of ‘kindness-mind’ rather than compassion – and that term struck a chord with me. It was fresh, alive, and self explanatory. Kyabjé Düd’jom Rinpoche often speaks of ‘developing kindness and a good heart’. We can’t mistake what is meant by these words. We may feel that it is compassionate to point out to fellow students that they are not practising properly – or to inform them of their shortcomings in terms of the particular Buddhist rules we’ve learnt. Don’t you know that it’s a bad thing to leave your Buddhist book lying on the floor like that?

But what does such a question mean? I feel it often means, I’m holier and more aware than you so I’m going to take pleasure of some kind from putting you in your place. I’ve heard people say this kind of thing in Buddhist centres. I’ve observed the tone of voice and the facial expression. I’ve observed no kindness in the communication – merely one-upmanship.

A young man—who attended a course I gave at Lam Rim a year or so ago—asked me about compassion. It seemed that he was interested in making a point of dogma rather than in hearing an answer – so my immediate answer shocked everyone. I think I must have been feeling a little mischievous. I said: I’ve got no time for compassion – it’s all people ever talk about. Then after a moment of fairly tense silence, I added Too many people talking about it and too few people being it. Too much compassion and not enough kindness.

So, where does that leave us? Well … it leaves us having to ask ourselves probing personal questions about how we relate to our practice and to other people. We have to ask ourselves what is important. It doesn’t matter how much we know in terms of dharma. It doesn’t matter how many initiations we’ve received. If we are not primarily kind – then … what is it worth?

I remember Geshé Damchö giving a talk in Cardiff a while ago. There was something he said that I found important. It was one of those statements that are funny because they’re true. Geshé Damchö and I both laughed. The words were originally spoken by the Dalai Lama: You can fool people into thinking that you have great learning or powers of various kinds. You can get people to believe all sorts of wonderful things about you – but you can’t fool anyone into thinking that you have compassion if you don’t.

It’s the one spiritual pretence that is totally transparent. There’s obviously a message in that for anyone who practises dharma. People are attracted to dharma—especially to Vajrayana—for all kinds of motives.

There are many good people with warm hearts – but there are a sad number of others who seem only to poison themselves with their approach to the teachings. When we hear teachings on compassion we must open our hearts as well as our ears, and we must apply this knowledge in our lives.