Detachment and Compassion
- I found a paper on Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism by Elizabeth J. Harris, who has a PhD in Pâli and Buddhist studies. Her concern was that compassion and detachment can appear incompatible "If compassion means to relieve suffering in a positive way, and detachment to remain aloof from the world, how can the two be practiced together?" For the answer, go to this link http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/harris/bl141.pdf. The following is my condensed version. A lack of concern towards everything in samsâra seems to be the conclusion in many of the translations into English. However, any translation of concepts from Pâli to English requires a careful definition of terms and the author carefully argues that this incompatibility of detachment and compassion is incorrect. Viveka and virâga are two words with very different meaning that are both translated as "detachment". Viveka means separation, aloofness, seclusion, possibly with physical withdrawal. In Buddha's time withdrawing from the life of the householder, renouncing possessions and adopting a solitary wandering life was a recognized way. However, Buddha made clear this was not a physical act of withdrawal or austerity. A recluse could use it and have it lead to pride, carelessness, attention seeking and hypocrisy. Viveka has to be linked to insight through meditation for there to be any inner purification. This purification process leads us to the other Pâli word for detachment, virâga. This word means the absence of lust, desire, and cravings for existence. Non-attachment is a better English word for virâga than detachment. Grasping is the opposite word (antonym) and Buddhist texts refer to four types, sense pleasures, views, rule and custom, and doctrines of self. The author gives examples of the various types of grasping and then starts the second part of her paper concerning the translation of the Pâli word for compassion, Karunâ.
Meditation causes an "attitude of the mind", resulting in a kind of compassion. This compassion from meditation is a needed prerequisite for a just and harmonious society, progress in wisdom on the meditative path, and results in beneficial influences of an enlightened person or one striving to attain enlightenment. For the final stage of the path, action from attraction and aversion (has karmic results) stops and compassion flows from the purified mind. Disciples at this stage go forth and engage with society with a great compassion because self-promotion and achievement are absent. This last stage will promote an altruistic reformation of society. The disciple is an active participation in society, does not withdrawal.