Compassion is everything

The light of compassion reaches far, bestowing happiness;
Hence, the Buddha is called ‘light of joy.’
Wherever it shines, joy of dharma is attained;
Thus, I pay homage to the great consolation.
(T’an-luan 476-542; CWS, p. 195)

Inspired by the Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, the great Pure Land Dharma Master T’an-luan (476-542), wrote a long hymn in praise of Amida Buddha, which Shinran Shonin later used as the basis for the set of verses that form the opening section of his Hymns of the Pure Land.

Light is, of course, wisdom – or, as Shinran himself says, ‘Wisdom is the form of light.’ But from the perspective of the Buddha Dharma, there is no distinction between wisdom and compassion. Hence, the light of Amida Buddha is compassion.

There are very profound and sophisticated ways that we can understand the significance of wisdom as compassion. Among these is the Buddhist realisation of the ‘perfection of wisdom’. It is one of the six perfections – paramitas. But there is also a more accessible reality, that ordinary people, like us, can understand. We see it with special clarity in the account of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha.

It was the Dharma that called to Shakyamuni Buddha to make his journey from the four gates, wherein he encountered evidence of old age, sickness and death – of the suffering of beings. It was here that he also made the determination to go forth to seek the profound and lasting remedy that we know as the Buddha Dharma. Shakyamuni went forth for the sake of suffering beings, for the sake of others. To live for the salvation of others, to strive for their release from birth-and-death.

Eventually, Shakyamuni Buddha attained his awakening. It was an awakening for beings. Urged on by Brahma, Shakyamuni went down into the ‘market place’, the world of suffering and confusion, so that he could relate the Dharma to beings and show the way out of birth-and-death – to salvation, to light, to joy.

But all of these sublime events, which led to the great movement that is Buddhism, still alive and singing in the hearts of beings, began when Shakyamuni saw suffering. He felt the suffering of others as his suffering, even though it is said that he had spent his young life in the comfort of a palace. He was moved by the suffering to seek to do something about it. And it was only the dharma that brings beings to true, deep and lasting remedy.

All Buddhas are motivated in the same way – by the suffering of others. So it is, that light – wisdom – springs forth from the pure, enlightened mind that beholds the suffering of others. Amida Buddha is the perfection of wisdom; he is the perfection of compassion. He calls to us to trust in him.

Wherever [the light of compassion] shines, joy of dharma is attained;
Thus I pay homage to the great consolation.