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in Buddhadharma

On Compassion

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"Will not the ocean of joy
That shall exist when all beings are free
Be sufficient for me ?
What am I doing wishing for my liberation alone ?"

Atiśa : Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, 108.

"This Dharma Wheel is the wheel of the mantra Om mani padme hum, the essence of the Transcendent Compassionate-Eyed One received from the Buddhas upon request, which represents the essence of all the qualities of the body, speech, mind and actions of all the Buddhas."
Fourth Panchen Lama : Benefits of the Six-Syllable Prayer Wheel.


Avalokiteśvara, Buddha of Compassion
appearing as an Eighth Ground Bodhisattva (Weber, 1983)


"Karunâ", translated as "compassion" or "kindness" is one of the Four Immeasurables ("brahmavihâras"), the key quality of Bodhisattvas & Buddhas and the most skillful method. In tune with Bodhicitta, it extends itself without distinction to all sentient beings, representing the enlightened actions of the Buddhas.

Compassion as practiced by Brahmâ is perfected by the compassion of the Buddhas, for the latter realize that the compassionate one, the act of compassion and the beneficiary of this act, do not exist from their own side, but are other-powered, i.e. depending on causes & conditions (dependent-arisings) outside the logical & functional "self" designated on the basis of sensations, volitions, affections, cogitations & sentient awareness.

If love is the mind wishing all others to be happy, compassion is the actual activity or engagement actually, effectively making this happen. This compassionate mind is active, dynamical, and so the outstanding example of engaging Bodhicitta. For this reason, compassion is the most excellent & sublime of dharmic methods, accumulating vast merit.

So to have its creative, constructive effect perfected, compassion is always coupled to this wisdom ("prajñâ") realizing emptiness. Then, realizing the interconnectedness between all phenomena, between the dependent-arisings lacking substance or independent & isolated selfhood, compasssion leads to luminous emptiness. And because of the works of compassion, emptiness manifests luminous forms.

Loving-kindness, the mind longing for the well-being of oneself and others, is a mere wish, an aspiration or intent focusing on the elimination of suffering and its causes. This wish is important. It initiates the intention seeking to benefit all sentient beings. Without it, compassion is impossible. Intentional Bodhicitta is rewarding in terms of practice and personal mental development. When it becomes strong, it leads to the urge to effectively put into place, actualize or materialize the good wish, turning planet Earth into a Pure Land (or, as the Qabalah teaches, place the Fallen Daughter upon the Throne of Understanding, thereby restoring the Kingdom).

Compassion is therefore always an action, and not merely an intention to act. It actually alters causes and conditions, leading, in terms of the Buddhadharma, to the realization of the greatest happiness, namely freedom from suffering, the cessation of "dukha".

Great compassion benefits all sentient beings, eliminating their obscurations and leading them to full enlightenment. With this extended compassion, the Buddha of Compassion appears in the six realms of "samsâra" as the Great Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, and giving to each what is needed, liberates them all. This is an incredible power, able to empty "samsâra" with a single mind (or mantra).

Gods white pride concentration playing the lute OM
Demigods green jealousy
ethics with armor & sword MA
Humans yellow excessive
joyous effort with bowl & staff NI
Animals blue stupidity
wisdom with a book PAD
Ghosts red greed
generosity with a treasure-box ME
Hell-beings black hatred
patience with water
with fire

Compassion shares in the suffering of others empathetically, but not to the point of sadness, for the latter cripples the mind, disabling it to actually help. There is no point in dwelling in sadness & grief. Moreover, compassion does not co-suffer with others, but understands the woe and deals with it.

Although there is no single answer to the question "What can I do ?", compassion will engage wisdom & understanding and try to alleviate the pain, if wanted and possible. Not feeling sadness at another person's distress does not equate with indifference or lack of emotion. Sadness makes us useless to help ourselves and others. It fixates the problem.

A final remark on so-called "wrathful" compassion.

In the Vajrayâna, the Tantric Vehicle, the use of wrathful manifestations of certain Buddhas is common practice. Not only in terms of the protection of the Dharma in general (its arising & abiding) and of one's personal Dharma practice (by the activity of so-called "Dharma Protectors", "Guardians of the Teachings" or "dharmapâlas" like Mahâkâla), but also as skillful means to embody & counter the extreme forces of the mind and of Nature, these wrathful deities pacify, enrich, control & destroy (use the four tantric activities). Their task is to assist the practitioner in dealing with the extreme perversities of the Dark Age ("Kali-Yuga"), rapidly transforming desire, empowering the mind to self-liberate negativity quickly & efficiently. This happens in the "black box" of internal alchemy, applying the multiplication of negatives to generate a positive. The blackness of this "box" implying the hidden, secret, intimate & private nature of this operation.

Appearing in great wrath, they nevertheless never depart from the Body of Truth, i.e. the realization of emptiness. If not, their practice in ritual would entail rebirth as a hell-being or as a desire god. Their terrifying complexion merely mimics (fakes) the negativity they seek to reverse. It invites afflictive desire, attracting it by way of horrible & highly "demonic" features (for like attracts like). However, it does not anchor any of this negativity in the apprehending mind(s) nor in the objects possessed. Once the toxic negativity is trapped in this dark retreat, it is swiftly "liberated" by way of the four tantric powers. Indeed, tantric "destruction", in accord with the Fourth Turning, is merely the intent & the skill to swiftly catapult a harmful being immediately into the state of enlightenment. This is the highest aim of Vajradhara, the Bearer of the Vajra, the supreme Tantra Guru, the tantric aspect of the Âdi-Buddha (besides Vajrasattva & Samantabhadra, respectively representing the sutric & suddenist aspects).

These wrathful deities manifest the "wrathful compassion" of the Buddhas, at times also used by spiritual teachers to aid remove hinderances & opposing forces from the intra-mental (inner) & extra-mental (outer) dimensions of the spiritual practice of their disciples. Mastering the skills to practice these deities is however not easy, nor quickly done.

The Fourth Turning, Tantra, while faster than the Third Turning, Sutra, remains limited by the conditions of Bodhicitta & the Bodhisattva Training.


© Wim van den Dungen
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.



initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 06 I 2012 - version n°1