Posted by: Upāsaka | 11/02/2018

In the Body

I began listening to an audiobook of Against Empathy despite my initial misgivings. Turns out I had judged a book by its cover but am glad I listened. Not only does it call for a more reasoned approach to empathy and compassion but it points out how the former is fraught with problems.

Per my own experience and the opinion of the author, empathy is a feeling inside of oneself the sentiments of an other. In cases of feeling another’s joy we find the first sparks of mudita and the same could be said of empathy and karuna but one must proceed with an abundance of caution. I have found that long sessions of tonglen often leave me exhausted and burnt out. Perhaps I’m still practicing it incorrectly but simply feeling the pain and suffering of another without being able to bring up feelings of bliss, warmth and cessation is just painful and draining. I have found that it is necessary to avert to the fact of someone’s suffering just enough to know that it’s there and to immediately begin sending the feelings I listed above to be a completely different experience however.

I realized, from listening to this book, that one needs to both use the personal and bodily feelings of love, bliss or ease as a springboard and inner laboratory to strengthen and universalize the sentiments so that they become boundless and undifferentiated. Just allowing myself to feel bliss and ease in the body and then bringing each person into it in turn has opened up new vistas to me.

A final point that I feel I have to bring up is the caveat that this kind of pleasure and sensitivity is extremely sensitive to sila in my experience. Without a mind free of remorse I know I wouldn’t be able to feel these things. It’s a good lesson for me to reflect on and I hope it strengthens my resolve to perfect my virtue.


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