Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Compassion is a word that’s often encountered in Buddhism. In a few words, compassion is concern for other beings.
It doesn’t matter if other beings are humans, or birds, or cats, or reptiles. Compassion is not assignable. It’s all-inclusive.
Like Zen is Zen, compassion is compassion.
Guatama Buddha described compassion as that which makes one’s heart move at the pain of others.
The Buddha was asked by one of his followers if compassion was a part of their practice.
“No,” the Buddha answered. “The cultivation of compassion is all of our practice.”
Advance warning: I’m going to do considerable wandering this evening. I may even sound like I’m moralizing or sermonizing, which I’m not.
I may raise a lot of questions and offer not many answers, but that will be good. The answers are up to you.
Each of you, ask yourself, what do you do really well? What do you feel comfortable with in yourself? Happy with? Easy with? Fulfilled by?
It might be a skill such as speed-skating, or a talent such as painting. It could be cooking, or philosophizing, or speaking in public.
What do you have an aptitude for?
Don’t worry. I won’t ask you to speak out.
Just think of one or two things you are good at.
All right. Whatever you choose about yourself aren’t holy gifts bestowed on you by a kindly master of the universe.
They aren’t divine favors.
They are accomplishments you have involved yourself with over time, and in which you have trained yourself, because they felt right and good for you.
They are you.
Think about this. When you perform your “things,” you are practicing your way. Each person has his or her own way, his or her own realization of self. One person’s way is no better, no worse, than any other person’s way.
I won’t mention the talents of terrorists or corrupt politicians.
Now brace yourself because I’m going to veer off in another direction.
As you know, when I teach Zen I usually lecture a blend of Zen and Zen Buddhism.
I do this for a couple of reasons.
If I were to teach Zen I wouldn’t be sitting here talking in circles. I can’t say for sure what I might be doing, but it would probably be something much more spontaneous.
As an example, QUATZ!
That might be easier on me or more natural for me. But it could be difficult for you.
Remember that Zen is a name for the ultimate basis of all thought and being, for something that is independent of, and unrelated to, anything else. Because Zen is beyond the grasp of the relative mind, it can’t be simply defined or easily explained.
As I said earlier, Zen is Zen. It has to be experienced.
So in my teaching it’s helpful for all concerned to combine Zen with Zen Buddhism, and make occasional reference to Zen Buddhism, which is more traditional.
In Zen Buddhism you may come across the word Tathagata in reference to the Buddha. Thathagata sounds like something gee-whiz holy or sacred. However, it means one who has come and gone this way.
Isn’t that an interesting scrap of trivia?
Never mind what the point of that is. Just remember that if space really is curved, as some cosmologists claim, all these seemingly irrelevant asides will eventually bounce back, combine, and make fabulous sense.
Now, back to the start of this talk: the subject of compassion.
Compassion has to do with understanding or perceiving the feelings of others. Of course, it’s impossible for one person to understand totally how another person feels. But one can have a sympathetic insight into the feelings of others.
That’s what compassion is about.
I have three good friends who are suffering from life-threatening situations. I can’t possibly feel what they feel, physically or emotionally. But I can be aware of their misfortune, and I can be sensitive to it even though I can’t do much about it.
That’s compassion.
In Buddhism a bodhisattva is a person who is not seeking enlightenment for only himself. A bodhisattva wants to help all other beings realize their Buddha-nature. A bodhisattva is dedicated to compassion, to the effort of relieving the suffering of all beings.
Isn’t someone who is wholly devoted to something attached to that devotion?
And if a person is obsessed with the idea of compassion, won’t that person want to be good to someone who might not want or need such help? If an individual who is happy living frugally and close to nature is presented with a bundle of money, that person’s happy life is likely to be destroyed.
The point here is, you should watch where your compassion might lead you.
Another aside. When you read or hear that a bodhisattva is dedicated to saving all forms of life, that word “saving” shouldn’t be taken in the so-called religious sense. In the Christian sense, when a person is saved it means he or she comes to believe the man Jesus Christ is the son of God and, traditionally in most churches, when one is saved they are spared an endless vacation in Hell.
In Christianity, the savior of humankind is Jesus.
The Buddha is not a savior of anything. In Buddhism, “saving” refers to personal enlightenment. So if, in Buddhism, you hear of saving all living beings, it means helping them to gain awakening, helping them to achieve self-realization.
That’s compassion.
If we think of compassion as a human act of kindness, this isn’t compassion but self-serving. It is self-praise in a conscious effort to do good. There’s nothing bad about wanting to do good. But when we can practice compassion intuitively—when we can live compassion—then we are sharing our enlightenment with all forms of life.
The British Buddhist scholar Christmas Humphries mentions, in A Western Approach to Zen, one student’s view of compassion:
“The deepening understanding of the oneness of life produces an equally growing compassion for all forms of life. Then the stone is my brother . . . . But I must have experienced it myself.”
When Philip Kapleau (author of The Three Pillars of Zen was asked where compassion fitted into Zen, he answered, “Where doesn’t it fit into Zen? Then he added that compassion, like love, isn’t something one talks about.
He told a story about an ancient Chinese governor who spent several days with a Zen master. When the official was ready to return to the capital the master asked, “How will you supervise the people?”
The governor answered, “With compassion and wisdom.”
“Then,” the master answered, “every last one of them will be the worse off.”
According to Kapleau, a truly benevolent person doesn’t trumpet his or her benevolence. Such a quality should be so deeply engrained as to be second nature. It is a manifestation of one’s true self.
One’s true self is not second nature.
True self is first nature.


Anonymous BellBookCandleSupply said...

Practicing buddhism sustain a wholesome life that brings good karma in our daily living. All positive enlightenment is attained if one focuses on right words, thoughts and deeds. Establishing the right mindset, anyone can live a happy and blessed life.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009 9:08:00 PM  
Blogger prasath said...

this topic is spot on to doubt I had.. but the doubt extends.. Why help others to become enlighten. .. why we should at all be enlightened... I mean why are we to seek the true nature..
The usual answer is to eliminate suffering. But why is eliminating suffering a good thing ? I mean we arent supposed to be dualistic right.. Thanks for reading this rant :)

Thursday, March 03, 2011 2:11:00 AM  
Blogger Xejn Assolut said...

prasath, I feel exactly as you do and it's quite confusing... I have no answer though. All I know is that i like compassion, that's all. Does this make sense?

Saturday, September 24, 2011 5:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@prasath, I keep asking myself a similar question... if we aren't supposed to be dualistic, and matter cannot be created nor destroyed, what keeps ourselves from killing off each other or ourselves? I like compassion, but what does that even mean when death is just a rearrangement of matter?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think discussing compassion is self serving. Or to gain merit for yourself. Not in all cases. You can't just "be" Buddhism because talking about it is self serving. Compassion is the corner stone of Buddhism.

I talked about a homeless man that I was able to give five dollars over the Christmas holiday at a family meal. My father asked me why I was bragging. But in fact, I was so happy to share the money with someone and truly make them happy - I wanted to express it. It's that simple.

I think the Chinese governor that is mentioned at the end of the article has to be taken in context of politics. Because politicians (even today as everyone knows) love to speak but don't act accordingly during elections. They love to hold up babies in front of cameras, say what great people they are and lie about all the amazing powers they have. At least that's the way I took it.

Sunday, January 05, 2014 6:47:00 PM  

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