Bodhisattvas have more compassion for the harmers than the harmed

Jul 23, 2020

A bird needs two wings: wisdom and compassion. Compassion, finally, is the point, but as His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “Compassion is not enough; we need wisdom.” And as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “Meaning well is not enough; we need wisdom.”
What does this mean? Once we have grounded ourselves in the initial stages of practice of the Buddhist path, the wisdom wing – understanding the law of karma: that every millisecond of what we think and do and say programs us, leaves seeds in our mind that will just naturally ripen as our future experiences; and understanding attachment and how it’s the source of our suffering – we will have renunciation. Once we know that we are own creators, we’ll be totally energized to give up suffering and its causes. Who wants more suffering? Not me! This is like compassion for ourselves. 
Having done this work first, having looked at karma, the law of cause and effect, and at the way the mind works, we then are very comfortable in taking responsibility for our own suffering. We stop being victims, we become accountable.
And, of course, we are totally repsonsible for our own happiness as well: every moment of anything good that happens in our lives is the direct resulf of our own past good. Each moment of happiness is the fruit of a moment of past virtue.
Once we realize we’re the boss, the creator of our own happiness and suffering –His Holiness says we can think of karma as “self-creation” – it’s easy to look at the whole world and see that everyone – every human, every creature – is in the same boat: we are all experiencing the fruits of our own past actions, negative and postive. It’s a natural law; it’s just the way it is. It’s not punishment and reward because in Buddhism there is no punisher and no rewarder. 
When we know this, we will then be able to have such compassion for all the suffering sentient beings. This life you are the victim, next life you are the oppressor; the oppressors of this life are the victims of a past life, and will be the victims of the future; the victims of this life are the oppressors of past life and will be the oppressors of the future. We just go round and round and round, never realizing each of us is the main cause of our own experiences. 
This understanding is the basis of compassion, that’s the Buddha’s point. Usually we have compassion for one group and then anger towards the others that we think are the cause of the suffering. We feel sorry for victims. That’s not really compassion at all. It’s better than nothing. But it’s not much help because in the end the aggression, the anger towards the harmers, and the idea that they are the main cause of the suffering of the victims, puts us deeper and deeper and deeper into the hole of samsara.
What is real compassion? Well, compassion has to be equal for all beings for it to be genuine compassion. Compassion is simply seeing that others are suffering or – this is the point – that others are causing themselves suffering by harming others. Usually, we’d have compassion for the dog who’s being kicked and then anger towards the person who kicked him. But the real reason to have compassion is because that dog out of ignorance set itself up to be a dog and to be harmed because of its past actions.
But we’d have compassion for the kicker too – in fact, the bodhisattvas would have more compassion for the kicker! The dog has just finished the karma he created in the past, the harmer is only just beginning his own future suffering.
This is real compassion. And without understanding karma it’s impossible. Then we’re not falling into the dualistic trap of victims and oppressors. We learn this on the wisdom wing: we know why we’re suffering and are fed up with it – that’s like compassion for yourself – then easily we’ll have compassion for the guy who kicks the dog, because out of his ignorance he doesn’t realize that he’s causing his own future suffering.
First we understand our own suffering and its causes, then we can extend it to others. 
This compassion is powerful. It’s imbued with wisdom. It’s not sentimental. Compassion is empathy for others and then the wish to help, but it’s wisdom that enables us to know why they’re suffering and to know how to help.

More blog posts

Big surprise! Attachment is the main source of our problems

As far as the four noble truths are concerned, the main source of our suffering is attachment: this is what we have to understand. This is surprising: we don’t think like this. This is not Jung's model of the mind, or Freud's. And you don't get attachment from your...

Neuroses are not at the core of our being and therefore can be removed

Let’s talk about the fundamental point that underpins all of Buddha’s teachings from A to Z – all of Buddha's teachings from A to zed, as we say in England and Australia. According to the Buddhist analysis, the neurotic states of mind, the unhappy states of mind, the...

Angry thoughts arising in the mind is not necessarily “being angry”

Part of the process of becoming conscious inevitably means we're going to see the rubbish in our head more clearly. All these negative thoughts – the worries, the anxiety, the anger, the fears – loom large, and they fill our head. The tragedy is we overexaggerate...

Share this article