Compassion and Non-Self

j g, modified 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 1:44 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 1:44 PM

Compassion and Non-Self

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Forum: The Dharma Battleground

Since this topic isn't directly related to practice and is more in line with discussions on philosophy, I have posted here.

I am curious on everyone's thoughts on how compassion relates with non-self.

What is the 'who' that is being compassionate and 'who' is it that is receiving the compassion?

What is compassion and how does one be compassionate?

If compassion is willed toward 'all sentient beings', what makes a sentient being? Is this merely a conventional distinction, or does it represent ultimate reality?

Why compassion even at all? How does it help reaching any ultimate goals? Can compassion be detrimental?

Please discuss.


I understand the need for compassion, so to speak, but I am having trouble wrapping my head around what is compassion in the sense of how it relates to non-self. It would seem to me that there must be a self...a permanent separate distinct non-changing entity/'being'... to give compassion to another separate distinct non-changing 'being'. If not, then is this compassion towards something non-separate ("all is one" so the compassion is ultimately to one's self). Or maybe e) none of the above... not self, not non-self, both self and non-self, neither self and non-self.

Or maybe I need to sit my ass on the cushion for quite a bit longer for this to open up to me!
Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 11:34 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 11:34 PM

RE: Compassion and Non-Self

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: garyrh

My way of seeing this is non-self or emptiness does not mean non-existence. Non-dual realization does not deny duality. [edit So there is suffering! ]. I think there is a compassion of realizing the depth of suffering that exists. It is better to mostly focus on seeing and accepting reality, and allowing the Buddha nature to naturally shine. Trying too hard to be compassionate (or anything else) tends to have it's shadows - just my personal view.
Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 11:56 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/23/09 11:56 PM

RE: Compassion and Non-Self

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Jamie,

A few disjoint thoughts


For one perspective on the subject of compassion, there are the sutta accounts how the Buddha, shortly after his enlightenment, was unwilling to teach what he discovered. In the end, he changed his mind out of compassion.


Not-self / compassion

Not-self refers to the fact that every conditioned, caused sensation is impermanent, and thus not a satisfactory or even safe refuge, not worth identifying with; *desiring* a permanent sense of self dependent on impermanent phenomena; building houses on sand. The relationship of impermanence, not-self, suffering.

Compassion refers to the desire for there to be less suffering.

It's useful to note that even criminals acts out of compassion, if mainly towards themselves. They want something, or they want something else to go away, in order to alleviate some suffering they experience. That's greed and aversion motivating compassion. It's unskillful compassion, compassion out of delusion, not compassion out of seeing clearly. So compassion and the three roots of unskillful behavior are closely related.

All of this is expressed succinctly in the first two noble truths: suffering (and impermanence and not-self) and the origin of suffering (the three roots, compassion out of delusion, desiring unskillful resolutions of suffering).


The late Ven. Panya (English monk who lived at Ven. Maha Boowa's monastery) said something along the lines that the Bodhisattva Vows to enlighten all sentient beings have a built-in cop-out, because once one is enlightened, all sentient beings arising in one's experience are also enlightened. Could be a sly Theravada pun, or very deep Dhamma - I can't tell, but it does ring true.

tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 7/24/09 4:07 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/24/09 4:07 AM

RE: Compassion and Non-Self

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
i take that to mean something like 'you see that everyone's doing the best they can and the suffering that all these beings experience aren't actually 'their' fault'. if so, thats a funny way to put it.. rings true for me too.