It's been awhile since I have talked about the Hinayana path, the path of the Lesser Vehicle. In a sense it is ironic, and perhaps particularly pertinent, for the Hinayana path has one characteristic that makes it stand out from the higher paths of the Mahayana and Vajrayana: It calls.
Oh yes, the Hinayana calls. The call of Hinayana is the pain of life. Whereas the compassion of Mahayana may be brushed off by the ones wrapped in illusion (in spite of the infinite joy it brings the masters), the Hinayana is very in your face, very real. It is the call of level 3 on the awareness scale. (Those who have heard me speak of the levels know that level 4 is the beginning of the enlightenment levels, the heart of the Greater Vehicle of Mahayana.)
For those who fall from enlightenment (oh yes, it's possible), the call of Hinayana is also the final call to return to the path. And it is simple pain. It is the mental anguish that arises from holding too tightly onto a paradigm of pain. And we fight for our beliefs. There is a realness to it. We want things to be our way, but in the gripping of the whole structure, we hurt ourselves. In truth, we cannot really hurt ourselves, but it seems that way.
"Pain is the beginning of awareness..."
And hence, as we go through life, the more observant tend to eventually learn some of the lessons of Hinayana. As Alex, close mentor and friend, pointed out to me once when I was on that path, "Watch the old people. They learnt something. They've learnt not to fight with life, but to ride the flow." And so it is. The Hinayana path does not ask you to develop supernatural powers. It notices that life rises and falls, that is sometimes moves with you and sometimes against you. That's it. Not a very religious observation at all, but this is the heart of the Four Noble Truths, in my humble interpretation.
So the antidote of Hinayana is acceptance. Easy, simple acceptance of life as it comes. When we argue with reality, we lose, but always. When we accept it, agree with it, dance with it, it becomes kinder, more open, more loving. And there is not even a requirement that you drastically change your beliefs. One aspect of this is the feedback loop - if you feel pain, you are thinking or gripping something in your mind which goes contrary to your current condition. That is why some meditation practices encourage meditation on the impermanence of life - it is to remind you, to fixate your awareness on the fact that "this, too, shall pass".
Compassion is the path of the noble-hearted amongst us. That is the beginning (and end) of the path of the bodhisattvas, the Mahayana. If you are not feeling noble, though, end your pain. Thoughts can be so heavy they weigh us down so we feel we cannot move, cannot get up. That is depression, pure and simple. The antidote is acceptance.