Wisdom & Compassion

Wisdom without compassion is cold knowledge. Compassion without wisdom often is misguided sympathy. Recognizing this, the Buddhist teachings stress the essential pairing of the two. One of the main sects, the Pure Land tradition, is based on this teaching. Gautama Buddha told the story of a mythical king, Dharmakara, who wished to attain enlightenment. This king made forty-eight vows that when fulfilled would bring him this enlightenment. Upon fulfilling these vows, he realized that he could not completely overcome his suffering until all beings were freed from suffering. Through this realization he became the Amida Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light and life. Light symbolizes wisdom, life symbolizes compassion. Of course, this is only a story. What is more important is how we apply it to our lives.

Wisdom is not the result of learning. Wisdom is the result of understanding the true nature of all things. We go through our lives seeing the world from our ego based perception. Clinging to our joys and sorrows, we base our actions solely on what we decide is good. The Buddha taught that only when we move beyond this self centered existence will we be able to overcome suffering. The First Noble Truth, right understanding, is the expression of this idea. This understanding, however, only provides the foundation for our actions. Compassion provides the direction our actions should take.

Most people think of compassion as having sympathy for those who are less fortunate. War, hunger, disease, poverty, all cause us to demand solutions. Often, the guilt we feel about our own good fortune drives our actions. Other times we act because of the merit we think we will gain by our good works. The Buddha taught a compassion that goes beyond guilt or merit. The English word “compassion” comes from the Latin “com-," together and “pati," suffer. This “suffer together” is Buddhist compassion. The Amida Buddha represents the Oneness of all life. The law of karma tells us that all we are is the result of all that went before. Events of which we may never be aware determine the course of our lives. In the same manner, our actions will affect the lives of people we will never know.

At first glance, Buddhism seems to contradict itself. Buddhism has no deity to worship. All the teachings exist for one purpose, to overcome suffering in our lives. From this viewpoint, Buddhism seems to be totally self centered. The teaching of compassion shows the opposite to be true. As long as one being is suffering, we will never overcome our own suffering. This is the message of Buddhism and of most religions. The Oneness that is the universe may be expressed by the law of karma, or a belief in a divine Creator. Regardless of our beliefs, wisdom and compassion must guide our actions.

For information about Buddhism, or Zen meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com