Loving kindness and compassion in buddhism

by Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

August, 16, 2001

Ratnashri Meditation Center, Sweden  HOME  Dharma talks

Everybody, people all over the world, not only human beings, every sentient beings, those who have consciousness, those who think of something, we all desire peace and we all wish to be free from suffering. This is universal. It is not some kind of tradition, some kind of culture. It is everybody’s thought and this kind of thought is just there. This is natural, everyone do that. Since happiness we desire for do not come without cause, it does not come just by wishing and unfavorable condition that we do not desire for does not go away just by wishing, just by thinking something, we therefore plan and do different activities in order to fulfill our wishes. So that shows that this depend on many causes and conditions. Depending on individual’s level of the mind, we all think something, do something, whether it is right or wrong, we do not know. Base on this reason, different religions are also found in the world depend on different countries. The basic purpose of all religion is to bring more peace, to bring more favorable conditions, whether it is for short run or long run; to free from suffering that we do not desire for. Since everybody cannot pray or meditate, there are many other sources, lots of material development. All these material development are conditions are created by us in such a way, if we do this way, life would be better, if we do that way, life will have less problem. For this reason, all the material things are also produced, developed. Likewise, all the science and technology are invented or discovered to solve more problems, to bring more peace. In this way, the computer appeared in this world. Every year, the computer technology is progressing, we make something new to solve more problems. Every year, we think something better, clearer and faster, solve problems quicker. As you can see, we seek for more harmony, more peace, better life and less problem. That is the basic idea.



Basically, there are two approaches that we use in order to achieve the goal of attaining more peace, more harmony, more happiness and less suffering. One is to project outside on all phenomena – what we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we taste and what we touch. We expect that all these outer objects will bring us a better, more peaceful and happy life. So we think, "If I have this, life would be better and happier. If I buy a better car, I will be happier, more peaceful and have more harmony in life." Following this way of thinking and expectations, there are lines of products, systems and businesses set up in the world. Another approach to attain peace and happiness is to bring out the mental quality of the mind by establishing the mind in the right place through prayer, meditation, contemplation and so on. People feel much better after saying prayers or doing meditation, they feel more relaxed, more peaceful, more concentrated, clearer and more positive.

Material things are easier to comprehend – you can feel, see, perceive, project and describe them. "This one has this and that feature. If you do like this, you will get that." Take cars as an example, there are so many different types of cars. "This car has this quality and does this and that. That car runs faster. This car lasts longer." All this, we can describe. Likewise all other material things are easy to describe. However, the mental quality of the mind is difficult to describe. We all have a mind. Because of that we all think something. But we are not really into our mind. On the surface, we are talking about it, but we are not looking into it. If we look into our mind individually, we see what it looks like. How can you describe it, how to describe what it will do? It is a very abstract subject. We ourselves cannot judge who we are, cannot explain why we desire things. What is the force? Just look carefully, it is very mysterious and abstract. So when we talk about the mind, we say that it is the brain, don’t we? In this way, we can describe; this part of the brain handles memory, this is the feeling of sadness, this is the feeling of good and so on. We describe the pieces of the brain and have lots of discussions about that. We describe and turn around the brain in a machine in order to describe more. But if you look carefully and think carefully, it looks like as if mind is a little more than a brain. The brain is just a physical piece in the skull but mind thinks constantly without stopping, day and night. If we do not forget what we have learned, the day when we remember our life up until now, we would have so much in the memory. How can that much be stored in a piece of brain. But the problem is, we do forget. We go to college and get all those degrees and after a couple years, we forget them all. So every book we have read, if we had not forgotten them, all those books we have read so far, it would be so much. There are some great people who do not forget. Just imagine, if we put all those into the memory of a most powerful computer, after some day, you cannot put in any more information, it would be all jammed. So this is the kind of mind we talk about.

Sometimes the mind is peaceful and calm, you feel that life is so beautiful and wonderful. Everything is perfect. Sometimes when the mind goes wrong, strong depression sets in and you feel that life has no meaning. You feel like you are in the hell realm. So mind can fluctuate up and down so much. If you can meditate, relax the mind and bring the mind to the right place, of course that changes the body system. It changes the brain. When the brain changes, the body also changes. So that is the subject that we study. Nowadays scientists are more involved in the mind and discuss those things. They get more information about how a relaxed and peaceful mind influences the brains. That influence of the brain helps the body to relax. When the mind is in a difficult situation, it disturbs the brain and the body as well. So mind is a powerful thing in our life which makes all the difference. Kindness and compassion are mental factors and so are hatred and anger. The moment that there is anger, hatred, resentment or attachment, it brings suffering because the mind is not peaceful and not clear. But since we do not know how to look inside and how to work with the mind, we project outside. "If I get this, maybe I will have more peace. If I fix this one, maybe life will be easier for me." To solve our inner mental problem, we project outside because we do not know how to work with the inside. However, the fact is that when there is kindness and compassion in the mind, the mind is relaxed, harmonious and peaceful. Therefore it becomes so crucial. This is not a belief system. It does not belong to belief system. It is not related to culture. Rather, it is something that all human beings have to have in order to free us from undesirable conditions and to bring peace and harmony within the mind.

Of course in order to achieve that, the outer conditions can make a difference temporarily but to make a real difference, we need to have a method of how to relax, how to bring forth harmony and peace. Not only for others, but also for oneself. When we talk about kindness and compassion, again immediately we project outside. People think that to practice kindness and compassion means that you have to sacrifice something for others. So you may think that you cannot do that. In fact, in the first place, we need to do it for ourselves. We need to know how to be kind and compassionate to ourselves, from there, it manifests to others. So right from the beginning, do it for yourselves and then to all others.

The practice of loving-kindness and compassion is very crucial because without that it is not possible to bring peace and harmony. You may have all the things you wish for, but when the mind is not in the right place, when the mind is disturbed through negative emotions, there is no peace. You do not want to stay in any house, however good it is. This is very clear. But, if you have the right motivation, the purposeful thought, loving-kindness and peace, even though your house is not so good, you would feel," I am so fortunate to have this house. I am so glad to be a human being. I learned so much. I have many good things in my life." You appreciate what you have. So while we are developing the outer phenomena or the material conditions, it becomes very crucial to develop mental qualities in order to generate positive thoughts. Otherwise, our lives will be driven by our habitual tendencies. Whatever we habitualized, we follow with that. When we contemplate and meditate, we are changing the negative bad habits and transform them into positive habits. Regular practice serves as a reminder to us to constantly bring out such inner qualities. If one possesses kindness and compassion, people all around would feel so positive and so peaceful. People want to be closer to them. It is due to their loving-kindness and compassion.

Related to this, there is a story. Once in a village, there lived a mother and her daughter. The mother was so compassionate and loving that everybody in the village respected her. She did not have to give anything to them. Just because of her loving-kindness and compassion, people respected her. Her daughter also felt so good about that because as soon as people saw her, people respected her because of her mother. The daughter and mother had a strong good relationship. One day, they were both crossing the river; but the current of the river was so strong that they were both taken away by the water. In the water, the mother was thinking: "It is okay if I die because I am old and I have already contributed my life in the community. My daughter should stay longer because she is gifted and can do and learn lots of things. She has to first gain some experience in her life and then she would help many people. She has great potential and qualities." The mother was not thinking about her own life, rather she was thinking about her daughter should survive from this water. Her daughter at the same time was thinking of her mother not of herself: "My mother is so compassionate and loving that everybody respects her. Everybody gets peace from her. She is so wonderful. She should stay longer so that lots of people would get benefit from her. If I die, it is okay." The daughter was not worrying about herself. In this way, they both were drowned in the water and had a higher rebirth because there was peace and harmony at the time of death. When we have hatred in the mind at the time of death, it makes a worse connection, a lower rebirth. So how the mind is at the time of death makes a connection to how the mind is the next life. In fact, even on a day to day basis, the status of the mind at one moment would make connection to the next moment. That is peace and kindness at this moment would bring peace and harmony to the next moment. One moment of negative thoughts and afflicted emotions would bring suffering in the mind at the next moment. So everything momentary. Just look at that nature. Analyze and investigate in our mind whether it is true or not. If you feel that that is right then we individually have to take responsibility to learn and work with the mind in order to bring out peace and harmony within us continuously. We cannot expect to get the result from the outside, rather taking responsibility of our own mind is the only way to progress our mind.

There is a story related to the practice of loving-kindness and compassion. When the historical Buddha Shakyamuni was a prince (Prince Siddhartha) in the Kingdom, on one occasion, he was with his cousin Devadatta. Devadatta was usually dominated by his negative character – mean, negative and resentful while Siddhartha was always compassionate and loving. They walked on the field and a group of geese was flying right above in the sky. Devadatta shot one goose on his wing and the goose fell on the ground. Siddhartha rushed immediately towards the goose and picked it up. He carefully and gently took off the arrow from the goose, fed it and took good care of it. Devadatta went to Siddhartha and said, "This is my goose. It does not belong to you. Give it back to me." Siddhartha said, "No, it is mine because I went and picked it up. I got it first." Devadatta replied, "I shot and brought it down to the ground so it is mine." Because of the disagreement, they went to the court so that the judge could decide to whom the goose should belong to. They discussed back and forth and at the end Siddhata said, "This belong to me because when the goose’s was in danger, his life was running out. At that time, I protected it. I saved his life because of that it belonged to me." Without any doubt, both the judge and Devadatta agreed. So anyone who practice loving-kindness and compassion to others have a natural feeling that he is part of them and they belong to him. That is why great Boddhisattvas who practice this kind of impartial loving-kindness and great compassion to all sentient beings bring highly respected by all people. What they are respecting and admiring is the qualities and great mind that Boddhisattvas possess. They train the mind in a powerful way to bring peace and harmony. It is important, not only from the spiritual point of view but also in our everyday live, to bring loving-kindness and compassion in our mind. The day when we are born, we are born under the kindness of our mother. We grew up under the kindness of the mother and not the hatred of the mother. If our mother is full of hatred, we cannot grow up. May be sometimes mother goes through some difficulties and express anger but she never gave up feeding us. This is just natural. So have to see that nature. Not only human beings, animals too, after mother gave birth, see how much care and energy she puts into her infants. Even at the risk of her own life, she sacrifices in order to protect her babies. This kind of behavior is just naturally there. Since we have this potential, we just have to develop it more and make it stronger. When our mind possess loving-kindness and compassion towards others, it bring peace and harmony in our mind and we feel that life has such great meaning and purpose. With that experience, we can extend the loving-kindness and compassion impartially to all, to the limitless. We can train our mind until our whole mind being a nature of kindness, compassion. In that way, there would not be any space left for the negative emotions. Gradually, the habitalized negative emotions are totally uprooted and purified.

Negative thought does not possess any good quality at all. When you are angry, anger just pops up in the mind. Sometimes you may feel that it is okay to have some anger, but it really does not bring anything good quality, it just bring suffering. The following story illustrates this point. Once there was a mother whose child was killed by a man. The mother could not accept it because of her deep affection to the child. So she was very resentful to the man. The man was put into jail by the police. But still she was not satisfied, thinking day and night, how dare he could do this. In her mind she would not be satisfied even his body was cut into many pieces. Time just went on day after day month after month, because of her negative thoughts, hatred and resentment, even when she drank a cup of tea, the tea had no taste. Even when she went to the restaurant and ordered the best food, the food had no taste. She could not get a good sleep. In this way time passed and her health was destroyed. Finally, she thought, "I has been totally occupied with anger, hared and resentment for this long time and what kind of benefit have I got of not accepting the situation. So she woke up from that and realized that there was no benefit at all, just the opposite, she was damaged by those thoughts both physically and mentally. Then she thought to herself, "No matter how much I am angry and hate that person, even if I put that person into many pieces, I cannot bring back my child. So what is the benefit? Even if that person is killed in front of me what can benefit from that? Nothing!" From that, her mind was completely changed and she decided that, "Start from today, I give up all the resentment and hatred to that person because I cannot bring back my child anyway no matter what I do. Today I purified all my negative thoughts." Right at that moment she was relived from that suffering and she felt so good. Slowly slowly she recovered from her bad health and there is more peace in her mind. She even asked the count, "Please release that person from the jail because it does not do any good to me. If he realizes his mistake, please release him. Please let him go because it does not bring any benefit." So in our mind, we need to examine carefully in this way.

Sometimes we think that some anger is necessary in order to make things done and that if you are always kind and compassionate, you are so weak. But in reality, if you have compassion, your mind is strong. Anger arises when the mind is weak or when we lose the mindfulness. When we are not thinking well or doing well enough then our mind becomes narrow and anger takes the place. When the mind is calm and clear, anger has no space. So the practice of kindness, the practice of compassion is the sign of the strength of the mind. So, examine our mind, develop patience by always trying sincerely to do things right, going forward with great courage and there will be less mistake, less anger. Investigate this and see that qualities of loving-kindness and compassion not being weak, but being strong. This insight and experience give rise to wisdom, the intelligence and the clarity of the mind. When there is clarity of the mind, when there is intelligence, more mental good qualities of loving-kindness and compassion will be developed. This combination of wisdom and compassion will bring such good qualities of peace, happiness and harmony to the human society. In fact, not only human beings, but also animals, inserts and even bugs which are running here just to look for a better place. Cockroaches, running here and there in the kitchen, are also looking for a better place, looking for something to eat. Mice in your house too are looking for a better place. They also desire to have peace and happiness. But we human being has greater mental power to bring more peace and happiness to free from suffering. So for that reason, we use animals for our benefit. Animals, no matter how big they are, cannot do so much because they do not have much mental power. Like elephants, they are huge but we enslaved them. If we learn how to bring positive qualities loving-kindness and compassion to these animals, they will also enjoy the benefit of a better peaceful life.

Loving-kindness and compassion is crucial at all time. As long as there is life on this planet, it continues to be important. No matter how our lifestyle changes, how the culture changes, how the science technology advances and how computer is wonderful, we still need loving-kindness and compassion. Not only for the survival and peace for us individually but also for the survival and peace to all lives. It is because when we are in the midst of anger and hatred, we cannot survive. When all the family members have respect, loving-kindness and great care to each other, they live so healthily, so peacefully. How wonderful! Family members when they fight and quarrel with each other, even if they may have a good living standard, there is no quality in life and there is no peace. They constantly get depressed and upset and their mind is very unclear. So, carefully see that nature. It is not just a matter of religion or culture. It is the human nature. So when we see that nature of the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion and its importance, we have to make effort individually to bring out and develop that qualities from within because it won’t be come by itself. No one can give that to you neither. We cannot say "I have great compassion and loving kindness here, just take a part or piece from this." Nobody can give that to others. Even Jesus came here, he could not give that. Buddha came here and he too could give that. All they could do was to tell you how you could develop that quality. They could give you the method of how to do that, but we individually have to take the responsibility. We have to manifest and produce it from within and then sustain, maintain and act on that and expand from that. So just look at that. Even if someone may say that he does not belief in any religion, that does not mean that he does not want to have any happiness and peace. Maybe that person wants even more happiness and peace and that is why he does not believe in any religion.

Buddha’s teachings on how to bring out loving kindness and compassion, how to practice it, develop it further and how to deepen it in our mind are described and explained in great details in the Dharma. Meditation is essential in all the study and practice of the Dharma. Meditation is not a cultural practice but rather it is a method to deepen our mind. Everyday do a short meditation of just ten minutes would help to refresh, calm and concentrate your mind. Just rest there for a few moments and it helps so much during the whole day. You do not have to belief in any religion to do that. We study religion like Buddhism because it describes in great details Buddha’s teachings and that is why we study and meditate on that. It describes how to bring real peace to our mind, how mind is infinite like sky, like space. The sky has no boundary, so far we have not find any boundary to the sky, isn’t it? Likewise, the mind is infinite and that is why we think constantly. That is no one day that we are not thinking. Even when you are exhausted and you say, "I am so exhausted both in my mind and my body and now, I cannot think of anything." Still you are thinking so much, isn’t it? You are thinking so much that you cannot think more. Even people who are senile, maybe they do not recollect their memory, still they are thinking so much and that is why they are depressed. If they cannot think of anything why should they be depressed. They are depressed because they are thinking, "Now I cannot recollect my memory like others." So that shows that we think constantly since the day since we are born until the day we die. That shows that mind is limitless, has no measurement. That is why we cannot measure our mind with machine. Machine is limited and no matter how powerful it may be, it is still limited. So if we can cultivate compassion impartially to limitless number of sentient beings, we have limitless compassion. Sentient beings include countless human and non-human beings. Non-human beings include land and sea mammals who give birth, animals and inserts who lay eggs, organisms and so on. If we cultivate limitless compassion is this way, that is what it is called the mind has no limit. How powerful mind can be! It can be a source of all positive qualities, the basis of all good qualities. Right from the beginning, brings and cultivate small peace and harmony to the mind and from the limited kindness and compassion grows and develop into limitless loving kindness and compassion, the complete and perfection of peace, loving kindness and compassion. Loving kindness and compassion is the cause of developing wisdom awareness. That is why loving kindness and compassion becomes more important than just mere wisdom. There are some people who are very smart and they know how to do things well, but have very little kindness and compassion. Then there is not much basis, foundation and motivation to develop the wisdom further. If you have the gift of loving kindness and compassion, then wisdom just manifests without effort. When there is fire, the heat just comes from there because heat and fire is inseparable. When you see the importance of loving kindness and compassion, wisdom develops from there and progress successively from there. In fact, kindness and compassion is the innate mode of every sentient being. We all have the ability to manifest that naturally within our mind. The negative thoughts disturb our mind and prevent the positive thoughts to manifest. So what we have to do is to take our responsibilities to purify these negative thoughts slowly slowly on a day to day basis. Sometimes, it is not easy because we are so habitualized. We are so used to those habits that they come so naturally, but they are not really our innate nature but rather they are artificial and impermanence. If we make an effort, these negative thoughts will decrease and do not have much power while the positive thought will increase, more and more powerful. The reason is because no matter how destructive mind can be, no matter how much and strong the negative thoughts maybe, still there is a glimpse of loving kindness and compassion, still we have the potential to develop this quality to the maximum level where no negative thought can exist. That is why we say that negative thoughts are temporary obscurations, like clouds, no matter how thick the cloud maybe, still there is a gleam of sunlight. Eventually when the cloud is dispersed, the sky can be completely free from any cloud.

When you experience the value and the quality of loving kindness and compassion, that give you great inspiration to develop those qualities further. You will see that all the good qualities and wisdom manifest from that mind. It is the source to develop our wisdom and the source to dispel our illusion. On the other hand, out of ignorance, it is difficult to develop loving kindness and compassion. To dispel ignorance, you need wisdom. So both sides are necessary. When you have wisdom, you can see the nature and the importance of loving kindness and compassion. When you have the quality of loving kindness and compassion, you see the importance of that nature and that is wisdom. So we need to have experience from both sides to go forward.

When negative thoughts come, they seem to be so powerful and fully occupy the whole mind. At that time, we practice loving kindness and compassion by bringing antidote and purify them instead of suppressing or fighting with them. For example, if you are injured, you put some medicine on the wound. With medicine as antidote, the wound will be healed. Suppressing the negative thoughts means the anger is there but anger is not allowed to come out. Since it is kept deep inside, sooner or later, it causes explosion and you will be very depressed. Antidote is to see that everything is impermanent. The negative thoughts are also impermanent. So why am I holding it so strongly, just let go. Let go the anger does not mean that you should express the anger because expressing anger means that you are practicing anger which creates the cause to other problem. Antidote is to replace anger with other positive thoughts like loving kindness and compassion so that anger will have no room in our mind. In Buddhism, there are special practices of developing loving kindness and compassion to deal with anger. Even though not all buddhists have the ability to fully develop that quality under the strong influence of anger and difficult situations, at least it gives us some insight and prepare us to develop further the quality. For those Dharma practitioners who have the ability, they see that "enemies" or difficult conditions are great opportunities to build their strength and develop the positive qualities. They see enemies as their best teachers. When you go to school, the teacher usually reminds you when you have not done your homework or when you do not study well or when you do not pay enough attention to the teachings. The teacher digs up all your mistakes and shortcomings. Likewise, the enemies would dig up all your mistakes and give you a hard time irritating you and making your life miserable. They see the opposite that enemies as great teachers giving them opportunities to pay more attention, to concentrate better, to correct their mistakes, to make improvement and to be a better person. Your friend would not dig up our mistakes. Your friend would hide all your mistakes and problems and would tell you how wonderful and good you are whereas your enemies would tell you all your problems. Even though sometimes they may blame you for what you have not done, we should look at it with an open mind – they do that because of their limitations. Then check our mind to see our own limitation and way of improvement. Instead of being narrow or angry, great Dharma practitioners develop great loving kindness and compassion and is thankful to the teachings that enemies give them. They all practice in a similar way.

Examine the qualities like loving kindness and compassion and taking our own responsibility to develop faith and the qualities fully are essential in the Dharma practice. It is because there is nobody outside can give you those qualities. We must individually take time, examine and investigate carefully the teachings given by our teachers and then develop our understanding and faith in those teachings and put them to our heart and practice them sincerely step by step until we can attain those qualities. This is the way how we can progress on the Dharma path.

Sometimes our children express anger towards their parents. As parents, we need to understand that nowadays, students in school or in college, have to learn lots of skills like computers and to handle lots of information. When they cannot digest all those, when they cannot do these things, they become frustrated and overwhelmed. Also there is lots of pressure and expectations from school and from home. They are told to do this and that so that is why expressions of the limitation like anger, headache and so on come. So parents have to understand what kind of difficult situations they are facing and try to support them and help them to go forward. Sometimes people say that biological bond or characteristics between parents and children cannot be changed. In fact, biological bond is just a habit and can be changed. It is temporary, not permanent. It is changeable and can be purified and transformed. Biological characteristics are not permanent.

Sometimes we are discouraged and feel upset when we see violence in society. Instead of being upset when we see there is violence in the society, examine the disadvantages that violence brings and the benefit that can bring to the society when there is no violence. Learn how to develop further our wisdom and loving kindness and compassion. In that way, we pacify our anger. When you see the benefit the qualities of loving kindness and compassion, wisdom develops. When you have that wisdom awareness and are inspired to develop the quality further, antidote is applied. Take an example of a family with five members. If you make a nice dish and always share equally to all the members in the family, they will respect and trust you. Then there comes the peace and harmony. But if you are always selfish, just eat by yourself and not shared with others, no one will trust you and you will suffer. Through the analysis, you see the benefits of loving kindness and the drawbacks when one is self-centered. So by seeing the quality based on wisdom, you can practice and develop the quality further. No matter how powerful the habits maybe, still it can be changed if you have the will to do it. With will and courage, anything is possible.

Loving kindness and compassion means calm and peace in the mind. When your mind is calm and peaceful, that calmness is loving kindness and that peacefulness is the compassion, then there is space to develop calm and peace for others. As long as you keep your mind calm and peaceful, that itself is an act of loving kindness and compassion. If you keep these qualities within our mind, you experience joy and all other benefits in the mind. Buddha said, "If you cannot help others at least do not harm others." That is based on compassion. Not harming others is also compassion because when there is no harming thought, good qualities of individual will come naturally. Calmness and peacefulness is our buddha nature, the seed of enlightenment that everyone possess because everyone has sometimes the experience of calmness and peacefulness. When there is calmness and peacefulness, there is clarity of the mind and it opens the potential to develop all the excellent qualities. From that nature, we manifest those qualities to all sentient beings to increase the action of loving kindness and compassion. Enlightenment is attained when we have fully perfected the practice of great loving kindness and compassion.



Immeasurable numbers of canopies, banners, pennants, drapes, nets, statues, lights, flames,
clouds, seats, parks, shelters, lands, mountains, seas, rivers, trees, robes, lotus blossoms,
and palaces, all made of jewel crystals...
I present to Buddhas, may all sentient beings be aspired to cause all worlds to become purified and
attain emancipation, abide in the stage of the ten powers and attain unhindered understanding of truth;
to cause all sentient beings to be fully endowed with bases of goodness, to gain complete self-mastery,
to have minds as infinite as space, without going anywhere, entering all land, passing on good ways.

Last updated on 2001-10-03.