October , 2022
Stories of Compassion in Buddhism and Hinduism
22:17 pm

Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Compassion Karuna is the first of the fundamentals of human Dharma established by Gautama Buddha. Compassion is that feeling, which incorporates Maitri, the friendliness in it. It is contradictory to depicting Daya pity on someone along with a feeling of superiority over him.

Let us consider a hungry and thirsty person as inferior to someone belonging to a higher class! Subsequently, the hungry person appeals for pity and requests to save him from hunger and thirst. The person from the higher class gives food and water to the one from the lower class. The former proceeds to his destination after feeling satisfied. This is an act of mercy by the higher-class person towards the other. This feeling clearly indicates that the person shows pity considering himself to be superior. It does not reveal Karuna compassion.

If a higher-class person could be good enough to offer a seat to the lowly to sit with him, eat the bread and drink the water, it would indicate his friendly feeling besides pity.  

Compassion incorporates equality and humanity. Both, the Vedic-Hinduism and Buddhism consider compassion to be a Dharma in itself. The pioneers of Hinduism and Buddhism presented examples of Karuna, one better than the other, in their respective lifetimes. Going to the abode of Shabri and eating berries tested by her, Lord Rama reveals that He is an exquisite example of compassion. Lord Krishna, washing Sudama’s feet, is another example of compassion.

Tathagata Gautama Buddha has also presented several examples of compassion before us. His brother Devadutta had wounded a swan by an arrow. But, Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) saved that swan by his feeling of compassion. If Siddhartha was good enough to set the swan free after proper dressing, after its release from Devadutta, it would have been an act of his mercy on the bird. But Siddhartha did not do that. He lifted the wounded swan and saved it from the clutches of Devadutta. He constantly applied medicine to the swan’s affected parts and nourished it. By this act, he showed compassion, which was imbued with equality and fraternity.

As such, compassion is more stable than pity. Pity is transitory while in comparison compassion is not. Lord Rama sat near Shabri eating the berries and staying at her cottage. It was an act of togetherness and equality. Pity can be transformed into compassion, but when? Only when a human being shows this equality coupled with a feeling of friendliness.

In the compassion shown by Prince Siddhartha, there was no place for inequality and superior feeling. At any rate, inequality stands in contrast to humanity. In case, pity is accorded while not giving up the feeling of inequality, it will also be indicative of animosity towards humanity. In case, pity is tendered while keeping the spirit of equality in heart, it will indicate friendship. Such a pity, shall be Karuna, the compassion. Such pity shall be a true one; it will be full of humanity.

Gautama Buddha shunned hatred completely and propounded compassion as the essence of human Dharma. In case someone possesses the feeling of pity, it can be transformed into Karuna when the person shows it sans hatred. Contradictorily, if a person with hatred happens to express pity, it can never take the place of compassion. Pity can become compassion only when it is devoid of abhorrence. Gautama Buddha conveyed this message, which was also conveyed by the forerunners of the Hindu Dharma.

Compassion is not only in full consonance with non-violence, but in fact, Ahimsa itself is the mother of compassion. In Buddhism, compassion occupies a higher place than non-violence. The touching virtues of both, non-violence, and compassion, can be clearly understood in the context of human suffering. Non-violence is a natural virtue that prevents the creation of suffering. Compassion, in contrast, uproots the pain caused by suffering. For instance, a bull is set to pull a fully loaded cart, but it is unable to pull it. Ultimately, it sits down. The cartman abandons the thirsty-hungry bull considering it good for nothing. Another person who comes that way, finds the animal in a pitiable condition. He gives it water and feeds it. He takes it with him and looks after it. Thus, he is compassionate, because he takes it with him in a friendly spirit endowed with pity.       

Gautama Buddha emphasized on compassion in terms of common welfare. He associated non-violence with it. He himself was highly compassionate. Compassion can never originate in a state of fearfulness. After acknowledging agony or pain, real concern towards its eradication is compassion. This acts as a bridge in establishing intact friendship in humanity.

Prince Siddhartha was compassionate right from his young days. He told Devadutta, “Brother, will you kill innocent animals, deer, rabbit etc. by hunting them?”

When he was young, he met an old man who was unable to walk. Afterwards, he saw the dead body of a person. There was a transformation in his heart after seeing this. Birth, old age, hunger and death worried him.

Kolis and Shakyas, the two communities of Kshatriyas, were at daggers drawn on the question of the distribution of water from the Rohini river. The Shakyamuni was concerned about the likelihood of a war, which would result in the killing of many soldiers and, thus, affecting their family-members. He made an all-out effort to avert the war on compassionate grounds.

The spirit of compassion strengthened in Prince Siddhartha along with Buddhatva. Out of ten Paramitas, he put the ninth one as Karunaparamita. On achieving enlightenment, the Buddha was fully compassionate towards those five Jatilas who deserted him on account of his drinking Kheer offered by Sujata. After attaining knowledge, the Buddha taught those very five the lessons of the Dharma.     

Lord Rama’s compassion towards Jatayu is an excellent example too. He not only embraced Jatayu, but took away its agony.

During the era of Lord Buddha, society was poor in general. There was the caste system and those belonging to higher classes, used to live separately. Brahmins and Chandalas were there in villages; but, the Chandalas were considered untouchables and unworthy of being seen.

One day, Lord Buddha was on his way. Seeing him, Suneet (a sweeper) who was engaged in his work, gave way - making certain that the Lord Buddha should not become impure by looking at him. Lord Buddha, however, could see Suneet. He asked Suneet to come near him. Later, he took him to his Sangha, and honoured him, thus showing his feeling of friendliness coupled with pity.

Even today, this example is worth following by those who desire to prevent the Indian society from dividing into innumerable castes and subcastes.

There is an example of Patachara as well. She had lost her mental balance, because of the death of her children, husband and parents. She was seen roaming nakedly in a state of lunacy. One day, she reached the place where Gautama Buddha was preaching. The Buddha understood the mental-state of Patachara, put his Cheevar on her and said, “Sister, be conscious.” Patachara was happy to hear such friendly and compassionate words. She fell at the Buddha’s feet. The Shakyamuni admitted her as his disciple. In the same way, he also educated Amrapali, the Nagarvadhu of Vaishali, with friendliness.  

Impressed by compassion of the Buddha, many of his disciples gave up all they had, dedicated themselves to the activities relating to human-welfare. They went to places, which were not accessible and propounded the message of Karuna-Dharma. Their aim and objective remained to rid people of agonies through compassion.

There is no alternative to the compassion propounded by Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha and the like. Showing pity is virtuous only when rendered with the spirit of equality. The foremost and significant message of Hinduism and Buddhism is compassion at all levels.

*A Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National Awardee Indologist Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is, currently the Ombudsman of Swami Vivekananda Subharati University, Meerut (India).


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