Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)
A Good Heart: The Companion to Pristine Mind
20. THE BENEFITS OF A GOOD HEART
THERE ARE so many levels, degrees, and dimensions of a good heart. If we think of it as something simple, it is easy to overlook its importance. It is crucial that we let ourselves experience the very different way our whole being feels when our good heart is strong and fervent, and at the front and center of our experience of life.
If we possess the four components of a good heart, our emotions are more positive and warm. All our thoughts, beliefs, and habits are colored by these four positive mental attitudes. As a result, our feelings, emotions, and experiences are gentler, less negative, and less confusing. All our physical actions, our speech, and our other mental activities are colored by these positive emotions, these four positive attitudes. When we are in that mental state, what we say and how we act come from a good heart. Our experience of the world becomes more majestic and open. It is vibrant, radiant, and sublime.
Our state of mind is no longer harsh and austere, like the winter, with its cold winds, gusts of snow, and sheets of ice that so dominate the landscape of our mind. Instead, it is like spring, with the temperature soothing and warm, flowers in bloom, and gentle breezes blowing. Our heart is no longer frigid. The weather in our mind is beautiful when we have a good heart.
Even when negative emotions appear from time to time, as they will, they exert less control over us. When bad habits and negative emotions have too much control, there is frequent conflict and resentment. In contrast, when we develop a good heart, then most relationship problems, misunderstandings, and arguments vanish naturally.
If we have a good heart, conflict can be easily resolved. But without love and compassion, arguing and fighting can sometimes take on the character of not just a disagreement but an all-out war. We do not care about the other person or the other side; we only want to defeat them. When two people want to defeat each other, even small problems become larger problems and conflicts escalate. If we have a good heart, however, even big problems become smaller and conflicts dissolve.
THE SOURCE OF ALL POSITIVE QUALITIES
Even when we have a good heart, of course, negative emotions like anger can appear and temporarily obscure our good heart. At those times we need to recognize that we have become caught up in mental events and negative emotions. When those events settle down and pass by, we can return to our usual good-hearted state. Most of the time, however, once we have developed this good heart, we think, talk, and act in accordance with our good heart. It is simply a part of who we are. When we talk to someone, our attitude displays that good heart. And from that display, good things naturally flow.
Even if we scold someone about their mistakes or inappropriate actions, we approach it from our good heart. If criticism comes from compassion and love, then it is positive and the other person is more likely to experience our concern even if they do not like the criticism. But if the criticism comes from jealousy or other negative emotions, then it is negative. An action alone is often not as important as the attitude behind the action.
Sometimes people think that if we have compassion it means we are always peaceful and smiling, maybe even deferential, but that is not necessarily true. With compassion we are free to speak more directly and straightforwardly, because we can trust in the goodness from which we speak. The other person will often sense that and feel loved rather than chastised. We can confront someone without aggression.
This is important because sometimes the greatest compassion requires directness. If we want to help someone we care about, we may even need to speak sharply and forcefully at times. With a good heart, our frustration does not come from our ego; it comes from our compassion. Compassion, then, may come in different forms. It may be very peaceful and gentle in its origin and yet appear very angry. It all depends on the nature of the heart from which it springs.
For example, if your child knows that your underlying attitude and the source of your actions is love and compassion, then the child will accept your anger and discipline. If the child does not know that your attitude is fundamentally positive, then your anger will deeply hurt the child’s feelings. Children need to be educated that a caring parent’s love can come in many forms. They need to understand it’s the underlying attitude that’s important. Once they know that love does not come just from giving them presents, then even if the parents act impatiently or angrily in a particular situation, such as losing their temper, the child will know that the parent’s actions come from the genuine love and compassion of a good heart, and their feelings will not be badly hurt. There are so many “methods” foisted on parents for raising children that go in and out of style. If parents make sure their actions arise from true love and compassion, not selfishness, then the particular method matters so much less. But you can’t assume you have love and compassion just because you are dealing with your child. You need to consciously and deliberately develop your attitude of love and compassion.
The same is true with couples. If the relationship is based on both people having a good heart, then conflicts and arguments will not threaten the relationship. The relationship will remain based on mutual trust. For example, if the partners know that it’s more than just gifts and special events that are the expressions of each one’s love for the other, then they will take the long view and not just consider the short term. They will both always want each other to be happy and to have the conditions for happiness, and they will both always want each other not to suffer or have any conditions of suffering. If one of them is selfish, however, conflicts can destroy the relationship. If this mutual, reciprocal love is not present, then even doing good things for each other will not help—it’s actually deceptive, because the underlying attitude of love is not there. You can’t assume you automatically have love and compassion for each other just because you are a couple. You both need to consciously and deliberately develop your attitude of love and compassion for each other.
All positive emotions are recharged and operate smoothly through a good heart. If we have a good heart, then our other positive emotions become stronger and more stable. A good heart makes us a good person. It causes us to treat others kindly and to forgive easily. It causes us to behave ethically, patiently, sincerely, and in a trustworthy manner at all times.
If we lack this good heart, then we are never really living completely, and we are missing this most beautiful experience of being in the world. Some degree of a good heart is essential if we want to live or die with contentment. It is the true source of all positive feelings we can have in life. And it is also an essential element of the experience of Pristine Mind. Without a good heart, access to Pristine Mind is blocked by the constrictions of the ego. A good heart is essential to having an open path to our Pristine Mind.
A GOOD HEART AND MARRIAGE
Our current culture takes a materialistic view of almost everything, including romantic love and spirituality. This attitude creates a great imbalance in our lives. For example, when couples plan their wedding, so much attention is paid to external conditions—the perfect bridal gown, the expensive rings, the fragrant flowers, the delicious food, the lavish party—that their inner experience of the event is often devoid of the beauty of a good heart. All the attention on material things can cause them to miss the elements that are most important to a marriage: a sincere motivation and a good heart. Without these, the ceremony becomes devoid of meaning.
In marriage, having a good heart means we are in a genuine and deep state of love that asks, “How can I bring happiness and fulfillment to my partner’s life? How can I prevent my spouse from suffering?” That principle is critically important to all marriages because it focuses each partner on the other’s experience instead of fixing attention on their own benefit and pleasure.
If the couple does not have this internal state of genuine love as the central experience of the relationship, then the wedding is exclusively materialistic. It has no heart. A dress is just a bundle of fabric worn once, and the bouquet will last only hours before wilting. After the wedding, when the dancing stops, the cake is eaten, and everyone returns home, then without the true love of a good heart, the bride and groom might feel disappointingly strange and empty. If we pay too much attention to material items that we pursue with our ordinary minds, then we miss the importance of having a good heart.
Before people get married, or even before they begin a relationship, they should develop a good heart through cultivating the four boundless attitudes of love, compassion, joy, and impartiality. A good heart, with which we are genuinely wishing for the happiness of the other person, is essential to the success of any marriage.
THE STUDENT-TEACHER CONNECTION
Whenever you have connections with friends, family, or groups, the most essential part of the connection is a good heart and sincerity. The same is true for connections with teachers, particularly spiritual teachers. The student must receive the teachings with enthusiasm and true respect for the teacher and the teachings. Then the student is qualified to receive the teachings.
Having a teacher isn’t about selfishly receiving the teacher’s energy. Many people say, “Oh, I went to see this spiritual teacher who had this great presence, a nice energy.” They may enjoy that energy for many years, hanging around with that teacher, but they are not really interested in receiving teachings. There are many people who do this. Instead of receiving and contemplating teachings, they just spend time enjoying the energy of the teacher, allowing the teacher’s energy to recharge what they think is their spiritual experience. But that is not the best way to be a student. There is a Tibetan saying: “The worst student is like a rock sitting at the bottom of the sea. The best student is like a cup filled with pure water.” No matter how long a rock has been sitting in the sea, if you take it out of the water and put it on the shore, after a few moments it dries out because it has not absorbed any of the water. On the other hand, a cup can not only hold the water poured into it, the water can even be used to slake others’ thirst.
If you are just seeking the energy and presence of a teacher instead of taking the teachings to heart, then once your teacher passes away, or is not around, you are left with nothing, because the teachings have not penetrated your mind. But when your mind holds the teacher’s wisdom, then you can benefit yourself, and your good heart will naturally pour over to others. Then, even when the teacher is no longer there, you can maintain the lineage of the teachings through your own dedication and wisdom. You are not dry and empty of wisdom or compassion like that stone on the shore.
When you spend time with a teacher, the teacher’s energy and presence are not what is most important. What is most valuable is receiving the teacher’s authentic lineage, wisdom, and instructions, like receiving the water poured into your cup, and following those instructions by mastering your meditation practice and developing your good heart. That’s what all authentic lineage holders have done. When Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava came to Tibet, he assembled twenty-five main disciples. When the disciples spent time with him, of course they appreciated his presence and energy, but most important, they absorbed his wisdom teachings, spread these teachings throughout Tibet, and preserved the teachings for future generations. Likewise, the Buddha’s disciples enjoyed the Buddha’s presence and they enjoyed the Buddha’s energy, but what they appreciated most, and what was most important to them, was the Buddha’s wisdom teachings.
Also, absorbing and practicing the teachings are the best form of appreciation for the teacher, and also cause the most happiness for the teacher.
If you want a spiritual master who holds you in his heart,
You must live and practice according to the master’s teachings and advice.
A good heart is not only something for the student to develop; it is also essential for the teacher. The teacher should be one who does not just repeat book knowledge, but who has a strong background of receiving teachings from authentic masters, and who lives by the principles of realization, meditation, and a good heart. Having such a qualified teacher is necessary in order for the student to benefit and, ultimately, to attain true enlightenment.
Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava says:
If you want to perceive the nature of reality, then you need a qualified spiritual master.
The great master Patrul Rinpoche called the highest form of good heart, known as bodhichitta, the most important quality of a spiritual teacher. Bodhichitta is not just an ordinary good heart; it is the ultimate expression of a good heart. Patrul Rinpoche said that without bodhichitta, a teacher could be dangerous. Why dangerous? Because as students build trust in a teacher, the more powerful that teacher becomes and the greater his or her influence over the students; if the teacher does not have bodhichitta, the students can be misled or manipulated. But a teacher who has bodhichitta will never lead a student in the wrong direction.
When both of these conditions are met—the qualified teacher and the qualified student—then the Pristine Mind experience, unconditional happiness, and ultimate enlightenment can manifest.
EDUCATION AND A GOOD HEART
Most of us are inclined toward a good heart. But we need to develop this tendency, nurture it, and bring it to the forefront of our awareness. We do that, in part, through educating ourselves about the qualities of love and compassion. If we are not educated in this area, and we do not explore or pay attention to nurturing a good heart, we will not develop it. Instead, our negative, egocentric thoughts and emotions will dominate our mind. In that negative environment, positive tendencies and experiences don’t grow. We will not fully experience the positive thoughts and feelings that, along with our Pristine Mind, lead us to enlightenment.
People who have a good heart develop these qualities by first learning to value the qualities of love and compassion, and then dedicating themselves to cultivating love and compassion in practice and experience.
A good heart makes life meaningful and rich. We feel we are living fully, because our heart is warm and full. Today, especially, there is a need for parents and educators to teach young people how to develop these traits. We need to be explicit in teaching people of all ages the benefits of compassion, love, joy, and impartiality. It must become our priority if we are to have a happy society.
Why do people experience so much anger, jealousy, and resentment? Partly because we are surrounded by so many influences that encourage us to express ourselves in a negative way. We are exposed to so many models of resentment and anger. Children are taught resentment very early on. They are urged to express, “You hurt my feelings.” But they don’t often say, “I want my brothers and sisters to be happy.” How many children are saying that? More often we hear them say, “I need this game. I want more toys.” Children generally are taught more about resentment and entitlement than they are about love and compassion. They don’t hear about love and compassion very much at all. We simply cannot take the development of a good heart for granted. Like any other life skill, it must be taught. Teaching children explicitly how to have a good heart when they are young will help reduce bullying and mistreatment as they grow up.
We can still have a good heart even if we feel anger. However, the more we pay attention to such tendencies as anger, the more powerful they become. Just as anger becomes more powerful when we feed it with our attention, compassion is rendered less powerful because we have not shown it enough attention.
We need to create the right circumstances to develop the love and compassion necessary for a good heart. Spending time with people who themselves have love and compassion and being influenced by them helps generate love and compassion in us. Listening to talks and reading books by people who have real compassion, as well as meditating, are all helpful conditions and create the environment for developing a good heart.
The quality of your life depends on your state of mind. If you have a good state of mind, you will definitely have a good life, a good death, and a good experience after this life. Everyone wants to have a good life, but all too often people do not know how to find it. People try all sorts of different ways. Some become famous, but they find that even fame does not work. Many famous people are very, very unhappy. Some people become materially wealthy, but even if they are affluent, wealth cannot bring them happiness if they are internally poor.
With the most perfect state of mind, we can experience the highest form of a good life. Our joy is limitless and enduring. That perfect state of mind is the combination of Pristine Mind and a good heart. They go together.
When we are in connection with that state of mind, our joy permeates our life on physical, mental, and emotional levels. We have a sense of comfort and well-being all the time, in each and every moment. As our compassion and love flourish and grow, we feel completely connected because we are not rejecting or disconnecting from the world around us into an inner world of ego based self-absorption. By virtue of that genuine connection to the world, we are free from loneliness.
Once our mind enters this perfect state, we experience a happiness that is not just a momentary good mood, where one moment we are elated and the next moment upset. Mentally and emotionally we have a deep sense of comfort. Everything in our life is imbued with a grounded yet majestic sense of contentment and well-being. Once our mind is in a really perfect state, even our material things, our status and other external conditions, contribute to our happiness and fulfillment.
The three principles we have now discussed—realization, meditation, and a good heart—are necessary for us to live in this world fully and authentically. They are essential for our life to be complete and integrated. They become especially necessary at the moment of death and beyond. When these three principles become the driving force of our life and its mental and emotional experiences, we quickly develop a very deep confidence in the importance they have to our happiness and fulfillment.
Without these three principles, our mind is chaotic, homeless, and buffeted about by habits, belief systems, and ordinary thoughts. Ordinary thoughts carry us from place to place, and there’s no telling where we will end up. Our minds will almost always be lost in these mental events. We do not know what our destination will be, since it depends on our circumstances.
Once we have a good heart, realization, and meditation, we have more unconditional happiness. We are more capable of success in this world, and we are also able to be content and comfortable under any circumstances. If you live by these three principles, your life has real integrity and authenticity. This is why developing a good heart is so important. Once you have developed your good heart, then your realization, your meditation, your happiness, and your worldly and spiritual success all flourish.
The joy of meditation is realization that is free from mental events, distractions, and dullness of mind.
The joy of compassion is impartiality free from bias or prejudice.
The joy of experience is one’s own Pristine Mind, free from distortions.
The joy of generosity is freedom from the grasp of attachment and expectation.
The joy of wealth is to realize that all possessions are illusions.
If you know your own true nature, there’s no restlessness.
This is effortless joy.