“For those of you who want to attain enlightenment, do not study many teachings. Only study one. What is it? It is great compassion. Whoever has great compassion has all Buddha’s qualities in his hand.” —Lord Buddha
This is a truly remarkable teaching, but what is it the Buddha meant by “great compassion”? The conventional definition of compassion as sympathy for the suffering of others certainly applies, but this is not enough. While sympathy for others’ suffering is an essential and necessary element of great compassion, it is really only a place of beginning; a beginning that we must cultivate and expand upon.
First, please understand that” feeling sorry for” is not great compassion. This is compassion in its smallest sense. This is understanding compassion in an egoic sense – I feel sorry for, have concern and care, for you. This is very good, but it is essentially dualistic and speaks to separateness and judgments; and it tends to be exclusionary, speaking only to those with whom “I” find identification. It can even speak of a sense of superiority to the one it is directed toward. Great compassion, in order to be “great,” has to have the sense of encompassing everyone and everything at the heartfelt level of empathy and identification. It has to arise from our fundamental non-dualistic realm of Beingness.
“I” am not really capable of having unlimited compassion, for the very concept of “I” is creating a separate reference point to experience. It arises from the realm of ego, of thought and emotion. “I” am defined by what “I” think and feel, and great compassion is not a thought or emotion; it is the realized state of Being arising from the silent mind that connects us to all that exists. This intuitive connection then rises in resonance, transforming into thoughts and emotions that can be expressed, and then, “I” express my concern – but until great compassion is realized, this concern is usually only for those within my circle of ego identification and worthy of my ethical approval.
Great compassion must be beyond any judgments of worthy and unworthy. It arises from intuitive discernment of our infinite connectedness, first as human beings, then as sentient beings, then as sentience itself. We must quiet and open the mind into realization that we are the infinite consciousness through which the Universe manifests into a limited form and consciousness constructed around the idea of “I.” Great compassion is the capacity of silent awareness to see the dilemma and the suffering caused by this misidentification as a separate entity experiencing the world as “out there” and our fellow beings as “other.” Great compassion feels the sorrow of a Being-in-form, subject to conditioning by form, searching for its place within form and knows this to be the dilemma faced by all humans.
“Where is my place?” is the great question that obsesses and confounds us and leads to disastrous identification with social/cultural group egos that tell us our place is in following social/cultural dictates and judgments. Society teaches us who to include as significant and who to exclude. Society teaches us that we are nothing until society deems us worthy and acceptable into its circle. So first of all, great compassion must manifest compassion for ourselves and the foolishness we have fallen into through egoic insecurity that has us locked into the prison of judgmental and exclusionary thinking. As Albert Einstein once said: “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
We are Beings sharing Beingness with all that exists, and all Beings are interconnected and interdependent in the consciousness/matter/energy field that is the Universe. This is truth. Ego, however, cannot grasp this as anything other than an intellectual abstraction. Only in the stillness and silence of unadulterated awareness and its intuitive intelligence can we know the Universe as energy that is alive and intelligent, a single Great Being manifesting within itself infinite limited beings. Much like a single human body is comprised of countless cells coming into and going out of existence to make the body whole and alive, each being’s existence is a dance of manifesting and dissolving into the great whole that is Life – that is the Universe.
We are and we are not, yet we infinitely are, through the whole that is Life – that is the Universe. Our place is and always only can be, right where we are, as the Universe manifests us for the purpose of Life realizing itself. As John Lennon once sang: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy.” Yet we do not experience this. We experience being born, aging, striving, struggling, having a few triumphs and however many failures we imagine, and anticipating and fearing our death. We struggle for our place. We struggle for significance. We are capable of loving, doing wonderful things, and we are capable of doing terrible things – knowingly and unknowingly – violations of the sacredness of all Life. And we all experience violations to our sacredness while unaware of our sacredness and unaware of the sacredness of all. To feel at the core of our Being this great tragedy is great compassion. To act on this knowing, to the best of our ability, is to grow toward the great compassion that is Buddha’s teaching.
Only in the felt experience of oneness with the Universe can this journey be accomplished. Do not think about it. You must feel it. You must feel it when you look deeply into another human being and see essentially a reflection of yourself, of your own egoic fears and desires, and of your own Being – no matter how different from you this person’s beliefs and behaviors may be. You must also feel it when you open to your connectedness with the existence and inherent sacredness of animals and of Nature, remembering that we too are Nature – what else could we be?
You must feel compassion for yourself when you experience your own doubts and insecurities, your foolish and hurtful behaviors, and realize you did not choose them, but rather they were conditioned into you by society – and that society is a great sociopath, an egomaniac with no concern for anything but itself. You must learn to forgive and be tender with yourself and with all that your life entwines with while you take complete responsibility for your actions, realizing this entwinement is as vast and great as all the Cosmos. Then, your thoughts and actions will grow in compassion. Then you will grow in intuitive knowing of how to behave and how to formulate thoughts and emotions reflective of the great truths of existence. This knowing is reflected in Einstein’s statement – and is the core of the teachings of Buddha, Jesus and the mystics of all cultural traditions.
In finding the core of your Beingness connected with all Beings, your circle of compassion naturally grows – eventually toward the enlightened state the Buddha called great compassion, lived simply and humbly every day, widening gradually “to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”