“One of the basic points is kindness. With kindness, with love and compassion, with this feeling that is the essence of brotherhood, sisterhood, one will have inner peace. This compassionate feeling is the basis of inner peace.” – The Dalai Lama.
As we pass the Autumnal Equinox and watch the Fall season transform everything around us into blazing hues of crimson, saffron and gold, nature once again reminds us of the impermanent quality of life itself. As conscious beings immersed in a culture of commerce, property and material value systems, we sometimes resist this natural tendency towards continuous fluidity: Ultimately, despite our personal or collective grasping, nothing is truly permanent except turbulence and change itself. All things arise and pass. This is the essence of awakened wisdom in many of the contemplative and healing traditions.
So in this season of rapidly evolving scenery and cooler days and longer nights, one notion that might offer an anchor of stability amidst all the changes is the awareness of Basic Goodness. Basic Goodness is an understanding that at our core, we are truly wise, compassionate, loving beings full of possibility. The Buddhist traditions teach that Basic Goodness is at the heart of every sentient being—that it is the true origin, the “Buddha Nature”–of consciousness and the essence of humanity. By cultivating the insight of this quality, we become more lucid in our perceptions and relationships. But the wisdom of this teaching is not limited to Eastern Spirituality.
As Pope Francis visits Washington and New York this past week, there is profound resonance of Basic Goodness in his message. Unlike so many pontiffs before him who focused on church dogma, Francis has offered a message of love and tolerance and open heartedness. He speaks about the fundamental beauty of compassion and care for the less fortunate, for loosening inhumanely strict international border policies, for seeing different points of view with a more open mind and for working towards economic equality and justice. His words echo those of The Dalai Lama who has said that compassion and open-heartedness are the most revered qualities of a spiritual consciousness.
Tapping into the energy of Basic Goodness is one of the great gifts of a meditation practice. In our relationship with our own hearts and minds we can sometimes become distanced from the gentleness that is at the center of our beings. Our thinking can become wrapped up in our needs and wants, our faults and the missteps of others, the things we don’t have enough of, the material loses and gains, the perceived failures or deficiencies of our experience. There can be this harsh, cruel, edgy element in the way the mind relates to its own experience. The self-criticism or self-doubt can be relentless and can in turn affect relationships and the way communication with others is directed.
Meditation practice can be a way to work with the mind that offers the possibility of loosening the grip of discursive thoughts that, unchecked, can sometimes be so brutal and judgmental. A useful metaphor is to think of the sky: The quality of Basic Goodness corresponds to the luminous, open, spaciousness of the blue sky while the clouds can be thought of as representing our more prickly thought patterns.
If we allow ourselves the space and the grounded awareness of letting go of the discursive thinking, we can enjoy this quality of gentleness—this bright blue sky of infinite wisdom and compassion that is really the true essence of our inherent being. This is the beauty of Basic Goodness: It already exists as our true nature. It is not some lofty, unattainable quality that only spiritual gurus attain. It is a gift that ultimately animates who we are as human beings.
By cultivating a mindfulness practice, we can begin to access the freshness and genuine presence that the insight of Basic Goodness offers. It is sometimes most available to the practitioner as the space between our thoughts, this place of calm abiding. Ultimately, meditation is an act of love. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to break free of the routine narratives, to let go of the assumptions and projections that obstruct the path to really experiencing life and the wonder of being human.
So as we sit to practice and notice all the activity of the mind, the struggles with desires, the resistance to changes, the difficulties of emotional ups and downs, we can find refuge in this quality of vulnerability and tenderness—the Basic Goodness that is truly available to us when we let it shine through.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org