Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Is Buddhist compassion the same as Christian love?

The high bar of excellence.
The answer is, “it depends.” Unfortunately we rarely thoroughly examine colloquialisms, and pretentiousness has become rampant. Duplicity and deceit are so socially acceptable now they are nearly synonymous with contemporary life. The terms “compassion” and “love” have become so misused they are now cliches, lacking in true understanding. In some Asian cultures the issue of “face” is of such significance that being two-faced is integral to the culture, causing societal members to be continuously on guard for the potential for saving or losing face. To them, it’s a matter of their reputation, dignity, honor, their prestige, and integrity. But this preoccupation is not limited to Asian cultures. It is prevalent throughout the world, wherever duplicity is found.

The concern stands in conflict with spiritual principles, particularly in matters where surface and social expectations (the face presented to the world) diverge from internal convictions (the internal face). The Buddha said, “The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways, the greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances and the greatest effort is not concerned with results.” These principles reflect an attitude that transcends social expectations and platitudes concerned with duplicity. To live in duplicity reflects neither genuine Christian love (agape) nor genuine Buddhist compassion, both of which are near mirror reflections of one another.

Compassion is often thought of as akin to pity, but whereas pity may be condescending, compassion springs from a sense of the equality, unity, and interconnectedness of life. Genuine compassion is about empowering others, helping them unlock strength and courage from within their lives in order to overcome their problems.” And this human quality arises through true awakening to our inherent true nature that fills us with the experience of unity and becomes so powerful as to render duplicity impossible. 

The highest love agápē (ἀγάπη) is found only in the New Testament and is translated as “unconditional love.” Love that is unconditional is not discriminatory or influenced by changing phenomenal conditions, but is instead steady throughout all conditions. The best expression of agápē love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-12, which says, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails, but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes (genuine awakening), the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

These genuine Buddhist and Christian expressions, however, while being the gold standards, are not universally embraced. Just because we know what is the standard, does not guarantee we comply. There are numerous examples in today’s world where hypocrisy, denial, and egotism flourish, most especially within the sphere of politics. It’s a rare individual who, while lost within the grip of ego delusion, can rise above the influences and temptations of greed, anger, avarice, and possessiveness and “do the right thing.” Sadly our interpersonal, social and political systems have become rife with concern for preserving “face,” currying special favors that align us with power and ignores the high bars of true compassion and love. Probably the best depiction of hypocrisy I have seen was displayed in the television series “The West Wing,” when the president (Martin Sheen) puts a faux-Christian in her place. The example stands in stark contrast to the behavior of true compassion and agápē love characteristic of a bodhisattva, who lives by a vow.

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