True compassion


In the context of Buddhist thought, true compassion has three distinctive characteristics, i.e., it is void of self, void of form and void of intent. The compassion arising from the condition of sentient beings, felt in every instance as inseparable from people, is of greatest benefit to the world. It is known as great compassion. Whoever has attained the great Void as understood in the context of teachings has abandoned ego-views and ego-clinging.

Only in that state of mind can genuine acts of compassion be accomplished. At such time the actions offered for the benefit of sentient beings and for the salvation of the world truly are what they purport to be. Whoever attains that stage is free from attachment to his or her own body and mind, and therefore not capable nor tempted to neglect his/her duties, deceive others or misuse situations. Such a person abides in the great Void, his/her mind firmly established in the great vow to save the world and thereby benefit both self and others. The mind thus established provides the ideal frame for peaceful negotiations of any kind, and if statesmen and influential politicians would adopt this view and deal with the non-void while dwelling in the Void, they all would be bodhisattvas.

Buddhists who have the capacity to perceive both the Void and the non-void have found therein a firm footing for the cultivation of both. Through cultivation of the Void they eradicate the three poisons, being thereby released from the four forms and empowered to progress upwards to higher levels of insight while not abandoning the sentient beings to be saved.

The following is a dialogue between the Buddha and one of his disciples as retold in a Mahayana sutra. To the disciple’s question regarding who ought to go to hell the World Honored One answered ” I ought to go there; not only go there but stay there; not only stay there but be happy while there; not only be happy while there but become the adornment of hell.” The one who has learned the Tao and generated the Bodhi-mind to the degree of being an adornment in hell has acquired an immeasurable strength of vow and his/her natural power is inconceivable. The following eight excerpts are from the Avatamsaka Sutra. They provide supreme guidance for all those who seriously study and practice Buddhadharma:

  1. A bodhisattva enters the teaching of equanimity by considering all sentient beings as own relatives and friends. When sentient being expresses unwholesome views in the presence of a bodhisattva, the bodhisattva remains untainted by anger and his/her attitude of equanimity remains unaffected; he/she maintains friendship towards all sentient beings, thereby improving their practice. A bodhisattva is like the great ocean that will not decay no matter how much pollutant is thrown in. The fools, the ignorant, those devoid of wisdom and kindness the selfish and the arrogant whose minds are impervious to Buddhadharma cannot upset him/her.
  2. A bodhisattva does not abandon the foolish and the unwholesome even if they are difficult to be with, difficult to guide and have never helped another being. At such time the bodhisattva expediently applies the great Vow, wearing it as his/her adornment and as an armor to protect all sentient beings without exception, never considering abandoning the burden. He/she retains his/her determination when faced with ingratitude and insensitivity both of which are common among sentient beings. Bodhisattvas do not dwell on the faults of others, nor do they give rise to dislike; not for one moment do they consider returning to the status of worldlings.
  3. A Bodhisattva Mahasattva, when perceiving unwholesome actions of sentient beings, realizes they produce bad karmas which automatically result in suffering. He/she resolves to take on their suffering in their place. The bodhisattva remains dedicated to the progress of sentient beings on their spiritual path and never fails to carry out a promise or commitment; he/she does not backslide and does not yield to resentment or fatigue while fulfilling his/her great vow.
  4. A bodhisattva takes upon himself or herself the suffering of sentient beings rather than watch them suffer and be defeated. He/she always keeps in mind what is in their best interest and accepts falling in hell, being taken hostage in dangerous situations or sitting by Maya’s side in the animal-hells just to deliver sentient beings from evil.
  5. A bodhisattva observes and then reflects on his/her observations as follows: The people in this world, greedy as they are, endure immeasurable suffering in order to satisfy merely a small portion of their desires. Therefore I never give up quest for the supreme Bodhi, not confusing it with the five desires, but always staying with the bodhisattva action. To save all sentient beings I set them free through practice of the great vow in its completeness, breaking of all fetters.
  6. A bodhisattva practicing the virtues of bodhisattvas keeps in mind those who cannot save themselves and wonders how to save them. Starting with himself or herself, the bodhisattva makes the great vow, develops good roots and transfers the merit to others. This is called converting, illuminating and directing all sentient beings. As he/she protects and saves them, the bodhisattva helps them to overcome doubt and joyfully attain final deliverance.
  7. A bodhisattva illuminates all without exception but never looks for reward, and in this respect he/she is just like the sun in the sky. When sentient beings fall into unwholesome, unskillful ways, the bodhisattva forbears, never abandoning his/her vow. Fastidiously avoiding unwholesome actions through body, speech and mind, he/she obtains happiness for all by means of his/her practice of virtues.
  8. A bodhisattva shelters sentient beings from numerous forms of suffering. He/she is like a peaceful community into which sentient beings retire to find seclusion from defilements, from fear and from stress. A bodhisattva is like a garden where sentient beings enter for wisdom and safety. He/she is like a bright light which swallows the darkness of ignorance. A bodhisattva is like a pool that soothes as it cools, purifying all without exception. He/she is a teacher and a guide on the enlightening path to wisdom.

Expert from ‘The Direct Approach to Buddhadharma: An Exhortation to be Alert to the Dharma’ by Elder Yuan Chin Lee.