From Ego to Enlightenment and a Review of Compassion

February 5, 2018 Group Meditation Part 2 of 2

This talk happened at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the talk, we suggest you listen to this guided loving-compassion meditation, which preceded the talk.

From Ego to Enlightenment & A Review of Compassion

We have been learning about the four kinds of love. Enlightened beings live perpetually in these four states of love. The loving states of Kindness, Peace, Compassion, and Joy provide us with all the flexibility we need to respond skillfully to any situation with love and truth.

The Three Stages: Egoic, Intentional Love, and True Love

After contemplating the content of my talks for some time, I am now going to define three distinct stages of growth on our spiritual path in relation to these states of love. Based on our cultural and biological conditioning, we all start in an egoic or deluded stage. That is stage one: egoic. Through these trainings we move into an intentional stage, where we bring skillful and loving intentions to bear on all situations and all of our actions. This stage can be challenging and difficult, but it is necessary for us to learn and grow and ultimately come out of our misery and abide in true love. Stage two is the intentional stage. Then, because we have learned so much by working with the intentional state, we enter the third stage where we experience true love in our life more and more until we stabilize it, and eventually abide in it, as a fully awakened being. Stage three is true love.

These stages are a gross simplification of our journey. In truth, the path is not linear and often goes back and forth between all of these stages quite frequently.

Still, I fear that my earlier talks may have confused people between the intentional stages, which you have more influence over being in, and true states of love, which arise out of living from the intentional stage.

I am going to use tonight’s talk in an attempt to clarify these stages for you more. 

The Enzymatic Power of Intentional Stages

All living organisms have enzymes. Enzymes make it easier for the organism to do chemical reactions that aid in digestion, metabolism, neutralizing toxins, and other vital functions. In order for chemical reactions to happen, they require a certain amount of “activation energy.” Enzymes act as catalysts for our bodies’ chemical reactions, by dramatically lowering the activation energy required to cause vital chemical reaction to occur. In other words, enzymes make it easier and quicker for needed chemical reactions to happen.

In our efforts to be free from suffering, we are trying to move from an egoic understanding of reality, to a loving and truthful understanding of reality. This transformation is like a chemical reaction and it requires a lot of activation energy to make the leap from ego to love. If given enough time, anyone who holds continuous mindfulness and a healthy curiosity about suffering, will eventually become fully enlightened. How much time does that require? Some teachers suggest it takes thousands of years and hundreds of lifetimes. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be nice if we had some enzymes to speed our transition from ego to enlightened? Thankfully, we do!

Loving Intentions Accelerate Spiritual Transformation

Loving intentions act as enzymes that accelerate our spiritual transformation. As we explore the four kinds of love, we see that there are certain intentions we can hold that, like enzymes, speed our ability to enter, stay in, and maintain these beautiful states of love.

Each kind of love has a different enzyme of intention. These intentions act as a bridge from our egoic state into an awakened one. Holding these skillful intentions from moment-to-moment precede and prepare us to abide for longer periods of time in the four states of love. To distinguish between the true state and the intentional state, we will call these intentional stages “intentional states” or “preparatory states.” When speaking of a specific type of love such as kindness, the intentional state will be called “pre-kindness” or “intentional kindness.”

Why is this distinction between the intentional state and true state important? Mainly because we cannot make ourselves feel true kindness, true peace, true compassion, or true joy any time we want to through an act of will. We have lots of conditioned delusion that gets in the way. Thankfully, we do have far more influence over our intentions, and with proper effort, we can mindfully live from pre-kindness, pre-peace, pre-compassion, and pre-joy in a way that can meet, skillfully respond to, and learn from all arising delusional conditioning. The more we do this, the more we will glimpse the true versions of these states, and develop our ability to live in them.

Moreover, although the four kinds of love can be quite blissful, the “intentional stages” are often a mixed bag of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.  These intentional stages are the testing grounds that allow us to learn what’s egoic and what’s not. In these preparatory stages, we need to incline the heart and mind a certain way and confront, investigate, and overcome the delusions that block us from experiencing the full states in all their glory. At times these intentional stages may be unpleasant, difficult, or challenging, but through these challenges we learn, grow, and let go of what blocks us from residing in true love.

Let’s look at each intentional stage now.

Intentional Kindness

Pre-kindness requires you to incline your mind to see the good in all people, all beings, all life forms, and all things. During pre-kindness, you need to remember that, “if it’s not kind, it’s not true,” and be mindful of all judgmental, hateful, and angry thoughts so they can be mentally jiu-jitsued into kind, truthful thoughts.

In this way, the judgmental thought, “It is wrong to hurt others,” is mentally jiu-jitsued into, “It is unskillful to hurt others, just as it is unskillful to judge others. People who hurt others are hurting. They are confused by delusion, which arises in them based on their conditioning, which they obtained through no fault of their own. Like all beings, their essential nature is love, compassion, peace, and joy, and we must do what we can to help them connect with their essential goodness.”

Intentional Peace

Pre-peace requires you to incline your mind to see the changing and unsatisfying nature of all possessions, relationships, reputations, and achievements. The more you realize that you cannot base your happiness on these external, changing things that you have no control over, the more stable and balanced your mind becomes with all of the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Pre-peace also requires you to mentally jiu-jitsu all greedy and aversive thoughts into truthful ones. The greedy thought, “I need this,” becomes “May I be peaceful, calm, balanced, and happy regardless of whether I possess this or not.” The aversive thought, “I don’t want to do that.” becomes, “May I do what is skillful with a peaceful and loving heart.” 

Intentional Compassion

Pre-compassion requires you to incline your heart to be open and feel suffering fully. Pre-compassion also requires you to incline the mind to see these unpleasant sensations of the heart as temporary, fleeting visitors that your heart is strong enough to hold. Seeing feelings as transitory visitors will help your mind remain balanced, stable, and unconfused by these powerful feelings.

When strong feelings are present, this often triggers thoughts and stories such as, “I can’t bear this!,” “This is too strong for me to hold!,” “If I feel this, I will go insane,” “My heart is breaking. I feel like I am dying,” or “I’m too weak, fragile, and wounded to hold this suffering.” All of these stories contain the delusion of self-view. These mental stories, if believed, will intensify your psychological suffering, and create a strong desire to check out and run away. In truth, no one has ever died from feeling their feelings, but many people have killed themselves or others in an attempt to not feel their feelings, or make their feelings go away.

As you open your heart to feeling unpleasant feelings, notice all of the stories that arise in the mind around them, and politically jiu-jitsu them. “I can’t bear this!” becomes “Not me, not mine,” which reminds us that these feelings and sensations are simply passing visitors who will leave on their own if left alone. Can we be kind, compassionate, and patient hosts to these visitors while they are present? Can we let them teach us courage, fearlessness, and any other lessons that they have to teach us? And can we let them go in love, when they are ready to move on?

In addition, pre-compassion is mindful of cruel thoughts that arise. These are thoughts that wish harm to yourself and others. Cruel thoughts include judgmental, blaming, and hateful thoughts. During pre-compassion, we remember that “If it is not compassionate, it is not true,” and we mentally jiu-jitsu cruel thoughts into kind counterparts. So the cruel thought, “I wish all Nazis would die a painful death,” becomes, “We must have compassion for Nazis, as they are suffering under delusion of arrogance which is causing them to harm themselves and others. May all Nazis be free from their suffering and know their deepest essence to be love, compassion, peace, and joy.”

By inclining the heart to be open to feeling suffering, and by inclining the mind to not be confused by these intense feelings, and by using mental jiu-jitsu to weed out all cruel thoughts, pre-compassion sets the stage for us to experience full or true compassion.

Intentional Joy

Since we are talking about joy next week, I will discuss pre-joy then.

Those are the intentional versions of the loves of kindness, peace, and compassion. Given these examples of intentional states, it is clear that a level of effort is needed to change over from an egoic view of the world to a universal, inclusive, enlightened one. These intentional states require a level of effort, but by helping to clarifying where to put your energy, like an enzyme, they decrease the amount of effort needed and speed your transition from an egoic experience to an enlightened one.

Spiritual Growth is Not Linear

Unlike enzymes, however, our spiritual progress is rarely linear. Spiritual growth involves many forwards as well as backwards steps. We may experience a variety of egoic, intentional, and enlightened moments in rapid succession from moment to moment every day.

Because of this, we need to be patient with the process and measure our progress over six-month, or year-long, increments of time. This allows us to more clearly see lasting changes in our attitudes and behaviors, rather than trying to measure our progress from moment-to-moment or day-to-day, where wild fluctuations between egoic and non-egoic states often occur.

I hope this adds some clarity between the distinctions I am drawing between intentional states, which you have a lot of influence to implement in your life, and the true states of love, which you will experience more and more as you work with these intentional states.

Compassion Review

Now for a review of last week's topic of compassion.

Compassion is the love that is willing to meet and embrace suffering. Compassion confronts suffering with an open heart and a balanced mind, just as a loving mother cares for her sick child. Compassion moves us to take skillful actions that reduce the suffering in the world. Compassion feels like a beautiful sensation that is a mixture of both suffering and freedom from suffering.

Compassion is neither pity, which has a closed heart, nor overwhelm, which has an unbalanced mind. Kindness is the antidote to pity, and joy is the antidote to overwhelm.

Before we experience true compassion in all of its full glory, we often have to commit to being compassionate and living from the intentional state of pre-compassion. During pre-compassion, we open our heart to feeling suffering, while keeping our mind spacious and balanced and aware that feelings are temporary visitors who are “not me, not mine,” and nothing to take personally.

During pre-compassion, we use mental jiu-jitsu to transform the hateful, cruel, and judgmental stories in our minds into love and truth. By working with pre-compassion we see the lie in all kinds of cruel thoughts, and set them down like a useless bag of bricks.

Because compassion is one aspect of love, compassion is part of our essential nature. It is who we are and it is boundless, inclusive, and unconditional in nature. Compassion can be given to everyone and everything, including to those who might perceive as  “enemies.”

Compassion is a very strong, courageous, fearless, and energizing state. Because it is essential to our fundamental nature, that means it is also essential to the fundamental nature of all life.

Compassion is Fundamental to Nature

Now, the ego in us misunderstands and mistrusts compassion. The ego then judges its distorted view of compassion to be weak or soft. The ego views life as cruel, violent, and dangerous. Our egos may even look at how some animals kill and eat other animals as evidence that nature is dangerous and cruel.

But does this understanding give us a complete picture of nature? When we open to the idea that compassion is fundamental to how the universe works, we see examples of that compassion throughout all of nature.

We see compassion within species: The mother cat who rescued her kittens from a burning building and suffered numerous burns as a result (See the article and photos here. WARNING: The images may be disturbing as the mother cat is scarred and disfigured from the fire.) The mother hen who dies while protecting her chicks from predatory hawks. The elephants who mourn the death of another elephant.

We also see compassion between the species. National Geographic made famous the pictures of the polar bear playing with a tethered dog. There are also many examples of other species saving human beings: Snort, a pet pig who saved her human family from dying of carbon monoxide poisoning (von Kreisler, pp. 1-7). The three beavers who prevented a child in the woods from dying of hypothermia. Priscilla, the pet pig who rescued a drowning boy. The dolphins who protected a sinking ship victim from a shark attack and helped her cross 200 miles of ocean to reach a buoy where she was able to be rescued (Robbins, pp. 24-25).

The ego disbelieves or discounts these stories as flukes. But when we step outside of our egoic view that sees the world as dangerous, threatening, and scary, we see that compassion permeates all of nature. The sun freely gives of her light and warmth to feed all of the trees and plants and allow all life on this planet to live and thrive.

Trees freely give oxygen that enables all animals to live. Trees also hold the soils in place so they do not erode away, provide homes and food for wildlife, and much, much more. In my naturalist studies, I often hear how trees actively compete to outgrow each other for sunlight. It is made out to be a zero-sum game of competition. In truth, scientists are now learning what native and traditional cultures have intuitively known for millennia, that trees in a forest work cooperatively to help each other out.

In cooperation with the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, trees create what plant scientist Merlin Sheldrake calls the Wood Wide Web. Through this underground web, trees within the forest share nutrients with each other and warn each other of pests and diseases. Trees also warn neighboring trees of potential threats using airborne hormones, but the Wood Wide Web allows them to be more specific as to what the threat is.

As we come out of our egoic delusions, we see more clearly how everything works together compassionately to support, sustain, and help each other thrive. As we come out of delusion, we let go of our fears, and like the sun, we live with a warm, radiant compassion that is willing to serve so that all life may thrive.


Because our conditioning has created egos in our culture that are very distrustful of the compassion in nature, I have included links and sources for my information. The NPR article about the polar bear playing with the dog shows the egos conditioning to not see compassion in nature. The photos were initially disbelieved by many people. Their egos assumed that the photographer had staged the photos, allowed the dog to be mauled to death, and then made up a story of how they were playing. 

The Compassion of Animals: True Stories of Animal Courage and Kindness by Kristen von Kreisler. 1997.

Diet for a New America  by John Robbins. 1987.