“Of Buddhahood’s abundant crop, compassion is the seed.
It is like moisture bringing increase and is said
To ripen in the state of lasting happiness.
Therefore to begin, I celebrate compassion.”
From Chandrakiriti’s Introduction to the Middle Way (Shechen Publications, New Dehli, 2004)
© Translation by the Padmakara Translation Group.
What is the Buddha Seed that is said to be in all living things? It is our compassionate nature, sometimes well developed and sometimes remaining dormant. Even animals are said to have this Buddha Seed, however animals rarely get a chance to develop it.
What is compassion? Compassion has nothing to do with a sentimental view of life. It is not like pity, which is a feeling of sorrow and sympathy for the misfortunate. Compassion urges us to take bold, strong, and courageous action, to feel the suffering of the sufferer and to release them from their suffering, no matter their status in society, whether it’s a relative or a stranger, friend or perceived foe, animal or insect. It is said that it is because of this Buddha Seed that all living beings will eventually become Buddhas. True compassion cherishes all of life.
In general it is easier to care about the happiness of our friends and relatives, but much more difficult to feel compassion for those who we consider against us and who do things in the wrong way, hurting themselves and others. And while many people have pets and love them as dearly as a family member or loyal friend, they feel more pity for their condition than true compassion.
What is the difference between self-centered compassion and true (selfless) compassion? While a mother cat will rescue her kitten from a certain danger, this is not seen as true compassion as all mothers, human and animal, would attempt a rescue of their child whether they behaved good or bad. Therefore, most of us practice a very biased and limited compassion that has more to do with our attachment to the suffering being and our needs, than it does for wanting the others genuine happiness. Simply put, we want them to feel better again so that we do as well.
Wayne Smallman in his post, “Is Altruism The Illusion Faith Seeks?” on his “Blah, Blah Technology” website refers to the puzzling behavior of a leopard who saved a baby baboon after it killed the baboon’s mother, and believes that what he called “altruism” to be useful only in preserving evolution. I argued that since most of us humans are more like our chimpanzee brothers, or the leopard who saved the baby baboon, we have little hope for evolution if our needs alone are the motivating factor to do any kindness. It is only by the ripening of the Buddha Seed through personal development and lots of practice, (many acts of selfless compassion), that true compassion can be realized. But we’re all born into life understanding and acting on different levels of compassion, most of us allowing our environment to shape our mind even further.
In Buddhism it’s believed a human is re-born into the animal realm because of the person’s own ignorance, or stupidity, stemming from their wrongly held views and blind obedience to a person, group, or cause in their past human life. (See my blog post “Animal Love” to read more about this.) Humans have many more opportunities for advancement than animals because of our ability to develop true compassion. Because animals act mostly in their own self-interest they stay trapped in their realm for eons, or at least until their negative karma is dissolved.
It is the motivation of the mind that determines whether an action taken to help the suffering being is selfish or selfless.
While a rescue dog in Haiti who sniffs out the living from among the dead in a pile of rubble is certainly a hero when he finds someone alive, the dog is trained to do this job by rewarding him for when he gets it right. Certainly there is merit earned for saving a life, but this is much different than an animal with no training who feels the suffering of another, longs to stop their pain, and takes bold action to stop it. While some might argue that their dog would do the same thing as the dog in this video, the truth is that all dogs are not created equal, and neither are people. In humans and in animals, this kind of compassion is said to ripen over many lifetimes of experience:
Thousands of YouTube viewers around the world watched this savior dog bravely risk it’s own life on a busy highway, using his paws to pull an injured dog to safety. (That hurt dog unfortunately died.) The savior dog lived but the highwaymen who were there when it happened couldn’t find it after the event. It was like the savior dog disappeared. If we could all be as selfless in our compassion as this unwanted and unloved mutt, who reached out to help the suffering of another, the human race might take one step closer to Nirvana.