If planetary thinking requires that we embody the realization of groundlessness in a scientific culture, planetary building requires the embodiment of concern for the other with whom we enact a world. The tradition of mindfulness/awareness offers a path by which this may actually be brought about.
The mindfulness/awareness student first begins to see in a precise fashion what the mind is doing, its restless, perpetual grasping, moment to moment. This enables the student to cut some of the automaticity of his habitual patterns, which leads to further mindfulness, and he begins to realize that there is no self in any of his actual experience. This can be disturbing and offers the temptation to swing to the other extreme, producing moments of loss of heart. The philosophical flight into nihilism that we saw earlier in this chapter mirrors a psychological process: the reflex to grasp is so strong and deep seated that we reify the absence of a solid foundation into a solid absence or abyss.
As the student goes on, however, and his mind relaxes further into awareness, a sense of warmth and inclusiveness dawns. The street fighter mentality of watchful self-interest can be let go somewhat to be replaced by interest in others. We are already other-directed even at our most negative, and we already feel warmth toward some people, such as family and friends. The conscious realization of the sense of relatedness and the development of a more impartial sense of warmth are encouraged in the mindfulness/awareness tradition by various contemplative practices such as the generation of loving-kindness. It is said that the full realization of groundlessness (sunyata) cannot occur if there is no warmth.
For this reason, in the Mahayana tradition, which we have so far presented as being centrally concerned with groundlessness as sunyata, there is an equally central and complementary concern with groundlessness as compassion. In fact, most of the traditional Mahayana presentations do not begin with groundlessness but rather with the cultivation of compassion for all sentient beings. Nagarjuna, for example, states in one of his works that the Mahayana teaching has “an essence of emptiness and compassion.” This statement is sometimes paraphrased by saying that emptiness (sunyata) is full of compassion (karuna).
Thus sunyata, the loss of a fixed reference point or ground in either self, other, or a relationship between them, is said to be inseparable from compassion like the two sides of a coin or the two wings of a bird. Our natural impulse, in this view, is one of compassion, but it has been obscured by habits of ego-clinging like the sun obscured by a passing cloud.