Compassion in the Time of Covid

This short article by Ven Tejadhammo of the Sydney Engaged Buddhists Society appears in the most recent issue of the Sydney Buddhist Library’s newsletter. It speaks to me, and I hope it speaks to others as well.

The blossoming of great Compassion

by Bhante Tejadhammo

Bhante Tejadhammo, Spiritual Director of the Association of Engaged Buddhists, Sydney, is ordained in the Theravada tradition. He has also studied with Tibetan and Mahayana teachers, and his commitment to the Dhamma encompasses all traditional expressions of it.

“We are all in this together” has become something of a catchcry in this time of Coronavirus, as we are asked to stay at home as a means of protecting ourselves and others. Some people of course choose to ignore this and follow a path of selfishness and ignorance, putting their own lives and those of others at risk. Being at home might help us to reflect upon who we truly are and what we truly need.

“Self-isolation” is the term used to describe our current experience and many people are finding this experience very difficult. Yet, if we look a little more deeply, “self-isolation” might be the way many of us live ordinarily. The Dhamma of the Buddha teaches us to deeply appreciate our interconnectedness and interdependence and yet we very often remain absorbed in our own cocoon of “self”, of my wants, needs and desires.

However, even if we are deeply caught up in ourselves, we cannot help but see every single day the acute and terrible suffering of others on television or hear it on the radio or read about it in the newspapers or web. We cannot help but be moved by this suffering and at some level wish the suffering to end.

We may be primarily concerned with our own family and friends, wishing and hoping that they be well and not come into contact with this contagion. Perhaps we extend this concern to our neighbours or our local community. Naturally we also wish for ourselves that we be safe and well and free from suffering. This may be seen as the very first stage of the development of Compassion – the movement or trembling of the heart at the awareness of dukkha around us. This Compassion is a wonderful thing and is not to be undervalued because it is of a limited nature.

When we really explore and try to enter into the teachings of the Buddha Dhamma, we discover that we must treat all people equally. The Buddha says that we must not think of ourselves as being better than others, less than others or equal to others. This is not an easy thing to realise but a most worthwhile goal to have before us. We are encouraged to stop discriminating when it comes to Compassion but rather to open our hearts to all suffering sentient beings.

So the first Compassion is a kind of natural Compassion. The second could be characterised as Dhammic Compassion. But as with the practice of Dana, so with the development of Compassion we can go further. The highest Compassion is one in which I cease thinking of myself as performing a compassionate act and I stop thinking of “another” as receiving my compassion. Finally, the very “idea of Compassion being given” dissolves.

This is the blossoming of great Compassion, Maha Karuna.

“He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.”
~ SN 22.87 Vakkali Sutta

May you and all beings be safe and well in these terrible times.

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A link is to a Buddhist discussion on current Covid crisis and compassionate action - with 7 monastic representatives from 4 continents:

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Meditation in the time of Covid on Metta-Karuna-Mudita, by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

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