[Amended] Why Your Compassion is Already Perfect
An expanded version of "An Unspoken Sutra (The Best Story I Can Tell You)"
@ http://moonpointer.com/essays/best/1.htm (with pics)
Once upon a time, when the Buddha was still Prince Siddhartha, He had all that most would had wanted in His time. When He ventured beyond the palace walls, He encountered an old man, a sick man and a dead man. To His dismay, He realised that the world lives in the constant shadow of suffering. Returning to the palace with this disturbing burden of reality, He discovered He could not no longer be happy - despite having all the luxuries in the world.
It wasn't because he was afraid of the inevitable suffering He would face, but it pained Him that all have to endure the vicissitudes of living and dying. Thus, He chose to renounce His princely life, to seek the solution for universal liberation, to end suffering for one and all. By attaining Enlightenment, He succeeded in finding the path to True Happiness. That was how He became the Buddha - one with perfect Compassion and Wisdom.
But enough, for I digressed.
The story I really want to tell... is about YOU.
Imagine now, more than 2,500 years after the Buddha's time - You are the richest person ever and own the tallest and most magnificent mansion in the world. It has all the luxury facilities you ever dreamt of - a personal pool, spa, gym, theatre, bar... whatever your heart desires. Welcome to your modern day paradise palace.
One day, you hear cries beyond the walls of your estate. You look out of the penthouse window and to your utmost surprise, you see a "sea" of suffering people - old, sick, dying, both the physically and mentally distressed. There are so many of them that they cover all of the land up to the horizon.
My first important question for you - Can you ever be truly happy again? Are you able to turn your back on the suffering you see and live your life as before? Be honest. I don't think you can. I don't think anyone can, unless one does not comprehend the suffering one sees.
Would you not try your best to help these suffering people? You will realise that true and complete happiness for yourself is possible only when those around you are free from suffering, or when you know you have tried your best to help free them from suffering. If you are to reflect deeply, you will see that it is simply not in human nature to ignore the pain of others. Whether you succeed helping all in your lifetime is beside the issue; trying your best in the moment is the main issue.
You might think it was extreme to use the analogy of a mass of suffering people - but is it? There are indeed more than enough suffering beings in our world to overflow the horizon. Perhaps our Compassion is not as strong and readily aroused as Prince Siddhartha's, who only needed to see three in suffering to realise its prevalance and implications. Perhaps we need a drastic experience of reality in person to awaken our Compassion, instead of seeing only fleeting images of suffering in the papers or on TV.
Next, imagine having helped all the suffering people. With a job well done, you feel glad and content. One day, you receive news that there is one person left in suffering, miles away from you... a total stranger, just like the rest you helped.
My second important question - Can you ever be truly happy again? Are you able to turn your back on this stranger and live your life as before? Be honest. I don't think you can. You would naturally want to reach out and help this one person, whoever and wherever he or she is, no matter how difficult it is. Why?
Because the truth is... You cannot stand even the suffering of one single being, much more to say, the suffering of many. Your innate Compassion is thus all-encompassing, embracing one and all unconditionally. It is so perfect that it is even concerned about a small ant in distress. We all have this perfect Compassion within - Compassion that is not different from the Buddha's. It is from this Compassion that springs forth Bodhicitta - the aspiration to help all beings attain True Happiness by becoming Buddhas, by being Bodhisattvas (Buddhas-to-be in training). Here, we learn to stand in the shoes of the great Bodhisattvas, to understand how they can make awe-inspiring vows to guide every single being to liberation, no matter how many obstacles they face and how long it takes. Deep down, this is what we wish to do too! And we can because we have the potential.
This potential to become Bodhisattvas and Buddhas is called Buddha-Nature - our true nature, which is the same as that of all enlightened ones'. We "have" various other natures too - the nature of attachment (greed), aversion (hatred) and delusion (ignorance). However, these natures surface and fade away now and then like dark clouds passing in the sky. Our Buddha-Nature, however, is always there. It is like the bright full moon that shines forth whenever unhindered by the clouds of our defilements. To become a Buddha is to clear the clouds once and for all, and to let this heart of perfect Compassion shine always. Whether you know it or not, our Compassion is already perfect. All we have to do is recognise it... more and more, till Buddha-Nature becomes our "second nature", our only nature. As much as it is natural to answer the call of our Buddha-Nature to awaken our Compassion and Wisdom, it is actually unnatural to ignore it. This is because answering this call will lead to True Happiness, which is what we really want.
Back to the Buddha's story... The Truth that leads to True Happiness, which the Buddha discovered, is Wisdom. Compassion was His primary motivating force. He was moved by Compassion when He saw suffering, to seek the Wisdom necessary for everyone's liberation. The moment we answer our Compassion, we are like Prince Siddhartha, being true to ourselves, being true to all. The Buddha never forgot His intention to help all beings. All beings might not be perfectly helped yet, but having realised perfect Compassion, none of the countless Buddhas will give up. Will you not aspire to be one of them?
However, first things first. Never forget that you deserve as much Compassion as anyone else. Only when you take care of yourself well enough, only when you have enough Compassion for yourself, can it overflow to others. Remember - you cannot even stand the suffering of one single being - be kind to yourself then. The flowering of Compassion starts from feeling it arise for a single being - from not being able to stand your very own suffering.
Answer the call of universal Compassion today - be good to yourself, for it is also part of the path of being good to everyone else. In the Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva taught us that "Compassion is the root of the Buddhist path." As Buddhists who are aspiring Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, let us remember to take root in Compassion. Let us remember the roots of Buddhism, of how our precious connection with the Triple Gem arose from Prince Siddhartha's Compassion for all beings, including you and me. May we be grateful to the Buddha's Compassion, and repay it with Compassion to others. With this in mind, let us reflect on the following prayer, as we offer our thought, word and deed to the well-being of all...
May all mother sentient beings, boundless as the sky,
(all have been our countless dear mothers in our past lives)
have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness which is free from sorrow.
May they rest in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.
On the behalf of all beings, thank you for your Compassion.
-Shen Shi'an (pic:artbywicks.com)