- GOOD QUESTION GOOD ANSWER
- Ven. Shravasti Dhammika
- Wisdom and Compassion
What do the terms wisdom and compassion mean in Buddhism?
Some religions believe that compassion or love (the two are very
similar) is the most important spiritual quality but they fail to develop any wisdom. The
result is that you end up being a good-hearted fool, a very kind person but with little or
no understanding. Other systems of thought, like science, believe that wisdom can best be
developed when all emotions, including compassion, are kept out of the way. The outcome of
this is that science has tended to become preoccupied with results and has forgotten that
science is to serve man, not to control and dominate him. How, otherwise could scientists
have lent their skills to develop the nuclear bomb, germ warfare, and the like. Religion
has always seen reason and wisdom as the enemy of emotions like love and faith. Science
has always seen emotions like love and faith as being enemies of reason and objectivity.
And of course, as science progresses, religion declines. Buddhism, on the other hand,
teaches that to be a truly balanced and complete individual, you must develop both wisdom
and compassion. And because it is not dogmatic but based on experience, Buddhism has
nothing to fear from science.
So what, according to Buddhism, is wisdom?
The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality all phenomena are
incomplete, impermanent, and not self. This understanding is totally freeing and leads to
the great security and happiness which is called Nirvana. However, the Buddha doesnt
speak too much about this level of wisdom. It is not wisdom if we simply believe what we
are told. True wisdom is to directly see and understand for ourselves. At this level then,
wisdom is to keep an open mind rather than being closed-minded, listening to other points
of view rather than being bigoted; to carefully examine facts that contradict our beliefs,
rather than burying our heads in the sand; to be objective rather than prejudiced and
partisan; to take time about forming our opinions and beliefs rather than just accepting
the first or most emotional thing that is offered to us; and to always be ready to change
our beliefs when facts that contradict them are presented to us. A person who does this is
certainly wise and is certain to eventually arrive at true understanding. The path of just
believing what you are told is easy. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience,
flexibility and intelligence.
What is the point of Buddhism if only a few can practice it?
It is true that not everyone is ready for Buddhism yet. But to say
therefore that we should teach a religion that is false but easily understandable so
everyone can practise it is ridiculous. Buddhism aims at the truth and if not everyone has
the capacity to understand it yet, they perhaps will be ready for it in their next life.
However, there are many who, with just the right words or encouragement, are able to
increases their understanding. And it is for this reason that Buddhists gently and quietly
strive to share the insights of Buddhism with others. The Buddha taught us out of
compassion and we teach others out of compassion.
What, according to Buddhism, is compassion?
Just as wisdom covers the intellectual or comprehending side of our
nature. Like wisdom, compassion is uniquely human quality. Compassion is made up of two
words. 'co' meaning together and 'passion' meaning a strong feeling. And this is what
compassion is. When we see someone is in distress and we feel their pain as if it were our
own, and strive to eliminate or lessen their pain, then this is compassion. So all the
best in human beings, all the Buddha-like qualities like sharing, readiness to give
comfort, sympathy, concern and caring - all are manifestations of compassion. You will
notice also that in the compassionate person, care and love towards others has its origins
in care and love for oneself. We can really understand others when we really understand
ourselves. We will know whats best for others when we know whats best for
ourselves. We can feel for others when we feel for ourselves. So in Buddhism, ones own
spiritual development blossoms quite naturally into concern for the welfare of others. The
Buddhas life illustrates this very well. He spent six years struggling for his own
welfare, after which, he was able to be of benefit to the whole of mankind.
Isnt it selfish to say that we are best able to help others
after we have helped ourselves.
We usually see altruism, concern for others before oneself, as being
the opposite of selfishness, concern for oneself before others,. Buddhism does no see it
as either one or the other but rather as a blending of the two. Genuine self-concern will
gradually mature into concern for others as one sees that others are really the same as
oneself. This is genuine compassion. Compassion is the most beautiful jewel in the crown
of the Buddhas teaching.
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