Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Buddhism Isn't the Place to Find Compassion

In exploring a news story about scientists studying the brain waves of Buddhist monks in order to find out how compassion works (and, no, I'm not making this up), Christian ethicist Wesley J. Smith has some penetrating comments.

The root meaning of compassion is to “suffer with.” Compassion then, is very reactive. Properly understood, people who act out of compassion literally take another’s pain onto themselves, and experience it within their own beings to ease the load of the suffering person...

Buddhism, in contrast, seeks to escape all suffering by detaching from it.  The point is to be non reactive, about learning how not to suffer. This world is an illusion, Buddhists believe, and the way to illumination is to escape the dualities of good and bad, pleasure and pain, love and hate, etc., in order to become one with all being. Good and bad are only illusions. Detachment, in other words, is not a synonym for compassion, but I would argue, its antonym.  In this sense, Mother Theresa was compassionate and Buddha was not.

Thus, a meditating Buddhist nun actually seeks to learn how to escape compassion (as well as other reactive mindsets, such as selfishness). When she “extends compassion” out to all life, she is not feeling their pain, but rather, trying to assume a oneness that frees her from all judgment. Not the same thing at all...

Smith's full blog post (with links to the original story) is right here.