When he ought to smile, he does not smile. When he ought to feel joy, he feels none. When he ought to be compassionate, he is not. When he discovers his own mistakes, he does not correct them. When he hears of good things, he does not feel glad.
— Ekottarika Agama
Don’t be like that! We should all learn to express our emotions simply, openly and directly. Of course, no one should be ostentatious with his feelings, but expressing things you do not feel or not expressing things you do feel are most certainly forms of lying. Help one another and let life flow joyfully in you and through you. Those who learn to be in touch with the ordinary feelings of life will always be happiest.
Our friends are the few people that we know in this immense universe. Treasure the ones you have and always be open to making new ones. In Buddhism, the concept of friendship is very deep and very important because it also involves the concept of karma. It is no accident that the people around you are who they are; some of them certainly are friends from former lives, all of them certainly will be friends in future lives. Each one of them has something to teach you. Their relationship to you is very important, just as your relationship to them is very important. Therefore, do not play games with your friends; do not conceal your feelings and do not use emotion to manipulate others or to dominate any situation.
Smile when you ought to smile, be happy when you should be happy and give love wherever you feel it. Emotions are not things that should be calculated, hoarded or spent for some improper purpose.
When our emotional language is kept simple and straightforward, we will be able to make good friends and we will be able to make much faster progress in our practice of Buddhism. Blocked or constricted emotions are a major hindrance to growth in any endeavor, and especially in Buddhism.
One day a monk who was lecturing on the Avatamsaka Sutra in Changan asked Master Zhiwei, “What does it mean in the sutras when it says that a sentient being’s true nature is born only of conditions?”
Master Zhiwei was silent and did not answer.
Then his attendant stood up and said, “Virtuous monk, the moment you ask that question, or any question, in that moment your true nature is born of conditions.”
At this, the monk who had asked the question became enlightened.
— Chan canon
Compassion is so important in the practice of Buddhism that it can be thought of in many different ways. We can conceive of compassion as an ideal or we can personalize it in the form of a bodhisattva. We can use it as the standard of our practice of Buddhism or we can consider compassion to be an emotion. At the emotional level, compassion can become very powerful and indiscriminate. The more you understand the human condition, the less blockage there will be for a constant outflowing of compassion toward all sentient beings everywhere. To know yourself is to know others. Once you understand the complexity and beauty of human needs, you will naturally begin to sympathize with all forms of life no matter where they are.
Compassion is a teacher. Honestly felt and honestly expressed, it will never lead you astray. Let it teach you. This is how to practice Buddhism. When we speak of humanistic Buddhism, essentially we mean nothing more than this. Humanistic Buddhism is Buddhism that is practiced with and among other people. The standard of this practice, its method and its goal, is nothing more than compassion.
If you allow your compassion and your natural human emotions to flow naturally in the world around you, you will find it easy to get along with others and soon you will find that you are in a position to bring great help to them. The Buddha pointed out the five kinds of inhumane behavior because he wanted to show us through negative examples how we should behave in this world.
Correcting Our Own Mistakes
Some people learn that they have been mistaken and they only know how to get mad! How foolish! We should be joyful when we learn of our own mistakes for now we can change for the better. Life is growth. Human life is a chance to grow to the highest levels of consciousness. How can anyone be angry at any chance to learn? Seize each chance to grow and never cling to an erroneous outlook or method just because you have become accustomed to it.
Start each day with the full knowledge that you are not perfect and then receive whatever correction the day has to offer you. Take it and change. Not only will you be a much happier person, but so will all of your friends.
It is a very simple and obvious point, but one that is well worth remembering—you cannot progress in Buddhism if you are unwilling to change.
All people have made many mistakes. If one is not repentant, one dulls one’s own mind and calls retribution on oneself.
— Sutra in Forty-Two Sections
Hearing of Good Things
Emotions can be troublesome if we believe they must be concealed and controlled, or they can be our greatest ally if we understand that they can show us things about ourselves that we will never find inside our heads. One of the greatest blocks to a healthy outflow of emotion is envy or jealousy. When we feel envy instead of pleasure at someone else’s accomplishments, we harm ourselves more than anyone. Envy blocks the natural heightening of awareness that arises when people close to us feel good or when they accomplish something worthwhile.
If we catch ourselves “hearing of good things and not feeling glad,” we can be pretty sure that we are allowing envy or anger to control us. Under the control of anger, we will not be able to grow quickly and we may bring great harm onto ourselves. If we find ourselves stuck in a negative emotional response, what should we do? The best thing is to fully and deeply reflect on your emotions as soon as you have time. Detailed abstract analysis is not what is called for here. Rather, you should simply allow yourself to feel all of your emotions completely and without censorship. My guess is you will discover much deeper and richer layers in yourself than you had thought were there. Often times, envy is nothing more than a twisted image of the real joy you really do feel for others.
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha said, “All sentient beings have their own natures and they all are different. Each one is unique.” The way to progress in Buddhism is to understand this. Plumb your own nature and then grant that others are different from you; different, but every bit as complex.
The bodhi mind is like a seed for it gives birth to the Dharma. The bodhi mind is like a good field for it nurtures all good phenomena. The bodhi mind is like a great land for it can hold everything at all times. The bodhi mind is like pure water for it can cleanse all troubles and pain.
— Avatamsaka Sutra