Buddhist Notebook: Compassion and Emptiness

It’s often said that when someone has realized emptiness it enables them to have even greater compassion for other beings. I’ve wondered about that because, with my limited intellectual understanding, I often find myself getting frustrated with people, rather than overflowing with compassion. “Why are people doing all this crazy stuff?” “Why all the violence? Why all the greed?”

Well, today, somehow or other, I got a glimpse of an answer. There would be no point in relating the circumstances since they’re nothing special. In fact I’ve been in the same place in the same way (I calculated later) a good 20,000 times before. But this time… suddenly I saw the world in a very different way. It was beautiful. Scintillating. Full of “sound and fury” but at the same time, extremely peaceful. And I thought, “Yes. Maybe this is what it’s like.”

Frustration occurs when things don’t go the way you think they should. In other words, when you’re attached to things being (or going) a certain way. Since realizing emptiness entails realizing the emptiness of the self, once you are free from that misconception, there is no cause for attachment, and no cause for frustration. As the sutra says, “no ignorance, no exhaustion of ignorance, no ageing and death, no exhaustion of ageing and death. No suffering, no origins, on cessations, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, no lack of attainment.”

How so? Because all of these are relative to an inherently existent self. We freeze what we perceive into these objects and actions and value them based on how they affect “us” and the things “we” care about. But today’s experience was nothing like that. Everything was in flux, and it gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to have no grasping at objects, even though I knew they were there.

Of course, it didn’t last. I could feel it slipping away as time went by, but having seen this once it’s a lot easier to understand what was meant by emptiness empowering greater compassion. It was blissful, and compassion looked easy because there was no need for any suffering, no need for any fear. At the very least, it’s good motivation for practice!

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4 Responses to Buddhist Notebook: Compassion and Emptiness

  1. Johan says:

    This post is an inspiration to me to continue to practice mindfulness in the mundane everyday tasks. Why get upset while sitting in a traffic jam? Why spend energy and negative thoughts on “annoying” people when you can focus on your own personal development instead? Thank you for the motivation!

  2. elbe55 says:

    Thanks for your good articles. There are sometimes linguistic problems in finding adequate translations to a word in another language. Mu is such a word. Mu is not so much being empty, like an empty cup. It is more like “without”. Hence Mudansha (without a dan degree). What the kyudojin, who practice this art more seriously, should strive to is to be able too shoot in the state of Mu shin (Munen muso). If we now translate Mu shin as empty mind we get a pictire of it that is not the best possible. If we’d use “without”, we’d get something like “without earthly thoughts”. That would be preferable and it makes that specific state of mind easier to explain and thus to comprehend. I have written an article about that. If someone wants it, please contact me with a PM in FB (Elbe55).
    To reach that state is anything but easy. A lot of enemies within your selves will try to prevent you. When you eventually reach that state, through all the eager practice, a picture of the world as it really is will appear for you. Obviously you’ve touched that already and by going on, not paying any attention to this, cause if you do it will be pushed off, you will finally enter the real world. It’s there, just around that one corner!

  3. karamatsu says:

    I certainly agree about the difficulty of translation. Sometimes it seems like working out the actual meaning behind a translation “equivalent” is 2/3 of the problem! But in the end, at least within the confines of the written word, it seems we’re stuck. But it’s well worth trying!

    • elbe55 says:

      I forgot to comment the situation you encounter and your wonder. I will try to do it now:
      It is not when you realize it. You have to achieve that state.
      To be able to occationally reach the Munen muso is of course cool. To be able to do that on demand is another thing. You have to be aware that anything you think of and even things like desire, hate etc are all thoughts are hinders. They’re part of the dualistic thinking we humans are brought up to worship. “When the world recognizes beautiful as beautiful there will at the same time arise a conseption of ugliness” “When the world recognizes good as good, at the same time there arises the conception of what is bad” (Lao Tse in Dao De JIng).
      So you see how deep you have to go. Whatever eats you out there today is an enemy you need to conquer. When you have totally left behind you the need to compare to things like in the dualistic thinking, the you will be free. Quoting you: “Why are people doing all this crazy stuff?” “Why all the violence? Why all the greed?” Maybe you now see that those are a part of the dualistic thinking “Why is this like this and not like that” – kind of thinking. In order to be free, to exist in a state of Munen muso, you need to leave also those behind you. How could you be free with such a burden?

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