Saturday, 11 October 2008

Balance of Wisdom and Compassion

Gary over at had a great post a few days ago which he talks about the Buddhist teaching of metta, loving kindness for all living things. (Read his post here) Its definitely worth checking out if you haven't had a chance yet. In a comment I made to the post, he talks a little bit about the importance of balance of both wisdom and compassion in our practice. I think this is a very important point, even in consideration of our stark difficult world filled with egotistical unforgiving people.

It is a hard thing to do, to find this compassion for all beings, irrespective of how they chose to act in this world. In fact, I'm not sure many of us are capable of not filling ourselves with anger or contempt from time to time when we are faced with such selfish and offensive people. I know I'm not able to, even after making a mindful effort. However, I think little by little, with small steps at a time, we can cultivate a more loving compassion for all beings. This is where my practice of Zen tends to cross over into some Theravada types of reflection. I know through a Zen practice we can certainly do the same, but for me, it hasn't hurt to do some of these Metta Theravada loving kindness meditations. I admit, it felt silly at first, but I don't think cultivation of compassion is the easiest task in our modern world.
To quote Gary:

“May all beings be released from suffering” lies at the heart of this daily reflection, and indeed forms the essence of the cultivation and sharing of metta for the Buddhist. This is because suffering has been emphasized from the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma to the present day. It is because beings suffer that we feel for them, and because of the Buddha Way and such practices as sharing metta that we have a way to help them and ourselves move away from suffering and its hold on our lives. The ultimate goal of the Buddhist, Nirvana, is the very transcendence of suffering. In this light it can be seen that this reflection on metta is actually wishing that all beings realize Nirvana.
While, I think, through wisdom, compassion will eventually blossom on its own. Also through compassion we can certainly gain some wisdom. However, I see many of us do tend to focus on the wisdom aspect of Buddhism, these more scientific, meat and potato teachings. I am the first to admit I find the wisdom components more interesting and compelling to study. I do agree with Gary, however, that we can fall into an imbalance and perhaps our practice can become a bit too focused inward and end up leaving compassion as a side note. While I see all of our paths are different and we all must find our way, I think it would be wise not to overlook the heart. I see it like a tree with very few leaves on it; it grows much slower than a tree that is filled full of nurturing leaves.


All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.
See yourself in other.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?
He who seeks happiness
By hurting those who seek happiness
Will never find happiness.
For your brother is like you.
He wants to be happy.
Never harm him
And when you leave this life
You too will find happiness.
Never speak harsh words
For they will rebound upon you.
Angry words hurt
And the hurt rebounds.
~Buddha Gautama

"Forgiveness is primarily for our own sake, so that we no longer carry the burden of resentment. But to forgive does not mean we will allow injustice again."
~Jack Kornfield

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post for me.

    One of the comments I was going to make earlier about how Buddhism has impacted me personally, including how it has effected me on the job as a police officer, is that "Truth" and "Reality" has been a passionate pursuit for me. It makes up most of the reason why I walked away from Christianity.

    For those close to me would tell you that I love to read. Usually the only thing when asked about what I want for Christmas/birthday is books. I have a very long list on of things I'd love to add to my already sagging bookshelf. But I have to admit that one of the things I was lacking in is compassion.

    It's funny how knowledge can inflate one's ego. After I abandoned Christianity about my second year into the job I have to admit that I became very jaded and lacked compassion for those I came in contact with on my job, especially the 'terds' (what we cops call the low lifes who beat their kids and wives, dope users, thieves, and anyone else who didn't turn out to be 'responsible citizens'). Unfortunately, when you see so much pain and trauma you tend to go to some sort of emotional extreme to handle it if you don't have a healthy system of dealing with it. My Christianity didn't help me, and the job took it's toll on my faith in a god.

    Anyways, not that Buddhism is purely a psychological exercise because Buddhism (at least in the progressive sense) makes more logical sense to me than even the most liberal parts of Christianity, the four noble truths and eight-fold path have helped me look at things much different, and zazen and the practice of mindfulness has birthed a more profound patience toward people, especially on the job (though I do not proselytize... no one knows that I am even a Buddhist though most of my coworkers know I am an atheist).

    My point is that wisdom without compassion led me to be arrogant and cynical. Science (hard cold facts) has its place yet, although a few months ago I scorned the idea of a secular spirituality - even spurning the idea mentioned by Sagan himself, I am softening to the idea. Blind faith still isn't an option, but I am loosening up from taking such a hard stance on naturalism and least in the sense that I am staying open-minded.