Buddhism had a Deep Impact on My Brother's Life.
My brother suffered from depression. His concern was centred on himself, and his mind was filled with cynicism, anxiety, and despair.
One source of his despair was a heavy addiction to cocaine. The combination of addiction and depression led him to make several attempts on his own life. He lost many things during this time of his life: his job, his relationships, his home and his belief in himself. Addiction keeps you bound up by fear. Too afraid to face reality sober, you cling on to the substance. It becomes a craving and an attachment, the source of suffering.
One early morning my brother was walking alone, hungry, homeless, and hopeless. In this state of isolation he had a realization that would drastically alter the course of his life. Through a series of mental associations he realized if he brought love to bear on his fears they would no longer be a stumbling block. He would be free, free from addiction, free of the mental suffering that plagued him, free to rebuild his life according to a new vision of the future. His new vision was guided by the principle that compassion has the power to conquer fear. Severe drug addiction is a fierce competitor, but armed with compassion he faced it with courage, and won. He took his new vision for life and registered in a homeless shelter. For meals he stood in line at the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission until he could regain his physical health.
Those days, lining up on the sidewalks of the downtown east side are reminders to him of how his Buddhist practice gave him peace and strength in some of the most unsettling situations. He would count his breath as he waited. He would remember mindfulness and compassion. He would engage other people alone side him and listen, with the intention of showing kindness, and with the intention of sensing the Buddha in the other person.
Eventually, when my brother got a job and began renting a suite in a house, he wanted to draw more strength and wisdom from the dharma. To this end, he printed out many pages of dharma teachings including teachings on emptiness, nirvana, the Four Noble Truths, the 8-fold path and the Dhammapada. He pasted these pages on the walls above his bed and around his room so that they would be the first things he saw as he entered the room, or before he went to bed, and when he awoke in the morning. Right View, Right Intention, he meditated on these things. Right Speech, Right Action and Livelihood, he remembered these as well as Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness, and Right Effort. My brother would count his breath while riding the bus, sometimes with numbers and sometimes with the dharma.
Then one day he decided that in order to understand Buddhism and Taoism better he would learn Chinese. He began to study and practice Chinese on his own. Later he attended night school and then college. One of his night school teachers, Rebecca Pai, introduced him to a local meditation Centre: Dharma Drum Mountain. He has begun to attend a weekly book study there, and by now you know that I have been describing myself.
In my story I talked about love and compassion. It is easy for these ideas to be misunderstood. Therefore, I thought it would be nice to share some thoughts on compassion from some well-respected authorities on Buddhism.
In "subtle wisdom," Mater Sheng Yen describes the "four components of compassion" as follows: "the first is that we understand our own conflicts and the development of inner peace. The others are: sympathy for other people's shortcomings, forgiveness for other people's mistakes, and concern with other people's suffering" (1999, p. 47).
His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes it like this: "compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, no harming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other" (The Art of Happiness, 1998, p. 114).
According to thebigview.com, to develop compassion is one of the meanings of the intention of harmlessness, under Right Intention, along with the intention of renunciation (of desire), and the intention of good will, as outlined by the Buddha. But what is the source of compassion, and how does it relieve the despair and craving of those who posses it?
In "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching," Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (1999) asks a similar question. He asks, "How can we stop our fear, despair, anger and craving?" The answer given is "we can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand." He goes on to say "when we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy" (p. 14).
Elsewhere, speaking about the Four Immeasurable Minds, or 'Brahma Abodes', he says, "If you learn to practice love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, you will know how to heal the illnesses of anger, sorrow, insecurity, sadness, hatred, loneliness, and unhealthy attachments" (p. 170).
(story shared by DDM Vancouver)