VI Buddhist-Christian Colloquium - VaticanInner Peace, Peace among Peoples
Pontificio Consiglio Per Il Dialogo Interreligioso
Ufficio Nazionale Per L'ecumenisimo e Il Dialogo Interreligioso
Auditorium, Pontifical Urbaniana University
Rome - 06 May 2013
Love and Compassion:
A Buddhist Perspective on Traditional Religious ParadigmsBy
Geshe Gedun Tharchin
While I will be presenting love and compassion from a Buddhist perspective, it is important to acknowledge that its value is shared across all religious traditions. In fact, love and compassion is an innate quality, commonly shared by all sentient beings. It has a simple language and a universal value which can be found in any human heart. In Buddhism, we believe that all happiness, including both personal and world peace, depend upon love and compassion. They are inseparable. Even though the universal value of love and compassion is my main focus, I will present a classic Buddhist conception of these ideas, using the Buddha's words, classic commentarial sources, and practical contemplative methods which are often used.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "If there is any message to give, it should be the message of Love". In today's world of severe global, economic and social crises, the value of love and compassion is indispensable. In fact, it is an essential factor for maintaining a healthy human society. For this reason, love and compassion is, and has always been, a universal human value. It can be seen as the religion, faith, and heart of our human family. Even modern democratic societies have often adopted these core principles of religious life. We can see such commitment to love and compassion reflected in their fundamental values and constitutional rights like equality, brotherhood and freedom. Clearly, all human beings understand on some level that the very survival of humanity is based on Love. It is our reason for existing. Love can be seen as the essence of humanity and the living force of the Universe. I believe that under the umbrella of this one word, the entirety of humanity could be united to live as one family.
Due to diversity in languages and various social conditions, there have been many ways of expressing this universal value. However, in today's era of globalization, powerful and rapid communication and social networks, these natural divisions between people are decreasing. Our religious institutions should follow this trend. They should have the courage and the competence to adapt traditional methods and descriptions of faith and doctrine in a more contemporary and universal way. They should update their ideas so that their valuable ancient wisdom can become linguistically and culturally accessible to the wider globalized society. This sentiment is directly in line with the living spirit of love and compassion: universal brotherhood, respect, equality, freedom and sharing in the happiness of one another.
The following are some examples of teachings Buddha Sakyamuni, and subsequent Buddhist masters gave on Love and Compassion. As we read their presentations, perhaps we can imagine how they might be adapted for a modern audience.
Buddha's words on Love and Compassion
Tipitaka Digha Nikaya 13 “The Four Sublime States”
"1. Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with loving- kindness, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with loving-kindness, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity, and free from distress.
2. Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with compassion, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world every-where and equally with his heart filled with compassion, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity, and free from distress.
3. Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.
4. Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with equanimity, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world every-where and equally with his heart filled with equanimity, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress."
Tipitaka Khuddaka Sutta Nipata 1.8 “Metta Sutta”:
"This is to be done by one skilled in aims who wants to break through to the state of peace: Be capable, upright, & straightforward, easy to instruct, gentle, & not conceited, content & easy to support, with few duties, living lightly, with peaceful faculties, masterful, modest, & no greed for supporters. Do not do the slightest thing that the wise would later censure.
Think: Happy, at rest, may all beings be happy at heart. Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception, long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant, seen & unseen, near & far, born & seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart. Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere, or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer.
As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart: Above, below, & all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert, one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding here & now. Not taken with views, but virtuous & consummate in vision, having subdued desire for sensual pleasures, one never again will lie in the womb."
Four Forms of Love and Compassion
In most Buddhist traditions, love and compassion practices are categorically presented in four types, taken from the first sutra above, known as the four “bramaviharas”. These states are often translated as the four immeasurables or sublime states. They are considered a way of generating the spirit of peace and kindness toward oneself and others. The four immeasurables are: 1. Immeasurable Loving kindness: an altruistic attitude that desires to all sentient beings be happy and have the causes for happiness. 2. Immeasurable Compassion: an altruistic attitude that desires that to all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. 3. Immeasurable Empathetic Joy: an altruistic attitude that desires all sentient beings to never be separated from the happiness that is free from suffering. 4. Immeasurable Equanimity: an altruistic attitude that desires all sentient beings to have equanimity, a state free from attachment, aggression and prejudice.
It is said that the practice and the cultivation of the four immeasurables has the power to cause one to be reborn into a Brama or “divine” realm. This has often been understood literally, but “being reborn into a Brama realm” could also mean transforming ones experience, being “reborn” from a painful state of mind into a state of mind which holds all four sublime attitudes. A mind of peace and joy that is free from pain and suffering, full equanimity, empathetic joy, compassion and love is something very practical while also “divine”.
Traditionally, it is suggested that these practices should be developed in a meditative contemplation, each state leads naturally into the next. For example, one starts such contemplation beginning with immeasurable equanimity—the attitude wishing oneself and others live with a state of mind that free from any hatred and attachment. Such a mind creates room for the next state, the immeasurable joy that oneself and others may live with inner joy, appreciation and admiration with all forms of goodness and happiness. That then leads to immeasurable love and compassion—an attitude of positive willingness to embrace all other beings whatever their pain or happiness might be. Clearly, a gradual development of these four immeasurable values produces an authentic inner peace, both within and universally.
Another Meditation on Love and Compassion
In my own Tibetan Tradition, the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation by the 11th century Tibetan Master Geshe Langri Tangpa are a highly valued practice. Some have said that the entire scope of the Buddhist religion is contained within them. These verses are a meditation practice which is traditionally recommended to be done on a daily basis. A practitioner would recite the verses and apply them as deep motivations for all their activities. This is another example of a practice whereby one can gradually transform our habitual attitudes and actions toward ones with more good will, peace and altruistic intent.
The Eight Verses are:
By thinking of all sentient beings as more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel for accomplishing the highest aim, I will always hold them dear.
Whenever I’m in the company of others, I will regard myself as the lowest among all, And from the depths of my heart cherish others as supreme.
In my every action, I will watch my mind and the moment destructive emotions arise, I will confront them strongly and avert them, since they will hurt both me and others.
Whenever I see ill-natured beings, those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or suffering, I will cherish them as something rare, as though I’d found a priceless treasure.
Whenever someone, out of envy, does me wrong by attacking or belittling me, I will take defeat upon myself and give the victory to others.
Even when someone I have helped or in whom I have placed great hopes mistreats me very unjustly, I will view that person as a true spiritual teacher.
In brief, directly or indirectly, I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers and secretly take upon myself all their pain and suffering.
I will learn to keep all these practices untainted by thoughts of the eight worldly concerns. May I recognize all things as like illusions, and without attachment, gain freedom from bondage.
Love and Truth
Having a loving heart also means living in the truth. Peace and absolute truth are connected.
Buddhism is based on the fundamental theory of The Four Noble Truths. The Truth of Suffering, The Truth of the Causes of Suffering, The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering and the Truth of the Path that Leads to the Cessation of Suffering. When we understand the truth of suffering we must do so on three levels: the suffering of oneself, others and also on a universal level. Moreover, at the individual level of oneself and others there are three types of suffering: that of pain, that of change and the pervasive dissatisfying nature of the world. It is said that the deep comprehension of these three levels in one’s own experience is the key factor that opens our heart to genuine compassion and love. The realization of our own three dimensional suffering leads to understanding how others suffer, which generally causes compassion to spontaneously arise.
Additionally, from the Buddhist point of view, both the suffering of oneself and others should be understood through wisdom, or ultimate reality. This wisdom called “shunyata” is often known as “emptiness” or “selflessness”. Such a realization is the culmination of the contemplations on suffering begun with the Four Noble Truths. In selflessness we truly understand the very root causes of suffering and can clearly see the path leading to their end. We say at this point that the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) or “protections” in Buddhism have been firmly established. Buddha is considered the ultimate salvation, Dharma as the path and Sangha as a personal state of being saved.
In addition, the second protection, Dharma, is presented in the format of the three higher trainings. These are: The Higher Training of Morality, The Higher Training of Concentration and The Higher Training of Wisdom. The Higher Training of Morality is, simply put, not harming others through actions of the body, speech or mind. This is a true manifestation of an attitude of love and compassion. The Higher training of Concentration is the practice of mindfulness and contemplative living. Buddhism uses meditation and prayer as important methods to develop mental qualities. The Higher training of Wisdom is to understand all activities, including both of the other trainings, through an awareness of ultimate reality, the ultimate truth of selflessness.
The Buddhist practice of morality is fundamentally based on love and compassion. In the context of the Fourth Noble Truth, the truth of the path, these types of actions are commonly referred to as Right Speech, Right Livelihood and Right Effort. Here “Right” means a non-harmful or non-destructive form of action. The essence of Buddhist morality is any action done with a peaceful motivation and attitude, such as the Four Sublime States I mentioned above.
Tong Len - Giving and Taking
Finally, the practice of compassion in my own Tibetan tradition greatly emphasizes a practice called “Tong Len”. This is a meditation which focuses on taking all the sufferings of others' upon oneself and giving all our goodness to others through the mindfulness of breathing in and out.
It is described above in the Eight Verses by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa; "In brief, directly or indirectly, I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers, and secretly take upon myself all their pain and suffering."
The distinctive characteristic of this practice is its application while keeping mindfulness of the breath. We breathe in knowingly while taking on suffering, and breathe out in the same way, offering happiness. The practice should be “secret”, which means we don’t allow it to be influenced by pride or desire for praise.
This practice reflects a genuine spirit of love and compassion. We sharing our own goodness with others and take their pain and suffering within our heart. It can expand human nature infinitely; definitively achieving inner peace and social harmony for everyone.
Here I have attempted to share the essential values of love and compassion based on my own Buddhist tradition. What has been presented could be equally compatible with many of the other great religious traditions of the world. Certainly, these ideas could be useful for all of humanity in achieving both their temporary and spiritual goals.