Introducing Buddha's Compassion

buddha5The admonition given by the Buddha in the first verse of the Dhammapada that the human mind is responsible for everything we do -- good or evil, is reiterated and embodied in the preamble to the UNESCO Charter of Human Rights which states: 'Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed.'

The Buddha had many enemies. His own cousin, Devadatta, unsuccessfully attempted to kill him three times, and rival religious leaders tried to defame him by accusing him of adultery and falsehood. But the Buddha remained in their midst, unpolluted like the lotus flower which has come to symbolize purity in Buddhism. The Buddha was in the world, but not of the world.

The Buddha's compassion knew no bounds. He had time to talk to scavengers and slave girls, and he accepted the offerings of the humblest of citizens. Once he accepted the half-finished meal of a Brahman because it had been offered with humility, respect and devotion. The Buddha's Teaching has become a very rich doctrine because many other religious teachers had many dialogues and debates with him on the deeper aspects of controversial religious issues like the existence of a creator god, soul theory, divine power, animal sacrifice, austerity, rites and rituals and final salvation. As a result, the Buddha personally clarified many of the controversies which are being argued about even today by those who have different beliefs.

The Buddha was the greatest teacher the world has ever known. Modern educationists would do well to study his methods when they consider how to improve their skills to impart knowledge to others. Not once in the closely recorded life of the Buddha can we find an instance of his becoming angry or impatient with those who could not or did not want to understand him. There was no occasion when the Buddha spoke harshly to another person. His patience, tolerance, all-embracing compassion and merciful wisdom cannot be equaled by any other teacher.

But the Buddha had some supreme faculties which made him greater than any other teacher. He was able to effect 'miraculous' changes of heart and attitudes even in the most antagonistic, obstinate, dull or weak-minded individual because he had the infinite faculty of knowing the past lives which conditioned the peculiar behavior of a certain individual. He knew for example that a young bhikkhu could not meditate on the loathsomeness of the body because, having been a goldsmith in successive previous existences, he could best respond only to beautiful objects. When the Teacher gave him a golden lotus, he quickly gained one-pointedness in concentration of the mind. Again when his listeners gazed at the sky, scratched the earth or shook a tree instead of paying attention, the Buddha was understanding because he knew their behavior was conditioned by their previous existences as an astrologer, a subterranean creature, and a monkey. The Buddha was the first teacher who recognized the importance of knowing the aptitude and psychological makeup of a learner before effective teaching can take place.

That the Buddha was a peerless teacher can be proved by the fact that he did not use the same approach or method when instructing different disciples. The Buddha always suited his teaching to the age, temperament, character, status or mental state of his listeners. He delayed giving a sermon to a congregation until a hungry cowherd was fed because he knew that a hungry man could not concentrate. There were times when he even remained silent because he knew the answers would only confuse the questioner more. As in any community, there were the very highly intelligent like Yen. Sariputta who was intellectually endowed to comprehend the most abstruse teachings as embodied in the Abhidhamma.

On the other hand, the Compassionate Master used different methods for the unintelligent and unskillful, as when he instructed Cula Panthaka to simply think about mental defilements while he rubbed a clean piece of white cloth, facing the East. When Kisa Gotami, distracted with grief, approached him asking for a medicine to restore her dead son, the Buddha asked her to fetch him some mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She could not find in the village a home where Mara (death) had not stalked. Truth dawned upon her and she realized the universality of death. Because of the Buddha's method of instruction, Kisa Gotami, the mother who had walked about clutching the body of her infant son was able to realize the truth as depicted in the verse:

“Uninvited he came,
Uninformed he went,
As he came so he went,
What avails weeping?”


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