2020-04-28: Anukampā (2 of 5) Caring for the Happiness of Others
4:18AM Apr 29, 2020
Good morning. Today I'll continue with the second talk in the five-talk series on 'anukampā.' I'll talk more about it if you're just coming today for the first time. It's a word that I translate as care.
Yesterday I introduced this topic by giving a very personal story around my relationship with the Buddhist concepts and attitudes of compassion, loving-kindness, and care - 'anukampā.' One of the reasons that I was so personal with it yesterday was that some of what I'm going to do this week and especially today is a little more scholarly, can we say. Hopefully not too much though. But I want to really pull out this word 'anukampā' - the meaning and what it is - out of the ancient teachings of the Buddha. Because I think it's a wonderful aspect of these ancient teachings that are under appreciated, and to highlight it and bring it forth so that we can benefit from that. So it touches or points to some capacity that we have inside. That gives it some clarity. That this particular capacity has a wonderful place in our lives and in our life in the world.
As I said yesterday, the word 'anukampā' is often translated into English in the translations of the Buddha's teachings as compassion, which is quite wonderful. We could just leave it that way, and that would be nice. But the other word that's translated as compassion is 'karunā.' Most people associate 'karunā' with the word compassion so much so that they see in the English translations compassion, they assume probably that it's 'karunā' that's in the original.
However, the word 'anukampā' is much more common in the suttas than is the word 'karunā.' It has a wider range of meanings than 'karunā.' Probably the word 'anukampā' appears three times as many times as the word 'karunā.'
But even more interesting the word 'karunā' as compassion has a very narrow meaning. It really almost entirely occurs in two formulaic passages that get repeated all over these ancient teachings. One of them is referring to the practice of the Divine Abidings - the 'Brahmavihāras' - on 'karunā.' One of these two formulaic passages, I think is quite beautiful. It talks about practicing under 'karunā' in deep meditation, where the mind is quite concentrated, still, radiant, open, and then becomes a field for expansive 'karunā.' The passage is, "One abides pervading the east with a mind accompanied with 'karunā.' And likewise the south, the west, and the north, above, below, horizontally, everywhere, and all over, one pervades the whole world with a mind accompanied with 'karunā,' extensive, expanded, limitless, free from cruelty." If you're able to imagine along, this active imagination, this mind that's so expansive, this awareness of the scope of attention or scope of imagination, where the mind, the awareness, spreads so wide, that the whole world is pervaded with 'karunā,' with compassion.
That's one of the two formulaic passages and that repeats over and over again. It doesn't say what 'karunā' is. Nowhere in the suttas is 'karunā' defined. There's no obvious, clear indication that it should in fact be defined by the English word compassion. It's just a long custom that we've done that.
The other formulaic passage where the word 'karunā' appears is also most likely a meditation state. That is the liberation of mind based on 'karunā.' Liberation of mind here is not awakening, but is rather the meditative liberation or freedom from the hindrances, from ordinary attachments. It's also come to by 'karunā' with maybe compassion. So that's quite beautiful. I'm inspired by that. It's very meaningful for me to read about this and have some minimal contact with this kind of experience in my own practice.
In contrast to those formulaic passages, the Buddha's teachings say very little about 'karunā.' But the Buddha does talk a lot about 'anukampā.' He talks about it in many different ways. I wanted to share some of these ways. The Buddha is described as having 'anukampā' for the welfare of people. I translate 'anukampā' as having care for the welfare of people. Or the Buddha says, talking to his monastic students, "Whatever should be done by a caring teacher, out of care for his disciples, desiring their welfare, that I have done for you." Here a teacher is described by the adjective 'anukampāka' and out of compassion - 'anukampā' - out of care. A caring teacher, out of care, desiring their welfare.
The other desire that's connected to 'anukampā' is desiring people's happiness and welfare. This could be seen as compassion, to want people's welfare and happiness. But generally I think that when we think about compassion, we feel that it's an attitude or a response to suffering in the world. We feel. We have empathy. We feel with. We have the suffering, and we want to do something about it. We want to help alleviate it or we want it to go away in some way. We want people to not suffer.
That, in fact, is the Oxford English dictionary definition, if I may. I know it's a little strange to give that. The dictionary says, "a strong feeling of sympathy for people who are suffering and a desire to help them." That is inspiring and very meaningful. It has been an orienting, organizing principle of my Buddhist life, my Buddhist work, and how I have lived my life. I certainly don't want to diminish the great value of that.
But 'anukampā' focuses on the happiness and welfare. Someone who's not suffering much or maybe they're not suffering at all, it's still possible to care about their welfare and their happiness without tuning into their suffering. That's why I see 'anukampā' as being broader in meaning than compassion. If compassion is defined as having empathy, sympathy, for people who are suffering and desire to help them, then it has a limited range of meaning. Whereas desiring the welfare and happiness has a wider range.
Try to find a word to translate 'anukampā,' I've settled for now on the word care. It seems that the word care is a very common word in India in the time of the Buddha and even right to the present moment. It's still a common word in the Indian languages. Sometimes people speaking in English who know Indian languages will translate 'anukampā' as compassion. It strongly has association with that.
But in the ancient texts of the Buddha, it seems to have a different meaning. One of the wonderful examples of it that I wanted to share of how this word 'anukampā' is an everyday word. The Buddha talks about parents as having 'anukampā' for their children. I certainly hope that parents have compassion for their children. Also the Buddha says that good friends have 'anukampā' for their friends. I hope that we have compassion for our friends, when it's needed, when it's appropriate. I know that if my friends were constantly, non-stop, continuously having compassion for me, I think I would feel a little overwhelmed, a little oppressed by that even, very limited in that exchange of feelings. However, if they had care for me, for my welfare and happiness, that's what I like, that's what I would expect. I have care for their happiness and welfare. That can be continuous. That's more open. That's more allowing. That's not seeing me through a particular lens of how I'm suffering and how I want that suffering to be over.
I think it's appropriate to have caring feelings that are very deep and wonderful, that are more extensive or wider in nature than only compassion. The word 'anukampā' has that role.
The Buddha said that childcare providers - I don't know what the Pali is right now. That's a modern English word - also have 'anukampā' - care. When people give to others acts of donations and acts of generosity, the Buddha refers to that as being done out of 'anukampā' as opposed to compassion. Again, not everyone who we want to make offerings to, give gifts to, is that gift being given out of compassion for their suffering, but rather just because we care about them, and we want them to be well and happy. So we offer them for their welfare.
To refer back to me, that if every time someone gave me something, it was out of sympathy for my suffering, care for my suffering, I would feel a little troubled. I'm very fortunate that my wife often makes dinner while I'm here at work at IMC. If I came home and everyday felt like it was out of compassion for poor Gil that she was offering the meal, I think that it would be a little hard for me. But to offer it out of care and my welfare and happiness, it's a beautiful and generous thing. I'm generally quite happy to be the recipient of this.
For the Buddha's monastic students, what he does is he praises, not just instructs. The Buddha praises - it's a kind of strong word. He praises tender concern, protection and care towards lay families. To those people who are not monastics, monastics should offer concern, protection and care - anukampā'- towards lay people.
Over and over again we see that the acts of generosity, acts of caring for the world, the activity of caring for the world is expressed through this word 'anukampā.' The word 'karunā,' translated as compassion, is never expressed that way in the suttas. It has a very particular domain of meaning, which seems to have to do mostly with meditation practice, a certain kind of state of meditation one goes into without really any reference directly to other people. 'Anukampā' is a social emotion. 'Anukampā' is how we meet people we enter into the world with care for their happiness and their welfare.
That's one way now of highlighting this importance and the significance of this word 'anukampā.' I'll continue over the next few days to do so. In the meantime, these 24 hours, you might want to consider for yourself the distinction between compassion and some of the other ways of caring for people. Is there a way of wishing for the welfare and happiness of people that you have that is distinct from compassion? Is there a value in teasing these apart? Is there a role in your life of living and acting out of the welfare and happiness of others?
Thank you for listening. I'm happy to share this very profound aspect of our human hearts - care. Thank you.