Buddhist Concept for Today’s Living (12)
compassionThe Daishonin Took the Sufferings
Removing Suffering and Giving
All Living Beings As His Own
There is a “self-centered” part of us that is constantly
functioning-thinking first of ourselves, and then of others only when
This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s an important part of being
alive. When self-interest becomes the dominant force in our lives,
however, it can cause us to act insensitively and even harmfully toward
others. It has the potential to make us selfish and, if unchecked, even
On the one had there are times, especially in emergencies, when failure
to look out for ourselves may have catastrophic results. While we all have
to solve our own problems, there are some proems that we cannot solve
alone. We must rely on the help of others.
On the other hand there are times when, by extending a hand to others,
we can help them in ways that they may not be able to help themselves.
What is needed in such situations is compassion.
In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist texts, including Nichiren Daishonin’s
writings, the word for compassion comprises two Chinese characters. It is
pronounced ci bei in Chinese and jihi in Japanese. The first
character, ci or ji, is a translation of the Sanskrit work
maitri, meaning “to give happiness.” The second, bei or
hi, comes from the Sanskrit karuna, meaning “to remove
suffering.” Taken together they describe the function of relieving living
beings of suffering and giving them happiness.
Almost anyone can feel kindness toward someone who shows them kindness.
It is the spirit of Buddhism to develop a sense of compassion toward all
people--toward any person. It is in this spirit that Nichiren Daishonin
wrote: “The various sufferings experienced by all livings beings are
without exception Nichiren’s own sufferings” (GZ 758).
The Behavior of a Bodhisattva
The compassion of Buddhist enlightenment--the desire to “remove
suffering and give happiness”--is expressed in the human behavior of a
Buddha or bodhisattva. Nichiren Daishonin also writes, “Even a heartless
villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the
bodhisattva world within him.” (WND, 358).
This statement makes it clear that anyone and everyone possesses the
potential of a bodhisattva--the potential to behave with compassion toward
another person. Yet, it is an ordinary human tendency to place concern for
ourselves first and foremost. This may be the strongest human impulse.
Furthermore, there long have been those who hold the view that compassion
is a sign of weakness; that generosity only spoils the receiver of
There may be a grain of truth to his assertion. Kindness that does not
empower the receiver creates little lasting value. From the Buddhist view,
true compassion is that which has the power to root out the cause of
misery in people's lives and direct them to the cause of happiness. Such
compassion by its very nature requires courage and strength.
How then can ordinary people, who are governed by the impulse for
self-interest, express compassion in a constructive and meaningful
A natural example is the actions of a mother toward her child. A mother
will do anything she can to protect her child, even if it means braving
flames or flood.
The Kindness of a Parent
Nichiren Daishonin wrote, “I, Nichiren Daishonin, am sovereign,
teacher, and father and mother to all the people of Japan” (WND, 287). He
made this statement to convey his state of life as the original Buddha--a
state of life capable of embracing all people with the compassion of a
parent toward his or her children.
Now this is not an easy thing. We sometimes even lose patience with our
own children, let alone strangers. Since that is the case, most of us
without assistance tend to be lacking in the quality defined as Buddhist
What can we do about it? Well, to state the conclusion first, we can
expose our hearts and minds to the very state of compassion manifested by
the Buddha. When we believe in and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the
Gohonzon, which embodies the compassionate state of life of the original
Buddha, we stimulate and bring forth a source of boundless compassion
latent within us.
Taking a lesson form the Daishonin’s writings, it is also useful to
apply the model of a parent--or teacher--in developing compassion for
Any successful parent or teacher knows the importance of seeing things
from the child’s perspective. The exert themselves in caring for and
educating their children, wanting to see them grow and develop their
Such people transcend divisions of self and other to view the
sufferings and joys of their children or students as their own. Constant
is their concern for the children. Always thinking of them, they are eager
to offer help. Protection, and an opportunity to learn. This sort of
concern will certainly reach the hearts of others, be they children or
adults. The Nobel-prize winning French author André Gide (1869-1951) put
it clearly: “True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s
own the suffering and joys of others” (Pretexts, “Portraits and
Compassion also includes the ability to recognize in others strengths
and capacities that we ourselves may be lacking, and our wish to learn
from those qualities. While it is easy to identify another’s weak points,
it is harder than we may think to clearly recognize and appreciate the
person’s strong points. If we focus on the strong points, however, we will
naturally come to appreciate, fell close to, and even develop a fondness
for him or her. As a result, we may find ourselves thinking of that person
more often and feeling concerned about his or her well-being.
We practice Buddhism for our own happiness and that of others. These
two aims of faith cannot be separated. When our thoughts for others’
well-being become part of our daily prayer, we transcend the innate
impulse to be concerned only with ourselves, and illuminate the
fundamental ignorance that is the source of suffering with the light of
our innate Buddhahood.
By Jeff Kriger, managing
editor, based on Yasashii Kyogaku (Easy Buddhist Study), published
by the Seikyo Press in 1994.