2020-05-01: Anukampā (5 of 5) The Ethics of Care
4:10PM May 1, 2020
Greetings. This morning is the last of the five talks on 'anukampā,' the concept the Buddha used and discussed many times that I'm translating as care, sometimes translated as compassion. But I'm suggesting that compassion, as wonderful and important as it is, that it has a narrower domain, narrower range of meaning, than the word care. Care, in addition to caring for people's suffering also cares for their welfare. People who are not particularly suffering, we're still caring for them. A general benevolence maybe for all beings and all circumstances.
I'm suggesting that this word care is simpler than attitudes and emotions, like loving-kindness and compassion. It requires less concepts and ideas than what often is associated with compassion and love. Love and compassion as feelings are not always accessible to us. Because we don't necessarily love or kept automatic goodwill to everyone we meet or automatic compassion for some people. We can certainly work for that and try to develop a universal kindness and compassion. But it's easier to do so if we recognize that underneath those or as a foundation is a tenderness of heart, a sensitivity of heart, resonance of heart, of the care, of 'anukampā.'
One of the reasons, as I've been saying, it's very useful to look at this word and distinguish it from compassion, is that the Buddha used the word 'anukampā' repeatedly as the motivation, as the prompt, for the actions in the world of how we live, caring for the welfare and happiness of others. The word 'karuṇā,' often translated as compassion, the Buddha never used that word as a motivation, action or a source from which to actually care, support, and help people in the world.
Very different than how the word came to be understood later in Buddhism. But in this early tradition, there was this 'anukampā,' a word which I think got forgotten, lost or got subsumed underneath the word 'karuṇā' over the centuries. By bringing forth this word 'anukampā,' I found it very helpful for me to recognize something very simple, that maybe is the foundation for these things.
I'm interested in talking about this and exploring it, because for a long time I've been interested in the ethics of freedom and the ethics of awakening. What would that look like? What is the ethics of awakened people, of liberated people? What's the ethics of mindfulness when mindfulness becomes strong? To answer that question, it might be best to drop the word ethics, because it has a lot of associations in English that might not be really a very good fit, for Buddhism or teachings of early Buddhism which is my reference point.
The closest word in the Buddha's language for the English word ethics is probably the word 'kusala,' which is usually translated into English as either wholesomeness or skillfulness. So the question in early Buddhism is, is what we're doing skillful? Is it wholesome? That gives you a little different flavor than asking is it ethical.
Many people will say the word for ethics in Buddhism is 'sīla,' (śīla'). It's not quite right that. It's okay to say that's what it is. But again, if you go back to early Buddhist texts and see how the word 'sīla' is used, the word really means a behavior - what we do. So much so that Bhikkhu Bodhi in his latest translations of the Pali suttas now translates 'sīla' as virtuous behavior or virtuous conduct. Where the emphasis is the conduct and what we do.
That action is important. Action has to do with how we live in the world and how we interact with people. Another way of talking about the ethics of awakening and the ethics of non-attachment is to call it the conduct of awakening, the conduct of non-attachment. What conduct comes? And the conduct comes out of it that is skillful and wholesome is part of the topic that I'm interested in.
Certainly one of the inspiring statements of the Buddha with the word 'anukampā' that it really speaks to the actions that come out of awakening is what the Buddha said to the first 60 people who were his students, practiced under him, who became fully awakened. There were 60 of them who were traveling together. They'd done what had to be done. They were liberated and free. The Buddha made this statement to them. "Travel forth for the welfare of many, for the happiness of many, out of care for the world, for the good, the welfare and happiness of gods and humans." So here the Buddha's instruction to people who are awakened, for what kind of conduct to have, what kind of behavior to be engaged in, is to go forth in order to support and promote the welfare, happiness, and the good of others.
Here intimately connected to awakening is this idea of go forth out of care. 'Anukampā' - care - then is really the source for enlightened behavior in the world. We see that in references to the Buddha where he teaches out of care, out of 'anukampā.' He visits people out of 'anukampā.' That characterizes how the Buddha engages in his world and caring for the world and all his teaching. Maybe all his teaching was inspired by 'anukampā' - care.
There's a fascinating story of a doctor named Jīvaka, who is talking to the Buddha. Jīvaka says that the great god Brahma, the overlord of the gods. He's characterized or he lives in with mind of the divine abodes of 'mettā,' 'karuṇā,' 'muditā,' 'upekkhā' - loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. These four flavors of a certain kind of love that characterizes Brahma. So Jīvaka says, "I've heard that the god Brahma is characterized or has these states. Now that I see the Buddha, I see that you abide in loving-kindness. You abide in compassion. You abide in sympathetic joy. You abide in equanimity." The Buddha's response is very unusual in my mind. He says, "No, don't say that. However, if what you mean is that if I abide without the greed, hatred and delusion that gives rise to ill-will, gives rise to cruelty, gives rise to displeasure, and gives rise to repulsion, then I allow you to say that I abide in loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity."
In other words, the Buddha is reluctant to have himself characterized as living or abiding in these four 'Brahmavihāras.' But he is willing to say that he abides without the greed, hate and delusion that give rise to the interpersonal behavior characterized by ill-will, hatred, cruelty, displeasure and repulsion. It's almost as if, if there's no greed, hate and delusion, then there is love. Then there is something that looks like care, compassion, and all these things. So what is that? The absence of certain things then looks like something else.
I want to give a small example. If there's two people who look from the outside as if they're patient. They're both in a very difficult situation, very challenging trying situation. They both look like they're very patient in this difficult circumstance. However, on the inside of the first person, all the person's buttons are pushed. It's really stressful, really challenging. They're constantly inside getting angry, irritated, upset, discouraged. For that person, it's a lot of work to keep breathing, to relax, to be mindful of what's going on, to stay connected to oneself so they don't get caught in the reactivity. They have very strong mindfulness. So with all the work of paying attention, they are able to stay physically, actively or visibly nonreactive. It looks like they're physically or behaviorally equanimous. Others say, "Look, that person's equanimous."
The second person looks just as patient. However, the second person has no buttons to be pushed inside. The second person doesn't get irritated, angry, upset or discouraged. There's no attachments, preoccupation, concerns or worries that are being triggered. For that person, patience is not something they have to do. They're not working at being patient. It's an absence of anger and irritation that makes them seem like they're patient. In that sense, when Buddha replies to Jīvaka, "You can refer to me as having abandoned greed, hate and delusion, and in that sense, you can say that I have loving-kindness and compassion." It isn't like compassion and loving-kindness is something to be done, the Buddha is working on it. It's somehow in that absence it looks like what we would call loving-kindness and compassion.
If Jīvaka had asked, "Does the Buddha abide in 'anukampā?'" I suspect the Buddha said, "Yes, that I allow you, that I abide in." The Buddha really felt that someone who abides in 'anukampā,' they have abandoned ill-will and hatred. It is said that to dwell in 'anukampā' for all beings, one abstains from harming them. When one has abandoned ill-will and hatred, one abides with 'anukampā' for the world.
So the 'anukampā' is the primary for the Buddha. 'Anukampā' what there, that he's willing to say is there when there's no greed, hate and delusion. To care, this fundamental underlying situation of care.
I'd like to end with a few things. One is that this care that seems to be there with the absence of greed, hate and delusion is not an obligation. Sometimes when I hear teachings about compassion, it feels like I'm supposed to be this way. I need to cultivate it, and I have to be in the world in a compassionate way. I think compassion is fantastic. But the idea that it's obligatory feels a little bit oppressive, like, "Oh really, I'm not good enough? I have to do this now?"
But the idea that care is found through letting go of greed, hatred and delusion, the idea of awakening this deeper natural sensitivity. means that rather than being concerned with ethical responsibility for us who practice, we can be concerned with ethical responsivity. That we want to discover that place of ethical responsivity of a skillful place where we can respond skillfully, wholesomely to the world.
Rather than discovering what our responsibilities are, we discover our capacity for responsivity. My hope that as we discover this, that that translates, that is applied to actively learning about the world enough to see, understand where it is that our lives cause harm, cause damage to the world, where in our lives we can benefit and support the world. That that responsivity really travels out through the circles of care, out into the world. So our circles of care become all inclusive, but in this place where we do not succumb to greed, hatred and delusion.
So 'anukampā' - care. I hope that this has given you some food for thought and a new concept and idea to explore in yourself. Maybe it has some value for you and interest. I hope so.
In a couple of minutes, I'm happy to take a few minutes of questions for those of you who want to stay. I'll say as closing words that I'll continue with these Monday morning sittings. For the next four weeks, the theme for the talks will be the Four Noble Truths. Now that we've done beauty last week and care this week, maybe we're ready in a different way than we would have otherwise been to look at this very important teaching, practice, and insight of the Four Noble Truths. We'll do one week on each Truth and go through the week going into it deeper and deeper each Truth I hope. Maybe now after beauty for a week and care for a week, we'll be ready next week to look at and explore the topic of suffering.
Thank you very much for being part of this. For those of you who are in the Audio Dharma world who are listening to this, thank you very much for being interested in following this series. I had a chance to share something that was important for me. Thank you.
"Can I speak about the 'Brahmavihāras?'" Thank you, Sandy. Maybe that can be another theme for these early morning sittings. I can do one week on each at some point. That'll be nice. Also IMC has this happy hour. Right now, they're doing it, this coming week, I think every afternoon. At happy hours where they do the 'Brahmavihāras' - mettā and so forth.
"Can you also say that care is a direct liberation practice because it lessens greed, hate and delusion?" Absolutely. I think that's a wonderful thing. So if you want to be free of greed, hate and delusion, go out there and try to care for people and care for the world. But do so paying careful attention to what's going on inside of yourself, so that you can notice what gets in the way of the care. You could notice how greed, hate and delusion operate. There's a whole different perspective on attachment and clinging that can come in service than if we just sit and meditate. It's very valuable and important. It's like its own path itself.
It's very heartwarming to see all the "Thank you's" and "Good morning's." Very, very nice.
"If I understood correctly, you believe 'anukampā' is a better foundation for ethics rather than compassion. Could you explain more about the relationship between mindfulness and ethics?" Well, is it better than compassion? It's a little tender answer to give since compassion is really a foundation to many people's religious life, personal life, and the foundation of what they do. I can say that for myself that was also true. That for decades I felt or believed that compassion was at the heart of my life, my ethical life. But over the last years I have discovered for myself, and especially when I discovered this word 'anukampā' as care, is that I had subsumed, I had held together, combined, lumped together two different feelings or attitudes that existed within me, and saw them as being the same. Saw them both as compassion. Just as some translators translate 'anukampā' and 'karuṇā' as compassion, I had no language to distinguish between a very simple, quiet, tender, now I call it care, that has no object. That has no, in and of itself, like sitting quietly by myself and meditating, that it just exists there as a caringness without an object. I called it compassion without an object. That's what I saw it as. Then it was other kinds of compassion where I encountered suffering in the world and clearly felt sympathy, felt empathy, and wanted to alleviate and wish that to go away, that suffering. But now I've separated out these two. And the simpler, almost nonconceptual place of care, I call care. It depends how you define it. Compassion is the concern for the suffering of others and wanting to have that suffering to help or to go away. It is a little bit more conceptual. It involves self and other in some kind of simple way. Whereas something that is not conceptual, doesn't involve self and other. I used to call that tenderness as compassion, because I had no distinction between them. But now I think I'd like to go along with the distinction that the Buddha does, and may be call this care. This is a little bit of a semantic issue, so we have to be a little careful not to treat this as some absolute difference between people. LH, I guess you're from Iran, I think you said. If that means that you're Iranian, maybe you're interested. I had some discussion with an Iranian Dharma teacher about maybe doing an intro class online in Farsi. If that actually happens, maybe you're interested in that. We'll do it through IMC, and it will be on the website.
This is wonderful to have all this. I just love seeing you and the questions. I want to thank you very much. I look forward to more opportunities to be this way. Thank you very, very much.