Some people expresses doubt in regard to the possibility of cultivating loving kindness and compassion in a situation where one’s life is at risk. However the Pu??asutta of Sa?yuttanik?ya (SN: 35.88) dispels such a doubt. In this discourse Venerable Pu??a requested the Buddha to give him a brief teaching which he might practice dwelling alone in a place. The Buddha after giving the brief teaching as requested by Pu??a asked him where he decided to dwell. Pu??a replied he decided to dwell in a country known as Sun?paranta. The Buddha knowing the spiteful nature of the people in that country tested Pu??a in the following way:
The Buddha: Pu??a, the people of Sun?paranta are wild and rough. If they abuse and revile you, what will you think about that?
Pu??a: Venerable sir, I would think these people are excellent for they did not give me a blow with the fist yet.
Thus the Buddha asked what Pu??a would think if he was given a blow with the fist and so on. Pu??a replied he would think these people are excellent for they did not give him a blow with a clod yet. If they do so he would think they did not give him a blow with a rod yet. If they do so he would think they did not stab him with a knife yet. If they do so he would think they are still excellent for they did not take his life with a sharp knife yet. And if they do so he would be grateful to them for unlike other recluses, who being repelled, humiliated, and disgusted by body and life sought for an assailant, he had come upon this assailant even without a search.
The Buddha having heard all his responses praised him and acknowledged his journey to Sun?paranta. The discourse mentioned by the following rains five hundred lay males and five hundred lay females became follower of Pu??a. And during that same rains Pu??a attained the Nibbanic bliss.
The case of Venerable Mah?moggall?na who died with the attack of some dacoits is another moving example in the practice of Compassion. He was dwelling in a forest hut at K?las?la where a group of dacoits came to kill him for six consecutive days. But Venerable Moggall?na with his supernormal power each time made himself absent. He did not escape because he wanted to protect his body, but because he nurtured boundless compassion towards those dacoits. He realized that killing him would follow a fearsome karmic consequence. On his side it was not a problem for he had already done what had to be done and also he was ripe with age (it was mentioned in text that by then he was 84 years old). However, on the 7th day when the dacoits again came to kill him at the hut, he realized that those dacoits were extremely greedy for the promised money. And he is also destined to be killed in their hand. Therefore that day he did not disappear and thus got killed. According to text the dacoits cut all his limbs apart, but soon after they left the hut he, with his great physical and mental strength, dragged himself to the Buddha to pay his last respect before attaining parinibb?na. Likewise we find many instances in the P?li canon where the disciples of the Buddha practiced loving kindness (metta) and compassion (karu??) in situations even when their life was at risk.
In the Mah?y?na Buddhist Tradition the virtue of compassion is so developed that it is considered as the seed which gives birth to Bodhicitta, to Bodhisattva and finally to Buddha. They even have a bodhisattva named Avalokite?vara (Quan Yin Pusa) who is but the personification of the virtue of compassion. A bodhisattva such as Avalokite?vara is so compassionate that he postpones his attainment of Buddhahood in order to help all other sentient beings in Sams?ra.
Anyhow, so far we have discussed how the excellence of compassion was practiced by the Buddha and his disciples in different circumstances and the effects of practicing such compassion. We should now focus our attention to what compassion actually means and why it is important to discuss the concept of compassion. The P?li word for compassion is karu??. It is one of the four sublime qualities of a person who has attained enfranchisement of heart – ‘ceto-vimutti’ (PED: 197). In the commentary to the Sa?yuttanik?ya (SnA: 128) compassion is defined as “the desire of removing bane and sorrow (from one’s fellowmen).” But the most common definition of compassion is found in the Visuddhimagga of ?cariya Buddhaghosa. He says, ‘when there is suffering in others it causes good people’s hearts to be moved, thus it is compassion’-(Vism: 318). It is a contemplation of equating oneself with others, submitting one’s ego centric idea to the nature and thus coming out of the subject-object duality.
People in Sams?ra are experiencing constant agony. But most of us keep our eyes and ears closed. We do not understand that keeping our neighbors in sorrow we can never achieve the freedom of mind and gain the total happiness and bliss. To strive for the higher goal and to live happily we must submit all our ego-centric ideas. With regard to the significance of the practice of compassion Venerable Nyanaponika says; “it is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralysing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self” (Nyanaponika, The Four Sublime States, Kandy: BPS, 1999).
Being possessed with ego-centric idea and nurturing it for countless lifetimes it is truly difficult for us to transform ourselves into an egoless person. But this is what we should do if we truly want happiness for ourselves and for others. We claim that we are now dwelling in a world which has reached the pinnacle of scientific and technological development. We observe there is always competition among people – to get a higher degree, higher job, more sophisticated car, house, computer, air conditioning, mobile etc. But with the days passing an increasing number of people are becoming depressed and committing suicide. Naturally the question is: what is lacking in this highly sophisticated scientific and technological lifestyle? The answer is: we are lacking the spiritual qualities of loving kindness and compassion, sharing and caring. Therefore here is a call for the good of all, for the preservation of our world: let us all live happily sharing whatever goodness we possess; let us all bathe in the rain of compassion!
MN = Majjhimanik?ya
SN = Sa?yuttanik?ya
Dhp = Dhammapada
Khp = Khuddakap??ha
SnA = Sa?yuttanik?ya??hakath?
Vism = Visuddhimagga
PED = Pali English Dictionary (of Rhys Davids)