December 22, 2023
Karmapa on compassion
Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares a teaching on compassion. Compassion is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, about which Karmapa often speaks.
“Compassion is our inherent nature and a quality of our minds. It simultaneously aims towards the true happiness that is inherent in all of us and it wishes to end confusion for everyone, thus enabling a correct understanding about the world and its beings. Through a very natural outflow of compassion, we give substantial meaning to life.
Since this quality of compassion is inherent, we don’t have to look anywhere else to find it. Wherever there is a consciousness, there is a seed of compassion. It is the same for wisdom. Wherever there is a consciousness, there is a seed of wisdom, too. Compassion is inseparable from wisdom.
The free flowing expression and quality of compassion is so important, for without it we will not be able to live our lives fully. Without it we will only be able to experience a fragile, conditioned peace. It is due to compassion resulting in true understanding that we can find unconditioned peace and happiness, and ultimately liberation.
To approach this, the Buddha taught us to cultivate more compassion in ourselves, towards each other and the world by recognizing that the aspiration and motivation to want happiness (and not want unhappiness) is deeply rooted in all of us. If we use this understanding to connect with each other, we could create the basis to develop and cultivate what is most essential in our lives: compassion.
By sowing seeds of compassionate understanding as each moment passes, we are able to overcome various kinds of confusion without much struggle. Obstacles are easily avoided and we advance safely along the path of virtue, making great use of this precious and fragile human existence. For example, in the midst of obstacles, by focusing on our innermost wishes, this will help us to overcome arising mental and physical challenges.
We should remind ourselves that this cultivation of compassion can be achieved without much hard work. We can cultivate compassion while sitting, walking, or even sleeping. By applying ourselves in this way, we can utilise every spare moment to cultivate compassion, even within this limited physical world.
I personally believe that our family – be it our immediate family or other forms of family – represents the ideal environment to begin our ￼cultivation of compassion. Regardless of our cultural background or social status, our family is the most fertile soil in which to grow our inherent seed of compassion so that it flourishes. It cannot grow without this fertile soil of the family. The very purpose of fertile soil is to cultivate seeds into a fully manifest, healthy plant. Thus the development of our innate compassion is intimately and interdependently linked to the fertile soil of our families.
It is true that Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas guide practitioners to renounce attachments, and particularly the attachment to family – for attachment is not inherent, it is misguided compassion. To an unobservant mind, attachment might seem like it is seeking the same thing as compassion. However, an observant mind will discover that attachment always has a selfish agenda. Compassion seeks unconditional care not just for oneself, but for others too.
As the practitioner gradually becomes aware of this fundamental truth, the mind assesses a given situation and carefully avoids cultivating all forms of attachments. For example, avoiding outer conditions like family, out of fear of harming them, since attachment not only harms us, but others as well. But as the mind overcomes attachments, we see that there is less and less need to avoid such outer conditions. And then we are able to see that our family is indeed the ideal and fertile soil for cultivating compassion.
Of course, we can try to find other fields or soils – meaning other families – but the soil or the family that we are already connected to until now, is by far the most fertile soil. It is so fertile because we will experience natural care arising for each other. Each member of the family will guide and teach us in their own unique way.
Therefore, while the seed of compassion is inherent within all of us, in order to cultivate compassion in ourselves and in the world around us, we first need a fertile soil – our family. It is up to all of us to find the courage to cultivate compassion, free of attachments, and seek unconditional care for all sentient beings.”