Compassion and no-self

Front Page Forums Principles of Dharma Compassion and no-self

This topic contains 5 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Alex K 2 weeks, 2 days ago.

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #3284

    bluelotus9
    Member

    Hi,

    Can anyone help with the following: it is generally accepted that the development of awareness of a self is one of the reasons for compassion, since the self-awareness of our own suffering means that we can be aware of the suffering of others undergoing the same experience, and therefore this results in feelings os compassion and wanting to help to alleviate their suffering if we can.

    This clearly has an evolutionary advantage, for the greater good of the ‘tribe’. My question is, does the realisation of anatta and that there is ‘no-self’ mean that we lose human empathy and compassion? If we realise no-self, how can we be aware of others suffering and therefore generate compassion?

    Thank you.

    #3285

    Florian
    Member

    Hi bluelotus9,

    I can not offer any scholarly opinion on the topic, but my personal experience tells me that no: compassion actually grows. As to why, here’s what I experienced:

    Long before you start to experience the fact that whatever you think of as “You” is actually a construct of your brain evolved because it’s useful to think of yourself of the agent of your life (since we are social and information exchanging animals), there happens something else: you start to understand on an experiencal level the inner workings of your mind/body system.
    You start to realize how emotions and thoughts work (and work together) and whatnot.
    This seems to strengthen your understanding of the other human (and nonhuman) animals around you. You start to realize that if they hurt, they act not out of malice but that they can’t really help themselves.
    The same goes for suffering people: you see their suffering and know that there’s a way out for them. After all, you glimpsed that way. These realizations (at lesat with me) strenghten your empathic abilities.

    As for anatta: the only glimpse I’ve personally had of no-self actually was around a realization of compassion and self-sacrifice.

    So no. Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure you’ll just get more compassionate as your understanding of how your mind really works grows 🙂

    And after all: there’s Metta meditation.

    Wish you all the best.

    #3286

    We can have an intellectual understanding of anatta, that will not necessarily manifest compassionate behaviour. When intellectual understanding progressively deepens and blossoms as insight (which also deepens), and that insight informs behaviour- that is what we call compassion. We become unable to act with aggression or seduction towards beings and objects, and this begins to look like love and care as the fetters fall away.

    For example, it’s relatively easy to understand that the referent of the word “say your name here” is a collection of parts- moments of time, or the collection of body and mind (which is itself a label on a collection of parts). This is an intellectual understanding of the constructed nature of self.

    But what does it mean when someone slaps us in the face, we feel bad, or are not recognized? What when we get something we want, feel good and are well known?

    Quite clearly in our own experience, when any of the above happen, there is a sense that “it happened to me”.

    Reflected back to that basic sense of “me” are “my feelings” “my experiences”. It is a divided consciousness “vijnana” in sanskrit.

    Probing into that sense of “me” and “mine” we find that suffering IS clinging to that temporary, compounded, constructed sense of “me” as if it were other than it is.

    This is insight into personal self-less-ness. Not a total absence of self, but a total absence of a permanent, autonomous and independent self.

    We don’t realize how much energy it takes to continually hold onto this false notion of self and other. As our grip loosens, there is a liberation of energy- in some traditions it is even said that this energy, the energy of mental and physical pliancy, is the cause of insight. It is why shamatha is often quoted as a necessary precursor to fully developed insight. Imagine if this energy, instead of manifesting as aggression and seduction, arose as spontaneous, benevolent actions informed by wisdom. La-voila, compassion!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijñāna

    #3295

    Eric
    Member

    Hi Blue,

    Anatta or no-self is an insight for one “internally” or subjectively…for ones own freedom. It’s not meant to be used or wielded on others i.e. “why are you sad that your mom died, there’s no-self ya know!”.

    Compassion (all the brahma viharas) is no-self reflected into no-selfishness “externally” or inter-subjectively with others.

    Dhamma has connotations of ‘duty’. Realizing no-self “internally” does not absolve one’s duties to others. That is, the selfless person still performs their duties (familial, vocational, etc.) but non-selfishly (some would even say more effectively). Most practice this in reverse until anatta is realized. That is, we may not understand or have realized no-self but we can understand and enact no-selfishness fairly easily.

    mucho metta,

    #3302

    bluelotus9
    Member

    Thank you all, for your responses. Its not that I personally don’t feel compassion, I do!, but whether it was dependent on being self-aware. I can agree with what Meshe said – “insight informs behaviour- that is what we call compassion. We become unable to act with aggression or seduction towards beings and objects, and this begins to look like love and care as the fetters fall away”. So probably just a matter of definitions – i.e. it looks like compassion, and it is, but a very different origin to what a non-Buddhist would call compassion perhaps.

    It is interesting that my pet dog, Ella, knows when I am feeling low or hurt in someway and will try to give me a lick and a bit of dog tlc..lol. But dogs aren’t supposed to have self-awareness, at least according to wikipedia they fail the ‘mirror test’. I think so far its only been proven for great apes (including humans), a single Asiatic elephant, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie, and ants by self-recognition when holding a mirror up to them (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_test).

    So assuming this is indeed dog-compassion, and since they are apparently not self-aware, perhaps self-awareness is not necessary for compassion after all!! However, Ella is not so compassionate when she meets some other dogs though..growl…

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 6 days ago by  bluelotus9.
    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 6 days ago by  bluelotus9.
    #3340

    Alex K
    Member

    Appropriate attention (yoniso mansikara) is the ability to frame your understanding of experience in the right terms. Views about whether there is a self or if there is no-self fall under category of inappropriate attention because they do not lead to the ending of the fetter of views. Appropriate attention is seeing and practicing in terms of the Four Noble Truths: This is dukkha. This is the origination of dukkha. This is the cessation of dukkha. This is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. The goal of the path is not the realisation that there is no-self. The goal is the ending of dukkha.

    “There is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person…does not discern what ideas are fit for attention, or what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas fit for attention, and attends [instead] to ideas unfit for attention. And what are the ideas unfit for attention that he attends to? Whatever ideas such that, when he attends to them, the unarisen effluent of sensuality arises, and the arisen effluent of sensuality increases; the unarisen effluent of becoming… the unarisen effluent of ignorance arises, and the arisen effluent of ignorance increases…. This is how he attends inappropriately: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? 25 Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?’ Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?’
    “As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self… or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self… or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine—the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions—is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will endure as long as eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from stress.

    “The well-instructed noble disciple… discerns what ideas are fit for attention, and what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas unfit for attention, and attends [instead] to ideas fit for attention…. And what are the ideas fit for attention that he attends to? Whatever ideas such that, when he attends to them, the unarisen effluent of sensuality does not arise, and the arisen effluent of sensuality is abandoned; the unarisen effluent of becoming… the unarisen effluent of ignorance does not arise, and the arisen effluent of ignorance is abandoned…. He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at habits & practices. These are called the effluents that are to be abandoned by seeing.”
    MN 2

    Attending to the perception of not-self (rather no-self) with regards to the five clinging-aggregates is appropriate attention that can lead to stream-entry.

    “Ven. Sariputta: “A virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. Which five? The form clinging-aggregate, the feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness clinging-aggregate. A virtuous monk should attend in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. For it is possible that a virtuous monk, attending in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant… not-self, would realize the fruit of stream-entry.” SN 22:122

    Any contradictions between the development of compassion and the view that there is no-self is not an issue when one doesn’t frame experience or ideas about ultimate reality in that way. Compassion is a natural result of following the Eightfold Noble Path.

    “There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus: ‘I love life and don’t love death. I love happiness and abhor pain. Now if I—loving life and not loving death, loving happiness and abhorring pain—were to be killed, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to me. And if I were to kill another who loves life and doesn’t love death, who loves happiness and abhors pain, that would be displeasing & disagreeable to the other. What is displeasing & disagreeable to me is displeasing & disagreeable to others. How can I inflict on others what is displeasing & disagreeable to me?’ Reflecting in this way, he refrains from taking life, gets others to refrain from taking life, and speaks in praise of refraining from taking life. In this way his bodily behaviour is pure in three ways.” SN 55:7

    Right resolve (a factor of the Path) is defined as the resolve for renouncing sensuality, the resolve for non-ill will, and the resolve for non-cruelty. The resolve to act on goodwill is equivalent to the second of these 5 resolves; the resolve to act on compassion, to the third. As part of right resolve, goodwill and compassion provide the motivation to act on the insights of right view—which is the first factor—into the nature of action and its power to bring about the end of suffering. In other words, goodwill and compassion take these insights and resolve to use them to direct your thoughts, words, and deeds to bring about the end of suffering and to attain true happiness.

    A useful guide on how compassion (and the other Brahmaviharas) work in the Eightfold Path is discussed in ‘The Sublime Attitudes’ by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
    https://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/TheSublimeAttitudes_150724.pdf

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 2 days ago by  Alex K.
    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 2 days ago by  Alex K.
Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.