Thursday, September 4, 2008


Compassion (karuna) is the ability to feel the distress or pain of others as if it were one’s own. The English word compassion has exactly the same meaning and comes from the Latin com meaning ‘with’ and passio meaning ‘suffering.’ Sometimes in Buddhist psychology, compassion is also refered to as empathy (anudayana), commiseration (daya), fellow feeling (anuggaha) or sympathy (anukampa). The most noticeable feature of the Buddha’s personality was his compassion and this compassion was not just something he felt for others or that they felt in his presence, it was also the motive for much of what he said and did. He said: ‘What should be done out of compassion for his disciples by a teacher who cares about their welfare and out of compassion for them, I have done for you’ (M.I,46). The Buddha visited and comforted the sick ‘out of compassion’ (A.III,378), he taught the Dhamma ‘out of compassion’ (A.III,167). Once, he went into the forest looking for a serial killer because he had compassion for his potential victims and also for the murderer himself (M.II,98-105). The Buddha’s compassion seems to have transcended even the bounds of time. He is described sometimes as doing or refraining from doing certain things ‘out of compassion for coming generations’ (M.I,23). Once he said that his very reason for being was ‘for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the benefit and the happiness of gods and humans’ (A.II,146).
Compassion is the second of the four Brahma Viharas and was more highly praised by the Buddha than any other virtue because it is the root of so many other virtues. The Jatakamala says: ‘Compassion gives birth to all the other virtues just as cooling rain makes the crops grow. When a person is compassionate he has no desire to harm his neighbour, his body, speech and mind are purified, concern for his neighbour’s welfare increases and states like kindness, patience, happiness and good reputation grow. Being calm, the compassionate person does not arouse fear in the minds of others, he is trusted like a kinsman, he is not agitated by the passions, and quenched by the waters of compassion, the fire of hatred does not blaze in his heart... Remembering this, strive to develop compassion towards others, as if they were yourself or your offspring.’


piotr.paweł said...


there is something wrong with PTS reference to story where the Buddha "went into the forest looking for a serial killer because he had compassion for his potential victims and also for the murderer himself (M.II,980)". There is no 980th page in this volume. :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Sorry! A mistake on my part. That should be M.II,98-105. This and all my references are to the volume and pages in the PTS editions of the Pali text. In Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation it will be pages 710 to 717.

brakus said...

Bhante, isn't it more convenient to your readers to give sutta name or number as a reference. I doubt many of us have access to PTS editions.


Shravasti Dhammika said...

Then I would have to give (for example) the page number of Bodhi’s translation of the Majjhima, Horner’s translation, Thanissaro’s translation, etc. All these translations have the PTS’s references in them.

Brakus said...

Bhante, with due respect, I just want to say that in this post on "Compassion" reference (M.I,46) doesn't say much to many. If it would be for example M.15, it would be easy to find out that this is Anumana sutta.

Anyway, knowing exact sources or not, I really enjoy your blog postings.


Shravasti Dhammika said...

It may not say much but it is the correct reference to the quote as given. Have a look at page 131 of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Then have a look at the top left hand of thepage and you will see I, 46. It is quite clear. If you still cant fins it let me know.

Brakus said...

Bhante, it must be obvious by now that I'm writing from (I believe not quite uncommon) position of someone inspired by Buddhism, but living in a non-Buddhist, non-English speaking country, who also lack printed translations and rely mostly on what is available online. So, no BB's Majjhima Nikaya translation either :(

But what I have is the Buddhist website I maintain (free access, of course) with, among other, +600 suttas translated into Serbian (from English and Pali). So the real life scenario for me goes like this: I recently translated your very interesting series of postings on vegetarianism and also sexuality and it would be nice if I could give links from your quotations to actual suttas (if I have their translation), just to give readers somewhat wider picture and also possible inspire them to read a whole sutta. So my reason for raising this question is not trying to be picky about your excellent postings, but purely pedagogical :)

Maybe solution might be to give quotations like (M.I,46 / M.15), if it is not to much dukkha for you :))

With lot of Metta