BHNN Guest Podcast – Ep. 109 – The Heart’s Compassion w/ Gil Fronsdal

Welcome to this episode of the BHNN Guest Podcast where Gil Fronsdal evokes the compassionate heart within us all. 

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The Wings of Buddhism

Gil leads us into this talk by discussing wisdom and compassion. These two concepts are widely considered to be the wings of Buddhism; both are needed for awakening. If you have only wisdom and are not compassionate towards others, you are not truly awakened. Gil describes a story of Buddhist monks who were led to sit with dying people. This was called a “pilgrimage” because it ushered them to be present with suffering and practice compassion. Many of us have been on similar pilgrimages, but we may have instead felt fear, despair, and anger. If we have the wisdom of acceptance, we can cultivate our compassion. 

Two Kinds of Compassion (9:15)

Have you heard of the two types of compassion? Gil describes compassion of the head and compassion of the heart. The compassion of the head stems from our thoughts and ideas. It is the ethical part of our brain that thinks “I should help this person” or “I can imagine what it is like to hurt in that way”. This type of compassion is mediated by our thoughts. The compassion of the heart instead circulates through our hearts and feelings. It does not involve a preoccupation of the mind. When we are preoccupied or filtering our compassion through the mind we are limited in our ability to be fully open. Retreats help teach us to be relaxed and open so that in the face of suffering we can find our heart’s compassion. 

“Compassion of the heart does not involve fixation, compassion of the heart comes when we are relaxed.” – Gil Fronsdal

Check out Ep.116 of Heart Wisdom to learn more about the heart of compassion
The Fix-It Mind (22:22)

One of the best ways to show compassion for someone is by being present. Often when people come to us with problems we feel like we need to stress ourselves along with them or hurry to fix the problem. We think we should not be allowed to feel calm and still. On the contrary, we should remain calm and we should find that spaciousness. In stillness is where true compassion arises. When we are just present with another who is suffering, when we are not bogged down by what we think we should be doing, or what we think they should be doing, true peace can surface. It is incredibly comforting to have someone be present with you. For this reason, our own mindfulness training is really important. 

“People who haven’t learned how to sit still and be present, to sit still and be compassionate, really still, in the face of whatever is going on, will find it very hard to offer that to others.” – Gil Fronsdal

Self-Centeredness (41:05)

To be self-centered or self-preoccupied leaves no room for the heart of compassion. If we are fixated on our own egotistical desires and concerns, how can we possibly be present or compassionate? Gil enlightens us with the idea that a self-centeredness is actually a form of suffering because it limits our life. We have to let go of selfishness in order to be relaxed and open. Be very conscious in your practice, even mindfulness can become selfish if we are only focused on ourselves. 

Tune into Ep. 107 of Sharon Salzberg’s Metta Hour to learn about practicing selflessness: Meditating on Selflessness with Robert Thurman & Mark Epstein