A few years ago I attended a very interesting ecumenical meeting in Boston with rabbis, priests and pastors, imams, roshis, swamis, and spiritual leaders from multiple traditions, and I met a minister from Texas. I think she was a Methodist.
During a break we started chatting over coffee and she told me this story: One night after Bible class, she was robbed at gunpoint in the church parking lot. A man stuck a revolver in this gentle lady’s face and demanded her wallet. The minister spontaneously opened her purse, handed the man her money, and said, “I wish I had more to give you. I love you.” The minister told me this in the most unselfconscious way. It was no big deal to her, because her heart/mind had been so well trained and steadied over years, if not lifetimes.
I think you have to love first and see second. The minister must have developed that capacity to love and then see, through her own path. That’s heart/mind training. She applied the mind-training slogan, “I love you.” The right practice led to the right response at precisely the right moment.
How would you react if you were alone in a parking lot at night and a masked man stuck a gun in your face? Would you pass the Bodhisattva test: What would the Dalai Lama do? The minister’s mind was trained and purified—open, pliable, undefended—so she was able to connect to something greater than and far more profound than the momentary robbery. She saw herself and Jesus and the Buddha in the robber, and intuitively felt their commonality. That’s the level of connection through inter-meditation I want to impart. It is crucial for our times—far more important than simply meditating and trying to be peaceful, or even merely mindful, without insightful and empathic compassion. I’m tired of fiddling while Rome burns.
After I’d thought about the minister’s story for a while, I asked her how she managed to be like that—not in theory, but in reality. She said, “I just saw the fearful, lovable child beneath the dark Halloween mask.” (Just like seeing the inner babies beneath the hardened masks of people in the subway.) That’s both an inter-meditation—a moment of intentional connection—and an argument for having Lojong (“taming” or “mastering”—you might even say retooling and refining—our attitude, awareness, and habitual ways of thinking) in our toolkit as a portal and precipitant to genuinely transformative practice. (Tibetan Buddhists consider Lojong to be the most powerful agent for sacred transformation and daily-life character development.)
"She saw herself and Jesus and the Buddha in the robber, and intuitively felt their commonality."
To make the journey from the big head to the big heart—from perceiving unwanted circumstances as enemies to regarding them as teachers and change-agents—we must take conscious steps to loosen our egotism. If we do this, eventually we will behave like the Methodist minister from Texas did when she encountered the robber in the parking lot. She empathized with the would-be mugger and trenchantly perceived what was beneath his violent mask. She connected with his pure and uncorrupted innermost spiritual essence, as a troubled and lost child of God—to use her words—and chose love, in that very moment, eschewing fear in favor of connection and the divine embrace of inter-being. This is how inter-meditation opens us up into Divine love in human form. The minister embodied this Lojong aphorism:
“Since unwholesome thoughts and harmful actions are everywhere, integrate them into the path of transformation leading to enlightenment.”
But there’s a little more to her story. Ten years after that robbery, a guy in a suit approached her after Sunday service in church. He was polite and respectful to the point of reverence, and then he asked, “Do you remember me?”
The minister answered honestly: “No.”
And the man said, “I remember you. You totally changed my life.”
With a flash of realization, she recognized the man in that dark parking lot so long ago. And then he told her the story from his side; although he had taken her money away, what stayed with him much longer was her message.
The minister’s words, her actions, her stopping to breathe in the evil and release the good in that very moment transformed the man and opened up a better path for him. I can never think about what she said without tearing up:
I wish I had more to give you. I love you.
Adapted from Make Me One with Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken from the Illusion of Separation by Lama Surya Das. Copyright © 2015 by Lama Surya Das. To be published by Sounds True in May 2015.
Lama Surya Das is one of the most learned and highly trained American-born lamas in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. Surya is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, MA and Austin, TX, and the author of many books, including the international bestseller, Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books, 1997) and Awakening to the Sacred (Harmony, 1999). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts. For more information, visit surya.org.