Practicing Joyful Compassion

It seems like a month ago now, but it’s not even been two weeks since our visit from the Tsawa Tibetan monks from the Gaden Jangtse Monastery in south India on May 20th.  We’re still experiencing changes from their time at The Mesa.  The energy of our center has been uplifted by the ceremonies they conducted and we have been touched personally in many ways that we’re still processing.  It was a joy to be around these seven gentle, enthusiastic, and caring men and to observe them in action; in prayer, hard at work, graciously fielding questions from our Mesa “tribe”, and even passing around a football on the runway.

The most stunning moment for me of the monks’ all too brief stay with us came during the House Blessing ceremony they conducted late that Sunday afternoon in the big Mesa art and craft studio.  As the commotion of the arrival of the last 3 of the monks died down, the excited crowd of onlookers settled in and the ceremony began.  I was instantly mesmerized by the sound and pure energy of it.  Then I looked across the room and took in an amazing sight that filled my heart.

There before us was a beautifully adorned altar the monks had set when they had first arrived in the morning.  A big tanka (devotional painting) of Chenrezig (the Buddha of Compassion) hung above it.  The Heart of Compassion sand mandala the monks had spent all day working on and had just finished rested on a table in front it, radiating spinning energy.  The mandala was flanked by two rows of monks and Tendrol, a visiting Buddhist nun from Washington, DC, all resplendent in their saffron and maroon robes, sitting on the floor alternately overtone chanting, and playing traditional bells, drums, brass cymbals, telescoping trumpets, and reeded horns.

I almost felt the need to pinch myself as I witnessed the spectacular energy, devotion, generosity, and connection of the ritual taking place before me—not in some grand edifice in downtown Pittsburgh, but in our humble workshop with all of its disarray.  It was right there.  I had always felt we were blessed in what we were undertaking with our creative, consciousness raising, and healing work at our center, but at that moment it seemed “official”, and at a much higher level.  I felt honored and grateful to be part of it.

After a brief communal meal, the blessings continued with the monks stepping outside to conduct the Chöd (cutting away of the ego) ritual on the old grass runway in front of the Mesa tipi.  The weather was perfect, the sky beautiful blue, and odd wispy clouds streamed continually out of the sunset as we watched the monks.  Selflessly, they started right back in with their chants and prayers to appease the “gods and scary ghosts” of the land for the benefit of all who are connected with The Mesa.  Energy poured from the tipi to fuel the proceedings.  It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

As a result of their visit, Kate and I found ourselves spending the next several days researching the ritual objects, cosmology, and tenets of Tibetan Buddhism.  Kate put up a new Buddhist altar in our dining room, adorned with one of the tankas we had recently purchased.  This served to deepen and cement the effects of our visit from the monks and fortify us to spread their blessings and what they had taught us from their culture.  While looking into Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, I came across a comparison of how compassion is viewed by Buddhism as compared to Western religions.

Long ago I had come across the idea that Buddhists saw compassion as the desire for the suffering of others to come to an end.  What was new to me was how it was suggested to deal with that suffering.  In Judeo-Christian religion, when one sees suffering we are taught to feel empathy for those in torment.  We feel sad and suffer with them because they are so downtrodden.  This is “two-party suffering”.  Buddhists see one who is suffering and while desiring their suffering to end, do not attach to it.  Instead they envision that suffering receiving help and relief through their desire being voiced, and rejoice in the seed of its eventual resolution.  This is a joyful compassion and “single-party suffering”.

There is so much suffering in the world around us, here at home and throughout the world.  Just yesterday, I spent an hour on the phone with a woman in Cape Town, South Africa, who had been desperately looking for help and found our Mesa website.  After several emails, I dropped the dime and called her over Skype, spending all of $5 and a little of my time to help a fellow “two-legged” thousands of miles away.

Lavona’s extended and convoluted family was awash in dysfunction and disarray.  She wanted to find a way to help them and find peace for herself but was at wits’ end.  I listened to her story in Afrikaans-accented English with patience, and offered some of the insights that Kate and I have learned along our spiritual way—the same ones we tell our visitors, students, and healing clients right here at The Mesa.  I explained to her about the speedup in the Flow of Creation and how it’s pushing people to the limit.  I reminded her how Apartheid had torn her country apart, something exemplified by the animosity from racial differences within her own family.

Lavona admitted to being a “fixer” and wanting her family to come back together “and just love each other”.  I reminded her that she, like ourselves, was here to help change the world but that we’re not in the business of “making horses drink”.  I told her about the Tsawa monks and what I had learned about joyful compassion.  I could tell that she was truly “getting it” and at one point I was surprised when I could feel her energy dramatically and markedly shift, right over the cyber phone.  It felt light, expansive, and hopeful.

I interrupted Lavona’s story to turn her attention to how she felt at that moment in our conversation and she admitted to feeling a lot better.  It was clear to both of us that a big part of her problem with her pain of feeling isolated from her family was that she didn’t really feel connected to anyone else.  I told her the Ugly Duckling story (see blog entry from July 28, 2011) and reminded her that she was now connected to me, Kate, The Mesa, the Tsawa monks, and what they had generously given us, and to allow that connection to bolster her.  Her deliverance was already in motion and we both felt it.  She thanked me profusely and we agreed to stay in touch.

During the monks’ visit to The Mesa, one visitor remarked excitedly on how they had always wanted to meet Tibetan monks and had now “manifested” it.  They asked me how we had managed to “get” the monks to come to The Mesa.  “By doing our work…,” was my answer, explaining that we had not sent out any request for the monks to come, but had merely said, “Yes, please” when we were asked if they could visit our center.  We had attracted them to us by our devotion to Spirit and service to others, not by clever marketing or coup of business acumen; by our actions and not by wishing for it.

You too, dear reader, can be a reliever of suffering and agent for world change.  You’ve already started by reading this little story.  We invite everyone to tap into the gifts the gentle Tsawa monks have given all of us through their devotion to practice joyful compassion and spread it to others whenever and wherever you can.  It’s right out there on the “spiritnet”.

You can see (and feel) HD video clips of the monks creating the sand mandala and holding ceremony at The Mesa with these links:

Tsawa Tibetan Monks House Blessing at The Mesa:

Tsawa Tibetan Monks Chöd Ritual in front of the Mesa Tipi:

Tsawa Monks Chenrezig Sand Mandala Opening Prayer:


About Brad Silberberg

Brad Silberberg, director of The Mesa Creative Arts Center in Burgettstown, PA (Pittsburgh area) is an artist, holistic healer, spiritual leader, and change agent.
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