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Not-Self and Compassion

adamcrossleyadamcrossley VeteranUK Veteran

In a Lion’s Roar article this month, the Dalai Lama wrote:

Therefore, full spiritual practice calls for cultivating wisdom in conjunction with great compassion and the intention to become enlightened in which others are valued more than yourself.

Previously I had supposed that an enlightened mind, which fully comprehended the reality of Not-Self, would value others equally with oneself, not more or less. Compassion—at least according to my therapist!—should include self-compassion. But here HHDL seems to suggest that the compassion of the Buddhas for other people (and animals?) exceeds their self-compassion.

What do you think? Does an enlightened mind make any distinction between self and others, even only so far as to put others’ needs first? Can anyone bring in other Buddhist writings to add to the conversation?

P.S. Happy Earth Day for yesterday! May all beings and non-beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering <3



  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    I'm not sure exactly what he means. He doesn't say though that we shouldn't care about ourselves and I've heard him say in the past that from a self interested point of view caring about others is the best way to find happiness for yourself.

    Also I suppose there is the idea that others are many and I am just one so others in the plural sense has a greater importance than just the one me.

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited April 2018

    I personally see it this way: The adage, or simile of 'putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs' springs to mind.
    The fact of the matter is, before Enlightenment we are taught that Compassion needs to be cultivated, but we must include ourselves. If we do not look to our own needs on our journey, looking to others will result in something good perhaps, but flawed.
    Flawed, because the Ego will feel some degree of satisfaction, and have an unconscious, self-congratulatory flavour.
    Whatever we do for the good of others, there will always be a small degree of pride. And so many feel guilty, or confused by that.
    Why be confused? It's merely the Ego, providing yet again, a little hurdle we must overcome.... We need an ego to be able to distinguish what harms, and what is beneficial, from a personal PoV (matters we evaluate using the 5 Precepts and the 8FP... Right View, Right Speech, and so on....)

    Once we reach Enlightenment (and we're all a mere gossamer veil away from it) Helping others is always the better option.
    Because we are Aware, Mindful and in the Present.
    And nothing can touch us, because it's all illusory, transitory and the fuel of a single arrow, not two.
    What happens to us, happens to us, and we ride with it, observe it, accept it and act appropriately; but it is water to a duck's back.
    So putting others first, in Enlightenment, will be simple, Wise and Compassionate.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited April 2018

    It's an interesting question, and reminds me of the prayer of St. Francis, which I think shares the same underlying connection between selflessness and compassion/love that the Dalai Lama is pointing towards:

    Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is discord, harmony;
    Where there is error, truth;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    And where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master,
    Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled as to console;
    To be understood as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

    In essence, selfless love is salvific. Thomas Merton, for example, spoke of the inescapable anguish arising from of the "shame at the inescapable stigma of our sins" as long as there's any self-love left in us, that, "Only when all pride, all self-love has been consumed in our souls by the love of God, are we delivered from the things which is the subject of those torments."

    I understand this as meaning that we transcend the duality of self and other, and the other becomes self, pointing towards the nondual perspective at the heart of the Dalai Lama's practice, as well as the teaching of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself.

  • SnakeskinSnakeskin Veteran
    edited April 2018

    @adamcrossley said:
    Can anyone bring in other Buddhist writings to add to the conversation?

    The Visuddhimagga’s method of developing a “boundless heart” uses one’s own desire for welfare as a starting point, then systematically recognizes it in others “to break down the barriers.”

    First of all it should be developed only towards oneself… But this [initial development towards oneself] refers to [making oneself] an example… [So,] if he develops it in this way: ‘I am happy. Just as I want to be happy and dread pain, as I want to live and not to die, so do other beings, too’, making himself the example, then desire for other beings’ welfare and happiness arises in him. And this method is indicated by the Blessed One’s saying:

    ‘I visited all quarters with my mind
    Nor found I any dearer than myself;
    Self is likewise to every other dear;
    Who loves himself will never harm another’ (S.i,75; Ud. 47)
    -- Vism. Ch 9

  • @federica expressed it well.
    Sila for the enlightened.

    In other words, others dukkha becomes transformed into bliss (ideally)
    In this sense the Path continues but crawling, becomes walking, running and finally dancing ??

    Words that come from the heart enter the heart
    Roshi Rabbit

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    Well, in the Nakhasikha Sutta at the end it says...

    "Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

    That implies that when one is fully enlightened this life is essentially done, and naturally one’s focus shifts to helping others. Perhaps in such a circumstance others are seen as more important than oneself.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited April 2018

    @adamcrossley said:
    What do you think? Does an enlightened mind make any distinction between self and others, even only so far as to put others’ needs first? Can anyone bring in other Buddhist writings to add to the conversation?

    A few examples from the early canon:

    In SN 3.8, it seems to suggest that at a basic, unenlightened level, we hold ourselves more dear than others. But the Buddha uses this insight to then teach about harmlessness by seeing that in others:

    "Though in thought we range throughout the world,
    We'll nowhere find a thing more dear than self.
    So, since others hold the self so dear,
    He who loves himself should injure none.

    In SN 16.5, we see that the elderly Kassapa, who, despite his advanced age and have achieved the goal of awakening, is still practicing meditation in the forest and the asceticism that led to his awakening. And when asked why by the Buddha, he explains it's as a example to others, with the Buddha responding, "It seems that you are one who practices for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, benefit, & happiness of beings human & divine."

    In Iti 84, the Buddha talks about three types of people who "appear for the benefit of many, the happiness of many, in sympathy for the world": a Buddha, who discovers the path and teaches it out of compassion; one who has followed the path, achieved awakening, and in turn teaches the path our of compassion; and one who is still on the path and also helps to teach others the way out of compassion.

    And my favourite, in Sn 1.8, the practice of loving-kindness for those who wish to "break through to the state of peace" is developed with the happiness of all beings in mind and the selfless love of a mother:

    As a mother would risk her life
    to protect her child, her only child,
    even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
    with regard to all beings.
    With good will for the entire cosmos,
    cultivate a limitless heart:
    Above, below, & all around,
    unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
    Whether standing, walking,
    sitting, or lying down,
    as long as one is alert,
    one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
    This is called a sublime abiding
    here & now.

    In general, I think we can see a progression from holding oneself dear to a mind that's sensitive to the welfare and happiness of others, which in some way includes ourselves, but which eventually sees through or transcends that dualistic perspective of self and other.

    And of course, in the other traditions, there's even more explicitly non-dualistic sutras and teachings that see the teachings on emptiness as slicing through all dualisms like unawakened and awakened, self and other, etc.; and things like the bodhisattva vows from the Avatamsaka Sutra, which actively place the needs and happiness of all sentient beings above our own and are taken out of awakened compassion and wisdom (bodhichitta).

    Selfishness pulls us away from others as much as awakening. Selflessness, on the other hand, removes the 'I' from the equation, leaving only bodhichitta.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    Thank you for those quotations, @Jason, and for your lucid explanations. That gives me a lot to think about.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited April 2018

    I think think the Buddha is quoted saying "there is nobody in the universe more deserving of your compassion than yourself". I seem to remember reading that. I'm not sure what writing or oral tradition to writing it is from but it is quoted sometimes.

    I also think of a quote I think from the Dalai Lama actually? The quote is "if you want to help yourself help others. And if you want to help others than help yourself"

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited April 2018

    What do you think? Does an enlightened mind make any distinction between self and others, even only so far as to put others’ needs first?

    A enlightened mind (from what I gather) would see the empty/impermanent nature of all phenomena including itself and so on the Ultimate level when interacting in the conventional world ie, when helping the so called others , one is automatically helping the/oneself...Ultimately speaking...

    Can anyone bring in other Buddhist writings to add to the conversation?

    Three types of compassion

    Three types of compassion from Chandrakirti’s homage to great compassion
    Compassion observing migrators
    Compassion observing phenomena
    Compassion observing the unapprehendable
    Conventional truths are not actually truths

  • There is no other. No outside of our being. Strange but true.

    Most of us [lobster raises guilty claw] are obsessed, possessed and attached to the small wheel of our mind, body and sprite (kind of like spirit but less so).

    However [non-spoiler alert] as we lessen, loosen and let go of our encructaceans :3 where is the dukkha? In the mind, body and being of those we think of as other of course ...

    What is a Buddha gal to do? Cue the Mahayana ... <3

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