Compassion

Concerning compassion, there is a difference between the Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path.

Compassion in the Path of Sages is to pity, commiserate with, and care for beings. It is extremely difficult, however, to accomplish the saving of others just as one wishes.
Compassion in the Pure Land Path should be understood as first attaining Buddhahood quickly through saying the nembutsu and, with the mind of great love and compassion, freely benefiting sentient beings as one wishes. (The Tanni Sho 4; CWS, p. 663)

It is very easy to miss the significance of this chapter of The Tanni Sho. That is because we are naturally inclined to understand compassion in ordinary, conventional terms. For example, we speak of the need to have compassion for people who are treated unfairly or cruelly in society. It is, of course, good that we care for disadvantaged or oppressed people and hope that, in some way, we can contribute to the alleviation of their distress.

But in the context of the Buddha Dharma, compassion (the Sanskrit word is karuna) has a special significance that goes far beyond the way it is commonly understood. For its motive is to deliver other beings from illusion so that they will attain the end of suffering. It is not a temporary remedy to a particular circumstance. It is not moved by mere events.  It seeks to save all beings, at all times, and even those who are not in pain or suffering in the ordinary sense. It is entirely universal in its scope.

If we are followers of Buddha Dharma, we know that we cannot save people just by feeling pity and care for them. True compassion will literally deliver beings from birth-and-death so that they become Buddhas, able to reciprocate the compassion that they have received. It means literally losing our self in order to ‘become’ the other.

This is difficult enough for those who follow the Path of Sages and takes aeons to accomplish. It is impossible for ordinary beings.

This is the first time in The Tanni Sho that we meet the concepts of ‘the Path of Sages’ and ‘the Pure Land path’. In his writings, Shinran Shonin often points out that ‘to attain sacred wisdom and become Buddhas in this life’ is the Path of Sages; to attain ‘sacred wisdom in this life and become Buddhas in the next is the Path of Pure Land’. These paths are the two ways of Buddhism.

In the case of the Pure Land path, to attain sacred wisdom is to be imbued with the working of Other Power. This is to become people of nembutsu, entrusting heart. For such people compassion is the working of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, which is expressed in saying the Name, Namo Amida Butsu.

Author: George Gatenby

Shin Buddhist priest