Compassion a rebirth producing craving?

I was talking to someone who is in the Mahayana tradition and they seem to believe that compassion is a rebirth producing craving so someone can see that samsara is dukkha… have right view and see nibbana. be an arahant yet their compassion males them reborn. Any EBT thoughts on this view? is this in line with the Buddha’s teachings. I didn’t think it would as omce the arahat sees dukkha and nonself etc then no amount of compassjon would fuel another rebirth?

That does not sound like the Mahayana I’ve encountered in studying and participating in it for quite a long time. Might it be possible you misunderstood?

The Mahayana believes in the Bodhisattva’s way of life. Those following the Mahayana path often take Bodhisattva vows which have been poetically rendered by Shantideva as:

As long as space endures,
as long as sentient being remain,
until then, may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.

Perhaps something like this is what was being expressed by the person you were talking to? The Mahayana path involves perfecting the four immeasurables which are taught in the EBT by the Buddha and the vow and aspiration above should be understood in that light.

Again, I think it would be quite useful to read the book I recommended earlier that gives an outline of the Mahayana from the context of the Theravada before forming fixed convictions about what is and what is not Mahayana.

Hope this is helpful.


I have heard it from Mahayana monks as well.

Perhaps it’s because tibetan tradition doesn’t have lotus sutra?

In that sutra, it says arahants can become Buddhas. and it’s the real intention of a buddha to make everyone buddhas.

He just presented the different vehicles of arahanthood, private buddha and bodhisattvahood to suit different personalities, but once the children are away from the burning house, he gave them all the buddha vehicle.

I asked the monks, how can arahants come back when there’s no more craving. They replied, by compassion.

I didn’t thought too much about it back then. Also, there’s a warning in the lotus sutra on disbelief it is bad kamma, talking against it is bad kamma and so on.

I have a ready answer now, but maybe I just post a link.

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The tibetan tradition does contain the lotus sutra to my understanding, but I don’t think it is considered the definitive explanation?

The tibetan tradition - really the nalanda tradition - also generally says that arahants and solitary realizers - after meditating in the nirvana without remainder for countless eons - come out of meditative equipoise on emptiness by the power of the Buddhas - because they still have cognitive obscurations, but not afflictive obscurations? That is, although craving has utterly ceased they still have cognitive obscurations preventing complete and full awakening? After coming out of meditative equipoise - at the behest of the Buddhas - they generate genuine bodhicitta and happily enter the path of the Bodhisattva as Noble beings who’ve already utterly eradicated craving?

That is my very crude paraphrase, but the crucial point is that the story doesn’t say or imply that compassion causes rebirth to my understanding at least. The story is quite a bit more elaborate than that simplistic paraphrase from my experience. I’m quite sure I have not done the story justice with my awful paraphrase. This forum is probably not the right place to discuss the Mahayana story in full or what the extant nalanda and other mahayana traditions say or don’t say?

@Iwanttonibbana expressed a question the other day about whether/how to engage in Mahayana study and I expressed caution in jumping to conclusions based on cursory information. Certainly I wouldn’t trust my crude paraphrase above either. Rather, it would be prudent to study a good book with experts versed on the subjects of how and where the Theravada and Mahayana differ and over what and why? I guess I’m trying to express caution about coming to premature conclusions with - to my mind at least - simplistic paraphrases that I doubt many traveling the Mahayana path would agree with? Otherwise, it seems to me quite easy to come away with misunderstanding.


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Namo Buddhaya!

Here are some


Now at that time a large number of monks had declared final gnosis in the Blessed One’s presence: “We discern that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.’”


The Realized One’s body remains, but his attachment to rebirth has been cut off. As long as his body remains he will be seen by gods and humans. But when his body breaks up, after life has ended, gods and humans will see him no more.


Those who have fully understood
the unconditioned state—
their minds freed, the conduit to rebirth ended—
attained to the heart of the Dhamma,
they delight in ending,
the poised ones have given up all states of existence.”

I feel that PS, and avijja at the root of it, are especially about unvoluntairy development of mind and rebirth. Unvoluntairy in the sense, avijja gives rise to habitual tendencies, instincts, and one tends to follow them blindly because of the forces of those habits. One becomes machine-like, following blindly the arisings drifts, as it were. Not vey different from animals.

If avijja is gone this is gone. One does not function anymore unfreely and blind, like a machine.
Like me :slight_smile:

The cessation of avijja is, i believe, like dismanteling this unfree blind slavery to upcoming drifts, tendencies, impulses, or whatever may start to ferment.

I believe it does not uproot totally the possibility to become emotional, nor to take voluntairy rebirth, nor to voluntairy entering in certain states of mind. But is just no based upon avijja anymore, not a blind slavery, not a compulsiveness.

For me it makes sense that ones heart is that big that one wants to keep helping other beings in samsara after enlightment. By the way, is samsara really a location? Are we really IN samsara?

For what it’s worth, I am a Mahayana practitioner who has great reverence and refuge in the Pali canon and other EBT sutta. I consider it True Dhamma. In many respects, I base my meager understanding of the path in these early suttas and do not consider them in any way to be “supplanted” by the sutras of the Mahayana path as found in the Nalanda tradition.

I’ve found it possible to integrate an understanding of both the Pali canon suttas and Mahayana sutras in a non-contradictory way and cohesive way.

It is not my intent to proselytize the Mahayana on these forums as I do not think that is appropriate. My motivation in responding here is to hopefully help ward off any misunderstandings and with that I’ll bow out of this discussion. I hope this is helpful.


it is so clear the Buddha saying rebirth is ended. It seems Mahayana is a whole different “religion” and doctrine and not the Buddha’s teachings but just some aspects of Dhamma.

I have confidence in the Buddha yet because there is so much Mahayana around i try to understand it in the context of EBT but I think I’m getting to the point to just gove up trying to understand Mahayana as it is an entirely different box to EBT

Venerable Yeshe. I also have concern Mahayana and also Theravada Metta/Compassion practice can perpetuate views of self and rebirth producing cravings. These Mahayana verses I learned at a Mahayana centre read as though they revolve around views of self. Although I can picture a Mahayana being full of love, forgiveness, humility & non-aggression. Like a mother embracing their only child, I can imagine a Mahayana practitioner embracing every being without exception, regardless of any unpleasant qualities & character the Mahayana practitioner perceives. This would be such a beautiful antidote to the divisive lack of tolerance growing in today’s societies & worlds. I can picture a Mahayana practitioner would be like water flowing towards all, including flowing into the lowest of lowest places, embracing like a Universal Mother. :buddha:

With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.

Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.

In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise-
As they endanger myself and others-
May I strongly confront them and avert them

When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear-for they are rare to find-
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!

When others, out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse, slander, and scorn,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.

When someone whom I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes,
Mistreats me in extremely hurtful ways,
May I regard him still as my precious teacher.

In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.

May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And may I, recognizing all things as illusion,
Devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.

Eight Verses for Training the Mind

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The true dhamma is verifiable and Buddha warned of counterfeit dhamma in the pali texts.

Just as there is no disappearance of gold as long as a counterfeit of gold has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of gold when a counterfeit of gold has arisen in the world, in the same way there is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world. Saddhammapatirupaka Sutta: A Counterfeit of the True Dhamma

When, on observing that the monk is purified with regard to qualities based on delusion, he places conviction in him. With the arising of conviction, he visits him & grows close to him. Growing close to him, he lends ear. Lending ear, he hears the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.

"To this extent, Bharadvaja, there is an awakening to the truth. To this extent one awakens to the truth. I describe this as an awakening to the truth. Canki Sutta: With Canki

The pali texts are plenty difficult to penetrate the meaning of.

Any craving, whether wholesome or unwholesome leads to rebirth of some kind or other. No craving - no rebirth.

As such, the desire to do good and alleviate suffering in others also leads to rebirth. Desire based in compassion is still desire.

The EBTs make clear how kamma operates, and i see no major contradiction in this regard with the Mahyana or Varjrayana belief that one can be reborn with these sankharas.

The part of The Mahayana teachings i have difficulty reconciling, is not this per se, but that they think this can go on perpetually.

According to the EBT’s rebirth is only going to last a maximum of 7 lifetimes after attaining the first stage of enlightenment, sotapanna.

At some stage, when this craving is ended, with complete awakening, then rebirth is ended. This is with the full realisation of the 4 Noble Truths. Particularly pertinent here is the first NT - understanding the nature of suffering/unsatisfactoriness inherent in existence itself.

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Nibanna is equated to be total freedom, most particularly, from the causes of suffering. One of the most fundamental laws is conditionality where the answer to your question depends on how you approach the matter.

To be or not to be? That is the answer. What if there is no craving but freedom to choose? Not all choices are made out of craving and clinging.

According the Pali Canon Buddha in endless lifes served goodness, meaning, his own hearts true wisdom. Pure heartedness has a natural wish to do good. But that is not a tanha. The 3 tanha’s are egocentric. In fact they all come down to wishing some kind of future pleasurable result for oneself. At least that is what one envisions. The pleasure of the senses, of not being and of being.

Pure heartedness has nothing to do with this. This is not strategical at all. It does not even aim at becoming a Buddha, higher rebirths, accumulating merit. This pure hearth is our birthright. I feel that is the main message of Mahayana and i also feel of EBT. I also feel this is true.
Pure heartedness is not buddhist at all. Every being has it. It does not at all depend on culture, ideas, views, time or space or any religion. A Buddha merely re-discovers it and teaches it.

Pure heartedness does not lead to a burden. It never sees actions as investments. It is always burdenfree and will be that always. One cannot burden a space like emptiness. One cannot burden a total openess. One cannot burden the unestablished, only the established.

Intentionally doing good, making such plans, strategically doing good, burdens. I have felt this so many times. It is quit burdensome to live such a egocentric life. I do not say it is bad and i do not say one must not do this, but just look at it. What a burden always wishing something in return for oneself.
Always oneself at the center of the universe. Living like a trademan, always investing, always being strategical. I cannot help but to see this also as ugly. Call me naive, dreamer, this is how i know it. No one has ever learned me this. I know this.

This way of living is, ofcourse, connected to a doctrine of self. The self who wishes something for her/himself and longs to reap the results of actions in the future. In fact exactly what binds to samsara.
Again, it is not bad but it cannot lead to the end of suffering, right?

I feel, that is also why MN117 makes this difference between a mundane noble path that leads to good fruits, connected to merit, but which is still not based upon dispassion and purity. And the supra mundane Path that is. This is a totally unselfish ground. The nature of the mind. This dimension is present here and now. It is refered to as the asankhata element in our lives, i believe. The dimension of the self is seen arising with its self-oriented goals, perspective, views, opinions, desires, plans, needs, intentions but the selfless dimension of emptiness is not seen arising.

There is no real difference between abandoning all that leads to impurity and the end of rebirth and suffering, i believe. Or removing all that makes us selfish and the end of rebirth. Or removing all that covers up our natural goodness and ending rebirth. There is something inherently good about this total openess of the mind. This mind without limits (AN10.81)

Mahayana especially sees a selfish way of living as the core problem why rebirth continues and there is no end to suffering. . And its skillful means are often directly adiressing this oh so common selfish way of living. Selfishness is just the combination of avijja and tanha because being selfish one expacts pleasure, happiness, end of suffering in the future, where this will never happen. The mundane is in practice just the same as being selfish. The Pure Noble Path as being not selfish. What is selfish burdens. What is not selfish does not burden. What is selfish is connected to kamma, good, bad or mixed. What is unselfish is beyond kamma and makes an end to bright, dark and mixed kamma. What is selfish is related to a renewed becoming. What is unselfish not. What is selfish is related to unfreedom. What is unselfish is related to freedom. What is selfish is related to a restricted mind and rigid mind. What is unselish is related to openess and lack of rigidness. What is selfish is related to attachment. What is unselfish to detachment etc.

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I think you can also see this here:

"Lady, ‘origin of personality, origin of personality’ is said. What is called the origin of personality by the Blessed One?" “Friend Visakha, it is craving, which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being, and craving for non-being. This is called the origin of personality by the Blessed One.” (MN44, Bodhi)

Often this craving comes with a sense of a self (a sense of Me) who craves and which sees future delight and hopes it will reap this delight in the future. Craving often comes with a selfish, and therefor, deluded vision. If you look at the 2th Noble Truth that is, i feel, a good way to describe what a selfish drive consists of, 3 forms.

I find it a bit strange that bhava raga (the craving for being or becoming) is summed up as one of the 7 anusaya (in DN33) but vibhava raga is not mentioned as an anusaya. Maybe it falls under patigha-anusaya and is it just a facet of dosa. I guess it is.

I feel it is all a bit tricky, because, what motivates one to end suffering? Is that dislike, is it a kind of repulsion, patigha, dosa? If so, that cannot be oke, i think. For myself i have seen that dislike of suffering is not at all helpful to end suffering. It only feeds suffering. It only feeds that sense of a Me who suffers and does not want to experience this or that. Is that really fruitful?

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