Compassion In Buddhism And Puranas by Phra Soonthorndhmmathada

Compassion In Buddhism And Puranas

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Compassion In Buddhism And Puranas
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From the Jacket:



The Sanskrit Purana-writers have dealt with various aspects of compassion without distinguishing the same from love, kindness, sympathy and mercy. They were most probably imbued with the spirit of salient features of Buddhist compassion which in Mahayana stands for Mahakaruna and in Theravada is very often considered along with Anukampa, Upekkha and Metta. Numerous normal stories in the Puranas highlight the feelings of devotion, kindness, dutifulness and compassion.

For the first time here compassion in the Tripitaka and Puranas have been critically estimated. The Tripitakas with special reference to the Nikayas with their commentaries and sub-commentaries, and Milindapanha etc. have focused the importance of compassion in moulding and characterizing the life of the human beings including the monks. It has been shown here how these tenets of the Buddhist thoughts have caste sobre and penetrating impressions on the Sanskrit Puranakaras.


About the Author:



  • Rev. Phra Soonthorndham mathada


    • Wat Srisaket,

    • Nongkhai, Thailand 43000

  • Telephone 042-411127

Personal Background:

  • Rev. Phra Soonthorndhammathada was born on 1.12.1934 in Phonphisai District, Nongkhai Province, Thailand, He has been a dedicated monk since June 1948.


1962 B.A. in Philosophy and Religions from Mahamakut Educational Council, the Buddhist University of Thailand
1968 M.A. in Philosophy from Banaras Hindu University, India.
1994 Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Calcutta University, India.

    Present Position

      • The abbot of Wat Srisaket, Nongkhai

      • The Director of the secondary school of the Buddhist monks and novices in Wat Srisaket, Nongkhai.

      • The Vice-Sankha Governor of Nongkhai, supervising education of the monks and novices in the Province.

    • The President of the Educational Supervisors in the Northeastern Thailand.


    There is a new technique devised by scientists for releasing such powers as will make an A-bomb sound like a pop-gun; of philosophers who have evolved an entirely new concept or reality. There inventions are alike products of the intellect. Do they lead us one foot further p on the way? Or do they pertain to the realm of concept only, of knowledge ‘about it and about’. Yet knowledge which used without reference to compassion, may utterly destroy mankind? As Dr. Suzuki points out, the twin bases of Buddhism are Maha-Prajna, Supreme wisdom and Maha-Karun`5, Supreme compassion. The one is useless without the other, for man walks upon two feet. The intellect alone is dangerous, for it generates lust for power, hate of the least shadow of a rival view, and the illusion that it can sometimes know reality. Hence the long history between rival schools, and between those who belonged to them, between nations whose leaders fought that a rival concept might detain; hence the distrust in the heart of the average man for the brilliant, cold and humourless mind that is not. Warmed by the human, because universal attribute of compassion for all mankind is lacking. Buddha himself was no intellectual. Though he penetrated, further in pure thought than any man before in history, though he pressed into a single phrase the ultimate analysis of all phenomena, though he was the world’s first scientist the objective approach to all that is, he was, in the application of his wisdom, the incarnation of compassion, and his life was dedicated to explaining in simple terms the way along which others might, by suffering rightly, end it. Thus he spoke to the suffering Kisagotami, thus he cared for the sick disciple, thus he comforted the unhappy Ananda at the end. His touch was for the common people, and he met them with a loving heart as man to man.

    The voice and law and instrument of Buddhism is compassion. ‘Compassion is no attribute. It is the law of laws, eternal harmony, a shareless universal essence, the light of everlasting right, the fitness of all things, the law of love eternal’. He is a most unusual man who habitually looks on his fellowmen as brothers, as pilgrims on the same path to the same distant goal, and behaves to them accordingly. Usually each man is at war within, and not until the war is won for compassion against the powers of hatred, lust and illusion of separation in each individual mind will be the mass-mind of a nation, or of the few who direct it, truly want only they will achieve peace.

    Unless we know the meaning of Buddha, the awakened one, we cannot reach the subtleness of compassion. Enlightenment is a pregnant term, and so is awakening, one meaning of the root word ‘Budh’ from which is derived the title ‘Buddha’. Hence is no ‘avidya’ left, no mist of uncertainty, no darkness of illusion. These are the marks of selfhood which lives in duality and difference. Enlightenment is the awareness of oneness beyond all difference, of a knowledge conscious and direct of the absolute.

    In historical record Buddhism stands unique. Here is true science as applied to the inner mind, the field of spiritual experience. There is no word in history of a Buddhist war waged in the name of the Buddha, nor of persecution for an unacceptable belief, nor even of that intolerance in word and argument which mars the religious claims of those who practise it. It is an experience, the personal rediscovery of the truth put forward. It needs no apparatus, of ritual or prayer, of incense, rosary or shrine. Buddhism is essentially a way, a way of coping with the day’s adventures, crises and situations, a way of reaching enlightenment for those who truly yearn for it, or for the better helping of mankind for those for whom that noble ideal is sufficient unto the day.

    As the Buddha said, Buddhism is a way from suffering to the end of suffering, from desire to peace. In its higher ranges it aims to destroy the jungle of old thought and fixed belief which limits further action and clouds the mind. With its clear purpose pursued by the total man, cheerfully and with a wide measure of laughter, it has no use for authority of any kind 'save that of actual experience, and that is to be found in all that we think and feel and do throughout the present day. Slowly the consciousness of the animal is raised at least to that of a thinking mind, however still be set with fear and desire and doubt, and so steadily up the mountain side to illuminated thought, consciousness illumined by the light of the intuition as it slowly wakes with use. And there, if not before, compassion is born, the experience that life is one and inseverable and that, as to helping others, there are no others. Buddha also said here is a way described in detail to a known end, by the All-enlightened one, the All-compassionate one. He will not waste his time who begin to tread it now. Along its weary way he will suffer, and suffer the more when he learns that all mankind is suffering too, but he will experience the cause of suffering and begin to root it out for himself and all that lives.

    It is interesting to note that compassion in Buddhism is not a separate entity, but compassion in itself is a reward. The man of compassion no longer asks himself how much does the compassion and its due performance matter, but what else matters at all? He learns that only in self-development lies the elusive gift of happiness, and that it is in fact no gift at all. Rather it is a by-product of increased awareness, and it comes to those who no longer seek it. And as the awareness of life as an all-embracing unity begins to control his nobler purposes, he finds that work for others, for the common weal, alone gives satisfaction and that there is indeed no lovelier rule for any man than this • ‘He wants about doing good’.

    Compassion, to the Buddhist, moves to a central position in his scheme of life. All that is done as compassion to be done, and if it does not advance the cause of compassion it is ill done indeed. The job in hand, from building an empire to washing up, is the next thing to be done, and the Buddhist does it without thought of self. The immediate work, whatever it may be, has the abstract claim of duty, and its relative importance or non-importance is not to be considered at all. There can be no permanent rest and happiness as long as there is some work to be done, and not accomplished, and the fulfilment of duties brings its own reward.

    Compassion in Buddhism has been treated parallel to Godhood. It is said that all men need a God, even though they change him regularly like a library book. Some men deify Dharma, and the world has known worse Gods. This sense of right and the due performance of it embraces philosophy, psychology, religion and morality. It is at once the motive for the way and the means of keeping on that razor edge. As such the concept is at least a noble means or ‘device’ (upaya) for use while crossing the river of life, to be abandoned, however, as a raft, when the further shore is reached. But whether one adopts it as a God ideal, obeys it whimsically as the next, though tiresome job to be done, whether, as in the technique, one just does it as one blows one’s nose, is for each man to decide. At the final stage there is only Here, and Now, and this is to be done here and now, and the doing of it, and the satisfaction which comes from a job of-work well done the doing of which was ‘right’. Such a new relation of compassion with Dharma has its own immediate rewards, whether sought or unexpected. There is a new sense of dignity. No longer is one the sport of life; no longer is life a meaningless and rather evil joke. Meaning is found in all things, for everything is a challenge to one’s powers and all of them. Nor can circumstances ever prove "too difficult’. Shall we who make things as they are be crushed by our own creation? If life be truly one, then all of it, the strength and light and love of it, is ours to enjoy and put to proper use. For all strength comes from within, and the rhythm of life will cure the worst disharmony.

    He who begins to live by compassion, in whom the light of compassion is a lamp in the darkness of a most unhappy world, is no more troubled with frustration, nor with a sense of wasted time. He regrets nothing save a lost opportunity to learn. In a world where most men drift on the current of a purposeless becoming he is magnificently self-propelled, an individualist without desire for self, an embodied will that moves in alignment with eternal purposes. For such a man, still very human and with lives, it may be, of old Karma to be patiently worked out, there is a new-born realization, a making real, of Epictetus’ almost frightening words: ‘True instruction is this:- to learn to wish that each thing should come to pass as it does’. Marcus Aurelius put it differently: ‘All that happens right. Watch closely, you will find it so. Not merely in the order of events, but by scale of right, as though some power apportions all according to worth’. To the Buddhist this power is karma, (done with compassion) the law of exact adjustment of all cause-effect. Thoreau, a poet and not a stoic philosopher, alive with the poet’s intuitive sense of a superrational right, sang to the stars his own awareness. ‘l know that the enterprise is worthy. I know that things work well. I have heard no bad news. A beautiful poem worth quoting is:


    The Self is One, inseverable.
    Unknown to pain or loss or indifference;
    Unborn of essence, formless, viewless, void.
    It is, and we of Buddha-Mind should know
    That forms, all forms, are lanterns of illusion.
    Doomed, though born of life, to die.

    While talking of Buddhist compassion one is reminded of an interesting incident which took place in the twentieth century and which can be a good example of compassion.

    A young man who was eager to go abroad sought permission and blessings from his mother. But she did not allow him to leave his own country. Many years passed but he could not succeed in his venture. One day he pleaded hard, the mother was ready to hear his request, but she wanted to test his ability whether he could adjust himself on the foreign land. She asked him to bring a very sharp knife. The son obeyed, he brought a knife. The mother asked him, ‘Is it very sharp or blunt’? ‘Very sharp, mother!’ Then the mother asked him to hand over the knife to her. The son held the sharp edge in his hand and gave the wooden handle side to his mother. The mother felt relieved and permitted her son to go anywhere in the world proclaiming that now he knows the meaning of compassion. While talking about Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhist compassion it is also imperative to know what Buddhism is not. It is not the religion of India, as is still popularly believed. The Buddha was not a God, but a guide. Idols are not worshipped in Buddhist temples, but the image of a great spiritual teacher is revered. Buddhism is not a religion of despair which aims at the ‘blowing out’ of the total self into blank nothingness. Buddhism is the widest and one of the oldest fields of thought extant, and embodies philosophy, psychology, mystycism, metaphysics, religion, ritual, culture and art. Although considered one of the world’s five great religions, it is in one sense not a religion at all, for it lacks the concept of an almighty personal God, and immortal soul dependent upon the God, and priests whose duty it is to assist this God to save this soul. The field of Buddhism is so enormous that any talk on Buddhism can only be a brief outline of a few central themes. Historically Buddhism is the most tolerant religion on earth, between its different schools, between individuals in those schools and in its attitude to other religions. At Nalanda, the famous Buddhist University, which lasted for 700 years, there were 100 lectures delivered each day by the greatest minds then known to 10,000 pupils, and although we have detailed records of those days, there is none of any ill will or dogmatic arguments between those attending them. The message of the Buddha was the main idea behind other doctrines ‘The house of self is on fire, burning with hatred, lust and illusion’. When those fires are extinguished there will be time enough to discuss the nature of ultimates. The Buddhist attitude of life is a balanced treading of the Middle way between all opposites, including those of the objective and subjective points of view. On the one hand the Buddha exhorted his followers to examine life for themselves, in what is now called the scientific manner, and in particular the ‘three science of Being’. On the other, he taught that Reality is to be found within. These, as all other complementary aspects of the mind, must be experienced as functions of one total man. Buddhism knows no saviour. ‘Work out your own salvation’, is Buddhist ideology. Each man treads the way by his own efforts. The length of the journey depends on the efforts of the individual mind. The Buddha pointed out three signs of Being. The first is the omnipresence of change as inherent in every form without exception. The second sign is the absence in any form, including man, of an unchanging, immortal element or principle which eternally distinguishes that form from any other. If a man’s character be viewed as a soul it is not an immortal soul, but changing as all else each moment of time. Buddhism is in essence a way and not a mere set of doctrines, all these principles must be applied in daily life until theory melts into experience.

    Buddhism is a way of life, from first to last a matter of experience. For the way is a way to the supreme experience by which Gautama, the man, became Buddha, the fully awakened one. Buddhism, though including a set of doctrines alleged to be the Buddha’s teaching must, if it is to be true to its genesis, be at the same time a matter of doctrine applied. The Buddha’s call was to move from the static to the dynamic, to eschew all futile argument on the indeterminates, such as the nature of the first cause or of the self and to move and keep on moving towards enlightenment. For these questions can never be usefully answered. The first cause is necessarily beyond, because prior to causation, and that which is out of manifestation is beyond the reach of words. Buddhism has no use for belief, save in the sense that ‘a man believes a doctrine when he behaves as if it were true’. Nor has it any place for faith, save in the reasonable description by a guide of a path and its Goal: ‘Thus have I found’, said the Guide, ‘and this is the way to that discovery. While discussing the steps on the way, its dangers and difficulties, the fierce resistance offered by the self, the lures to beguile you into some other way which leads still deeper into the mire of suffering’. The way is worthy, as Mrs. Rhys Davids would have said, my be proved at every stage. For treading it there are two rules and only two: Begin, and walk on. Once the first step is taken - and where else than here and now - each further step will reveal a wider range of view, an air more pure to breathe, more light from the indivisible as the clouds of our present illusion and desire are, not so much dispersed, as quietly plodded through.




      Introduction i
      Abbreviation xvii
    Chapter I Brief Outline of Buddhism 1
    Chapter II Buddhism as a Religion 15
    Chapter III Interpretation of Buddhist Culture 44
    Chapter IV Spirit of Live and Compassion in Buddhism 65
    Chapter V Nature and Antiquity of the Puranas 131
    Chapter VI Compassion in the Puranas 165
      Conclusion 194
      Bibliography 219


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