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"Compassion ", According To Buddhism

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Posted by Glenn on June 13, 2003 04:14:07 UTC


You quote:

"While Buddha says "be compassionate" but can only offer self-enlightenment as the only justification for compassionate behaviour, Christ says "be compassionate" because compassion is part of God's nature. According to Buddha, compassion is a tool to avoid one's suffering rather than alleviate someone else's..."

Unlike other religious philosophies or systems of religious thought, Buddhism makes no clear distinction between divinity and humanity. Its teachings enable people to attain enlightenment, to become Buddhas themselves. But specifically, the Lotus Sutra alone makes Buddhahood accessible to all people. The Buddha can in no way be defined as a transcendental or supreme being. "Buddha" means the Enlightened One; a Buddha is a person who perceives within his own life the essence, or reality of life. This ultimate reality supports and nourishes humanity and all other living beings. Those who have perceived this ultimate reality inherent in their own lives truly know themselves; they are Buddhas.

Socrates' words, "Know thyself," have posed a problem which philosophy, down through history, has attempted to answer. Buddhism expounded about one hundred years before the age of Socrates, provided a concrete answer, but it was long obscured by the esoteric tendencies among early Buddhist scholars. The Buddhist philosophy is actually the revelation of a very practical way to bring out the true self, as opposed to the phenomenal self, as one moves toward perfection. It is not metaphysical speculation. Buddhism is basically a practical system of teachings providing a means to realize the ideal state of Buddhahood, which is self-perfection.

Buddhists perceive the ultimate reality of life equally within all human beings, and accordingly respect the dignity of all people. As one begins to recognize this, one understands that one must awaken others to the dignity of their own lives. One's belief urges one to teach and help others awaken to the ultimate reality existing within so that they can create truly happy lives. In that way one is helping others attain Buddhahood. Those who truly strive for the sake of others are called "bodhisattvas." The power, which infuses them with the desire to help others, is the impartial and infinite compassion of the Buddha called jihi.

In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist texts, including Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, the word for compassion comprises two Chinese characters. It is pronounced ci bei in Chinese and jihi in Japanese. The first character, ci or ji, is a translation of the Sanskrit work maitri, meaning “to give happiness.” The second, bei or hi, comes from the Sanskrit karuna, meaning “to remove suffering.” Taken together they describe the function of relieving living beings of suffering and giving them happiness.

Almost anyone can feel kindness toward someone who shows them kindness. It is the spirit of Buddhism to develop a sense of compassion toward all people--toward any person. It is in this spirit that Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “The various sufferings experienced by all livings beings are without exception Nichiren’s own sufferings”

The compassion of Buddhist enlightenment--the desire to “remove suffering and give happiness”--is expressed in the human behavior of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Nichiren Daishonin also writes, “Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the bodhisattva world within him.” (WND, 358).

This statement makes it clear that anyone and everyone possesses the potential of a bodhisattva--the potential to behave with compassion toward another person. Yet, it is an ordinary human tendency to place concern for ourselves first and foremost. This may be the strongest human impulse. Furthermore, there long have been those who hold the view that compassion is a sign of weakness; that generosity only spoils the receiver of kindness.

There may be a grain of truth to his assertion. Kindness that does not empower the receiver creates little lasting value. From the Buddhist view, true compassion is that which has the power to root out the cause of misery in people's lives and direct them to the cause of happiness. Such compassion by its very nature requires courage and strength.

How then can ordinary people, who are governed by the impulse for self-interest, express compassion in a constructive and meaningful way?

A natural example is the actions of a mother toward her child. A mother will do anything she can to protect her child, even if it means braving flames or flood.

In his buddhism, Nichiren Daishonin wrote, “I, Nichiren Daishonin, am sovereign, teacher, and father and mother to all the people of Japan”. He made this statement to convey his state of life as the orginal Buddha or --a state of life capable of embracing all people with the compassion of a parent toward his or her children.

Now this is not an easy thing. We sometimes even lose patience with our own children, let alone strangers. Since that is the case, most of us without assistance tend to be lacking in the quality defined as Buddhist compassion.

What can we do about it? Well, to state the conclusion first, we can expose our hearts and minds to the very state of compassion manifested by the Buddha. In the Buddhism of Nichiren Dishonin, When we believe in and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, which embodies the compassionate state of life of the original Buddha or enlightenement, we stimulate and bring forth a source of boundless compassion latent within us.

Taking a lesson form the Daishonin’s writings, it is also useful to apply the model of a parent--or teacher--in developing compassion for others.

Any successful parent or teacher knows the importance of seeing things from the child’s perspective. The exert themselves in caring for and educating their children, wanting to see them grow and develop their humanity.

Such people transcend divisions of self and other to view the sufferings and joys of their children or students as their own. Constant is their concern for the children. Always thinking of them, they are eager to offer help. Protection, and an opportunity to learn. This sort of concern will certainly reach the hearts of others, be they children or adults. The Nobel-prize winning French author André Gide (1869-1951) put it clearly: “True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s own the suffering and joys of others”

Compassion also includes the ability to recognize in others strengths and capacities that we ourselves may be lacking, and our wish to learn from those qualities. While it is easy to identify another’s weak points, it is harder than we may think to clearly recognize and appreciate the person’s strong points. If we focus on the strong points, however, we will naturally come to appreciate, fell close to, and even develop a fondness for him or her. As a result, we may find ourselves thinking of that person more often and feeling concerned about his or her well-being.

We practice Buddhism for our own happiness and that of others. These two aims of faith cannot be separated. When our thoughts for others’ well-being become part of our daily prayer, we transcend the innate impulse to be concerned only with ourselves, and illuminate the fundamental ignorance that is the source of suffering with the light of our innate Buddhahood.

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