Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avalokiteshvara - Dharma Series

24X36in Acrylic on Canvas
Bodhisattvas are beings that forego their own enlightenment in order to help other obtain their's first. They are the embodiment of an idea, not a deity or mythical being, but a personification of a pure intention. 

Avalokiteshvara (pro. Ava-loke-it-esh-var-a) is the bodhisattva of compassion and one of the most commonly talked about and embraced. I've personally been drawn to Manjusri, which is why the first bodhisattva inspired piece I did for the Dharma series was on wisdom, but recently I've been listening to a lot of podcasts that talk about Avalokiteshvara and I wanted to capture the essence of what genuine compassion entails. 

In Buddhist teachings compassion is a thread that runs throughout. It may seem a simple enough concept - be kind, be genuine, be loving - but practicing true compassion is a bit like walking on a tight rope. There are near enemies masquerading as compassion which catch us up. 

Idiot compassion is when we show care and support to others to our own detriment. We put ourselves in harm's way, possibly with the best intentions, and are blind to the damage being caused by the person we're trying to show compassion for. In situations like this the most genuine approach is often to walk away - to prevent them from continuing to cause harm and to show care for oneself by removing oneself from harm's way. 

Overwhelm is when we feel like there is too much 'wrong' in the world and we have to fix it and don't know how. It is this sense of overwhelm that the words I chose for this piece are addressing. 

A closed heart is not stingy but afraid.
Open your heart.
When we let life touch us we see that we are
big enough to hold it all.
When we begin to show compassion we can also feel like we're opening ourselves up to a lot of pain. By relating to the experiences of others through knowing and understanding our own minds the amount of suffering in the world can feel dominant over joy or wonder. 

The teachings of Avalokiteshvara are showing us another way to be open to the pain in and around us by teaching us how to sit with the unfixable nature of the world. The world is not static - everything is changing and therefore illness, old age and death are inevitable. By embracing the inevitability we learn that these things are not 'bad' or 'wrong'. They are the very nature of the universe. 

Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It merely shifts to something different and the passing of time is constant. Rather than resist this, fight and struggle against it and try to 'solve' what is inherently unsolvable, we can learn to be present for it. 

This presence extends to the joyous and beautiful things in life as well. When we feel agitated because we can't take a picture that will do the setting sun justice or our words are inadequate to describe the smell of a flower, this is another sign that we are trying to 'fix' the world in a particular way. We're trying to hold onto something that is in a state of constant change, rather than relaxing into the constant change and accepting that we are as much a part of it as we are able to observe it. 

When we practice this sense of opening up we will experience a shift in the way we view the world. I feel like this is exactly what is being pointed at in the video asking Neil deGrasse Tyson to share the most astounding fact he's found about the Universe. 

We may be very small but we are interdependent on everything around us. We are and can be as big as the universe, which means we can be present and open to all causes and conditions that may arise. I have felt this sensation of my heart being big enough to hold it all. It was fleeting but profound. It was knowing I didn't have to 'fix' anything because nothing was broken. It was not a passive experience but an empowering one because there is great clarity in seeing what we can control and what we can't. 

The experience is ineffable but I believe it's one that many wise and wonderful teachers do their absolute best to point at. 

"When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive." 

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

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