Essay by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This teaching is an excerpt from Healing Anger, a teaching by His Holiness based on "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life." Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is non-violent and non-harming, or non- aggressive. Because of this there is a danger of confusing compassion with attachment and intimacy.
So we find that there are two types of love or compassion. On the one hand is compassion or love which is based on attachment or which is tinged with attachment. That type of love or compassion and feeling of intimacy is quite partial and biased, and it is based very much on the consideration that the object of one's affection or attachment is someone who is dear or close to one. On the other hand, genuine compassion is free from such attachment. There the motivation is not so much that this person is my friend, is dear to me or related to me. Rather, genuine compassion is based on the rationale that just as I do, others also have this innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering; just as I do, they have the natural right to fulfil this fundamental aspiration. Based on that recognition of this fundamental equality and commonality, one develops a sense of affinity and closeness, and based on that, one will generate love and compassion. That is genuine compassion.
It is also very clear that one's level of intelligence or wisdom is a complementary factor that will determine the intensity and the depth of one's compassion. In Buddhism, there are discussions of three principal types of compassion. One is a compassion that is not complemented by any wisdom factors. A second level of compassion is complemented by insight into the transient nature of sentient beings, their impermanent nature. At the third level of compassion, called non-objectified compassion, the complementary factor is wisdom or insight into the ultimate nature of reality. At this level one sees the empty nature of sentient beings, and that insight reinforces one's compassionate attitude towards sentient beings. Even though this type of genuine compassion and infinite altruism is something that needs to be consciously cultivated and developed, we all possess the basis or potential for such enhancement and such development.
One of my fundamental beliefs is that not only do we inherently possess this potential or basis for compassion, but also the basic or fundamental human nature is gentleness. Not only human beings but all sentient beings have gentleness as their fundamental nature. There are other grounds on which I base this belief, without having to resort to the doctrine of Buddha-nature. For example, if we look at the pattern of our existence from an early age until our death, we see the way in which we are so fundamentally nurtured by affection, each other's affection, and how we feel when we are exposed to others' affection. In addition, when we ourselves have affectionate feelings we see how it naturally affects us from within. Not only that, but also being affectionate and being more wholesome in our behaviour and thought seems to be much more suited to the physical structure of our body in terms of its effect on our health and physical well-being, and so on. It must also be noted how the contrary seems to be destructive to health. For these reasons I think that we can infer that our fundamental human nature is one of gentleness. Now if this is the case, then it makes all the more sense to try to live a way of life which would be more in accordance with this basic gentle nature of our being.
However, we do find a lot of conflict and tension not only within our individual mind but also within the family, when we interact with other people, and also at the social level, the national level, the global level, and so on. How do we account for that?
One of the factors, I think, that contributes to this conflict is our imaginative faculty, or in other words, intelligence. It is also our intelligence that can find ways and means to overcome this conflict. So in using human intelligence to overcome this conflict which is created by human intelligence, the important factor is human compassion. I think if we look at the reality, it is quite clear that the best way to overcome conflict is the spirit of reconciliation, even within oneself. That spirit has very much to do with compassion.
One aspect of compassion is to respect others' rights and to respect others' views. That is the basis of reconciliation. I think the rule of the human spirit of reconciliation that is based on compassion is working deep down, whether the person really knows it or not. Therefore, because our basic human nature is gentleness, no matter how much we go through violence and many bad things, ultimately the proper solution is to return to the basic human feeling, that is, human affection. So human affection or compassion is not only a religious matter, but in our day-to-day life it is quite indispensable.
This teaching is an excerpt from Healing Anger, a teaching by His Holiness based on "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life", Snow Lion Publications, and is available from Wisdom Publications, Inc., the FPMT publishing company.