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Practice of Compassion

Practice of Compassion

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Published by Min Bahadur Shakya
it contains the types of compassion and way to practice it.
it contains the types of compassion and way to practice it.

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Published by: Min Bahadur Shakya on Mar 01, 2012
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by Min Bahadur Shakya Director Nagarjuna Inc.

The importance of compassion is emphasized nowhere in any literature of religion than in: Buddhism, or more specifically Mahayana in particular. The Altruistic concept of relieving sufferings of all sentient beings of this ten thousand World systems has been the common theme of the Bodhisattva path. In the past mother India produced a galaxy of great Bodhisattvas like Acharya Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Bodhibhadra, Acharya Shanti Deva and so forth and filled Indian Society with the attitude like loving kindness, compassion, tolerance, nonviolence at top priority.People look Indian sub-continent for source and inspiration for these spiritual values. The word ‘Karuna’ can be rendered in English as ‘love’ ‘pity’ ‘mercy’ ‘compassion’. No one word can suffice to convey the meaning of Karuna. As such all the words together give the approximate meaning or nearest meaning. Now let us give some meanings of this word ‘Karuna’ as expressed in various passages of traditional root texts and commentaries of Mahayana Buddhist literature. According to Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita, a bodhisattva shows his Karuna chiefly by resolving to suffer the torments and agonies of the hell realms during innumerable kalpas, if need be, so that he may lead all beings to Perfect Enlightenment.1 To the same theme First Panchen Lama has declared2: Even if we must remain for as ocean of aeons in the fiery Hells of Avici even for the sake of one sentient beings We take our blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort To strive with compassion for Supreme Enlightenment and not be discouraged. Similarly long long ago Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha made a solemn vow as follows: “I now determine to relive the suffering of beings in the six realms of suffering and sorrow, skillfully leading them to Salvation through kalpas, before I myself attain Buddhahood.”3 Thus for relieving the suffering of beiongs in the Hell realms this Boddhisattva preferred to stay in Hell than to stay in some paradises. He is cansumed with grief on account of suffering of others and those not care for his own happiness.

1 2

See Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita edited by P. Ghosh (Calcutta 1902-13 in Bibliotheca Indica (1461.8 ff) See ‘Guru Puja’ by First Panchen Lama (p. 49 verse 104) published by Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1981. 3 Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva eas noted for this compassion and sympathy through kalpas and kalpas by making innumerable vows to lead the erring world to Salvation. For details of his innumerable vows see “Bilingual sutra on the original vows and the attainment of merits of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’ translated from Chinese into English by Miss Pitt Chin Hui published by “Self Existing Wisdom Vajrayana Dharma Society, Kuala Lampur, Malaysia (1959).

From above questions it is clear that Great compassion and Bodhimind are inseparable. Vrious Mahayana authors have spoken about this virtue ‘Karuna’. Great Acharya Aryashura has declared in ‘Seventy stanzas’ thus:4 Just as mothers out of affection for an ailing son in talking his burden on themselves, (suffer) accordingly so will I work to enhance my compassion towards each and every on going sentient being. Thus Aryashura teaches that Mercy is really the heart of ethics and religion, as wickedness and corruption will be impossible, when all beings human beings in particular learn to love others as their only cherished son. In the Dharmasangiti Sutra also this point is stressed that for a bodhisattva no other activity is fitting for him, except working for the benefit of others. Because in his continuum of mind his svartha (self-interest) = His interest for others. As His Holiness Dalai Lama has said, “If you are interested to work for self then include all beings in your self i. e. Supreme Self or Super Self. Also in Dharma Sangiti Sutra it teaches that a bodhisattva ned not learn many virtues but only Great compassion which leads to the acquisition of all the attributes of Buddhahood. Atisha in his lamp for the path to Enlightenment defines a superior person as one who has great compassion. Thus it is said: 5 “One who wholly seeks a complete end to the entire suffering of others because their suffering belongs to his own conscious stream that person is a superior. Shanti Deva in his Bodhicaryavatara goes so far as to declare that even liberation is superfluous if mahakaruna is mistress of his mind. Classification According to the traditional literature compassion are said to be of three types. 6 a) Sattvalambana Karuna (observing sentient beings) b) dharmalambana Karuna (observing phenomena) c) analambana Karuna (observing unapprehendable) These three are great compassions each observing all sentient beings and has a aspect of wishing that these beings be free from misery. They differ greatly from the compassions of shravaka and Pratyeka Buddha. Although Shravaka and Pratyeka Buddha generate compassion observing limitless number of sentient beings they do not develop the unusual attitude form of compassion, the willingness to take the burden of protecting the sentient beings on themselves.


Great Buddhist Poet Aryashura has written this great vows out of mercy for all sentient beings when he was performing the great deeds of compassion similar to Bodhisattva Mahasattva in the story to Tigers and five cubs. For his vows see ‘Aryasura’ sA Aspiration in seventy stanzas ‘translated and edited by B. C. Beresford, Do boom Tulku, Gonsar Tulku Sherpa Tulku published by LTWA, Dharmasala. India (p. 41 v. no. 49) 1979. 5 See Atisha’s A Lamp for the Path and commentary translated and annotated by Richard Sherburne, SJ in Wisdom of Tibet Series-5 published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1983. (p. 5) 6 For three types of compassion see “Compassion: a tibetan analysis” by Guy Newland, Wisdom publications 1984 (p. 55)

a) Compassion observing sentient beings means that compassion arises by seeing the suffering of sentient beings in lower realms. Due to grasping at truly existent ‘I’ or self grasping the sentient beings creates mass of afflictions, such as desire, anger which leads sentient beings into lower realms. With great effort the beings get the causes of happy realm. Even if they get the happy rebirth the beings commit non-virtuous deeds all the time generating the causes of lower rebirths. Thus wandering in the cyclic existence the beings suffer greatly. So the bodhisattvas generates compassion of first type with a desire to free their sufferings. b) Compassion observing phenomena means that the bodhisattva after realizing the true nature turns away his mind from the concept of true nature of phenomena turns away his mind from the mind arises due to the other beings who are ignorant of this knowledge. According to Buddhist philosophy sentient beings are not permanent and independent. Due to cause and conditions the aggregates of body and mind seemed to arise, abide and disintegrate moment by moment and lacks substantial identity of their own, compassion arises on beings who believe in permanent nature of the self and solidity of the things. The third compassion means that having understood and realized the true nature of all entities by direct perception compassion arises in particular for sentient beings who lack true existence. How to develop Great Compassion The great virtue compassion is natural and innate in all sentient beings even in such ferocious beasts as lions. It can be develop to fullest extent by practice. Since the practice of the bodhisattva is based on the development of great compassion in it’s all stages and paths, great compassion is prerequisite for a novice bodhisattva. It is important in the beginning, important in the middle and important in the end. Various methods are explained in the traditional texts in order to develop compassion. However, some of the features of these techniques are explained below: First method 7 is our capacity for feeling deep compassion for our mother, if she is beaten, burnt alive or in very cold weathers her body cracks. Again when terrible hunger and thirst suffer her, suffers from terrible disease and when she is depressed with anxiety and fear. Also when she has become very old and feeble and being powerless she is enslaved by others and is beaten to death. So in this way if our mother is struct by misery then compassion must be generated in the desire to liberate them. Now since we have taken countless births and in each births we have mothers who spared no pains to protect and shelter us. So all the beings who are now in hells,preta realms, animals are in fact have been our mother compassion must be generated to liberate them from suffering and it cause thinking that it is the duty and responsibility of only son of his mother to relieve suffering of her mother.


This method was described in ‘Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ of Gampopa translated by H. V. Guenther (p. 96)

2. The second method is the seven instructions of cause and effect8 for the generation of Bodhicitta. The fifth stage in this meditation process is the generation of Great compassion. The being with a bodhisattva neutralizes his biased attitude of relationship as friends, enemies and strangers. He then establishes his relationship as his cherished mother in the first stage. In the second stage he recollects the kindness of his cherished mother. In the third stage he makes a strong resolution to repay the kindness. In the fourth stage he cultivates a powerful form of love thinking that “May I be the cause of this person’s happiness and its cause. The fifth stage of the practice of great compassion. To begin with he thinks that it would be very nice if this person be free from suffering and its cause and then subsequently he thinks that this person might be free from suffering and its causes. Lately he makes a strong determination that he will take the responsibility of taking the burden of freeing the suffering of all the mother sentient beings. In the sixth stage the practice of unusual attitude. He willingly takes the burden of freeing all sentient being from misery and establishing them in supreme happiness. In the last stage he aspires to be a Buddha in order to accomplish his responsibility successfully. 3. The third method is to generate great compassion through ‘Exchange of self with others’.9 The method of development constitute two stages practice: viz: a) Equality of oneself and others. b) Exchange of self with others. This stage of teaching is explained elaborately in Santi Dewa’s Bodhicaryavattra (verses no. 90-183). It is also stressed in Arya Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali. Shanti Deva in his Siksha Samuccaya wrote thus in the first verse:10 Since I and my fellow-being abhor pain and fear alike what distinction can I rightly make for self, that I should preserve it and not another. Also in Guru Puja First Panchen Lama declares: 11 There is no difference between ourselves and others No one wishes even the slightest suffering or is ever content with the happiness he has Realising this, we seek your blessings that we may enhance the bliss and joy of others From above citation it is clear that all the sentient beings are the same in desiring happiness and not wishing suffering. We can give countless reasons to prove that one should generate compassion and not adhere to selfish purpose only. Since pain and fear are disliked by all one should not help only to the friends and hate the enemies. We must also generate compassion towards complete strangers too. Now one may have some doubt whether we should generate compassion to our enemies. The reason that enemies should not be helped is absolutely wrong. Since we are practicing dharma to attain the supreme goal of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, neglecting to help the enemies is biased and unreasonable. According to Shanti Deva, the author of Bodhicaryavatara the enemies are kinder than the friends. They give us the chance to practice the perfection of patience

Seven Instructions of Cause and Effect was explained in detail by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his ‘A Meditation on Compassion’ published by LTWA, Dharamasala 1979. 9 Ibid p. 122-143 10 See Siksha Samuccaya translated by Cecil Bendal and WHD Rouse, Motolal Banarsidas, p. 3 11 See ‘Guru Puja’ by First Panchen Lama p. 45 Verse 90

without which the Boddhahood is impossible. When an enemy harms us our bad karma becomes purified and thus the prerequisites for enlightenment are accumulated and finally we awaken to Buddhahood. In fact the enemies are true yardstick of our mental development. So the Bodhisattvas of past feeling great compassion for the enemies offered and dedicated his merits first to the enemies and then to the rest. In all four Tibetan Buddhist traditions a devotee when taking refuge visualizes his enemies at front side, parents at right side and the rest at left side. Thus by above reasons it is clear that the enemies are kinder than the friends are hence we should not exclude any beings. We must direct our thoughts and actions compassionately to all beings without excluding any. Thus one must have an equal thought of benefiting all sentient beings without discrimination. These and other reasons described in the Patience Chapter of Bodhicaryavarata a practitioner generates compassion to all sentient beings irrespective of stranger, enemies, and friends. b) Exchanging Self with others: Before actual practice of “Exchanging of Self with others” takes places it is necessary to contemplate” Cherishing of others and its importance”. Since we have contemplated that the beings are equal in wishing for happiness and not wishing for misery compassion arises naturally in relation to his degree of understanding of equality of self and others. In the story of tigers and its five cubs prince -: Mahasattva felt unbearable compassion with the suffering of tigers so he offered his own body to the tigers whereas his brothers were unable to realize the equality of self with others that is why they went elsewhere neglecting the hunger of the tigers. Besides, through constant practice of equality of self and others the thought of cherishing of others arises and the thought of self-cherishing diminishing gradually. Not only this, we must also contemplate on the faults of self-cherishing thought. It is said that self cherishing mind is the source of all problems and fears. It is clear from pur daily life experience. For example: when we meet other people more wealthy, better looking, better educated than ourselves, we feel painful at our heart. We feel jealous of them. Instead of rejoicing, the selfish thought gives rise to a jealous mind causing much pain in the heart. ii) Another example is that Shakyamuni Buddha left so many profound teachings for us to liberated from suffering to achieve Bodhi mind. By his teaching so many beings were liberated during his lifetime and even after him, Great Maha Siddhas, famous Pandits and Yogis such as Saraha, Nagarjuna, Asanga, Santi Deva, Naropa and Milarepa each one of them led so many sentient beings to enlightenment. But we did not come in that group. We are still in samsara having no realization. Our actions are following the path of suffering. This is the fault of self-cherishing mind. But if we think and investigate deeply how happiness and comforts occur, the answer is that we get happiness by depending on the kindness of other sentient beings. From our daily life experiences the comfort and enjoyment that we enjoy, we receive by depending on the kindness of sentient beings. For example when we are living in comfort in a beautiful apartment, it looks like everything exists by itself. But if you examine deeply, many beings or people have suffering much to actualize that place. Even our beautiful

clothes, which we wear to protect from heat or cold, came from the kindness of many sentient beings. For that many sentient beings were killed to take fur or something like that. Many beings suffered for actualizing these clothes. Even our business affairs depend much on the kindness of many sentient beings. Without consumers our product and its utility becomes meaningless. Progress in business affairs depends on how he values other beings. So, the important of others is unquestionable even in our everyday business affairs, what more to talk of in spiritual life? Bodhisattva Santi Deva said: 12 The childish work for their own welfare while Buddhas work for the welfare of others Look at this difference What is the need to say more? From time immemorial people have been concerned with their own welfare. What has been result? They are still in the ocean of suffering of Samsara. On the other hand, the Buddhas have totally sacrificed themselves for the welfare of others whom they cherish and hold most dear. As a result they have gained perfect enlightenment and thus have become the refuge and guide of all other beings. Thus knowing the value of importance of others a bodhisattva generates his compassion holding other sentient beings extremely dear. Regarding it Bodhisattva Lang-ri Thang-pa says: 13 Being determined to accomplish the highest welfare for all beings who excel the wish fulfilling gem I shall constantly hold them dear. Thus we can give innumerable citations from the saying of great bodhisattvas, Siddhas and Pandits. Seeing the supreme importance of cherishing of others the great beings value others more than his or her own self. Now the question may arise how is it possible to cherish limitless sentient beings? The answer is that through constant familiarity. As we different parts of our body we cherish all the parts of the body equality through constant familiarity as one unit. Similarly through practice we can cherish all the beings as the very limbs of our body. These practices are so easy to talk with but very difficult to put them into practice. It is so because we are familiar with self-cherishing mind. But bodhisattvas can exchange his happiness with the suffering of others. Arya Nagarjuna states in his Ratnavali thus: 14 May their sins ripen for me And all my virtues for them. Also Geshe Langri Thangpa in his ‘Thought transformation in eight stanzas says like this:15 In short, I shall offer benefit and bliss to all mothers in this actual life and in the future continuum, s and secretly I shall take upon myself

See Bodhicaryavatara translated by Stephen Batchelor chapter 8 LTWA publications (p. 120, v. 130)1981. 13 See ‘ Advice from a spritual friend’ by Geshe Rabten & Geshe Ngawang Dhargyay published by Wisdom Culture, New Delhi 1977 (p. 16) 14 See ‘Precious Garland’ translated by Jeffrey Hepkins and Lati Rinpoche with Anne Klein, Vikas Publishing House 1975 15 Also see ‘Advice from a Spritual friend’ p. 17

all of the harms and suffering of my mothers. These and other statements are not only the bare statements written in the books there are countless examples of outstanding deeds of great compassion performed by the bodhisattvas of the past and the present, based on Exchange of Self with others. So far we have discussed the technique of generating compassion of first type only. The second and third type of compassions are not discussed here for practical reasons. They are however compassions realizing emptiness. Such a compassions are generating when the bodhisattva attains the path of seeing (darsana marga) or the first bhumi ‘Joyous One’. Conclusion: In this paper an humble attempt has been made to describe the methods of generating compassion according to traditional methods.Here these issues are not attempted to discuss but simply to glorify the value of compassion in this present day world to get peace and happiness. As His Holiness Dalai Lama says: If you are unable to exchange your happiness for the suffering of other beings, You have no hope of attaining Buddhahood Nor even of happiness in this present life. Although these practices are very difficult to perform, it is absolutely necessary for us to make an effort to generate them within ourselves. Buddha teaches these practice and techniques for the sole purpose of benefiting sentient beings. For generating an attitude of benefiting others with the force of compassion and mercy one need not be a Buddhist. Every body irrespective of caste, creed, sex and dogma can practice. Besides, the above practice is not based without reason or logic. It is due to our self-cherishing mind that we question the validity of teaching like this. May all beings attain Perfect bliss.

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