2020-04-27: Anukampā (1 of 5) Gil's Story with Compassion and Care
3:47AM Apr 29, 2020
Hello again. With this being Monday, I begin another five-part series of talks for these morning sits. What I'd like to do this week is introduce to you one of my favorite Buddhist topics these days. I've been reading the Buddha's teachings for a long time, but I didn't really see this concept there. I didn't really pull it out of the text and understand that it was there, partly because it was translated in a way that made it more obscure. On the surface, it would seem that this is a pretty straightforward concept maybe when it's translated by the word compassion.
It turns out there are two words that the more well-known translators will translate as compassion. One is the one that is most commonly known -'karunā' - and the second is 'anukampā.' By translating them both as compassion, we don't see how these two are distinguished from each other. When I started looking into this and seeing what's specificallly said about 'anukampā' in the suttas, it became quite meaningful for me and touched something very deep inside that I came to recognize as its own specialness. In the past, I think I would have identified it as a quality of compassion. That's quite fine and a nice thing, but now it seems to be something much more fundamental and broader in scope than compassion in a wonderful way.
I tend to translate this word 'anukampā' as care - caring for the world, caring for self, caring for others. I like the English word care, because of the double meanings of it. To care for others means both to value them, to consider them, to appreciate them. But it could also mean to actively do something for them, to help them, to provide for them, to support them. These two meanings - to value someone and to provide support - are beautiful things to do.
What I would like to do today, this first day, is to say something more about my own journey in the Dharma in relationship to three beautiful qualities of heart that can grow through this practice. That is compassion, loving-kindness, and this 'anukampā,' - this care. The way that it came to me and really became strong in me was in that sequence.
It's kind of interesting. I've been doing this Dharma practice for 45 years. So to go back and look over how it's evolved for all these decades, you see this slow change, what was saliant, what was really important for me at different eras of my practice.
In the early years of my practice, when I had a lot of personal suffering, a lot of challenges, I was doing Zen practice. As I started to develop and deepen the practice, the language, the way I described it to myself, it was that Zen meditation was tenderizing in the way that we tenderize meat. I've never done it, but I think that meat is going to be tough, and you put something on it that makes it more tender. So I felt that zazen - Zen meditation - was tenderizing my heart.
Slowly, I realized in retrospect after some years of practice, that one of the things that was happening for me in those early years was I was becoming compassioned. I was being attuned to my own suffering and then also the suffering around me. The salient important quality that met that, that responded to it, that supported it was a quality of compassion, warmth, care, a love, an extremely caringness that was specific to suffering. At first, I certainly wasn't conscious of this actively happening. I think one of the first signs that this was happening was that I found myself oriented towards Buddhist art, statues, photographs of art, drawings, paintings of Avalokiteshvara Kuan-yin, Kannon in Japanese, the Bodhisattva, the great being of compassion. I felt myself very strongly drawn to those. I would draw them. I would have photographs of statues on my wall. I didn't think about it much. It was like I found these, and I put them up there.
I would also see in the world people and objects, and I would identify them as being objects or people of compassion. I remember there were some people I said, "Now that's a really compassionate person," I said to someone else. They were surprised that I would see that in the person, because that wasn't their association. But I was seeing this around me. Even there was sometimes just the breeze of the wind against my cheek felt like a breeze of compassion.
I think in Zen sometimes it's called the golden wind that comes. In retrospect I think I needed a lot of compassion. I needed a lot of the medicine or the salve of compassion in order to meet and be with my own suffering. Or perhaps rather than needing it, it just was the byproduct.
One of the reasons I think why this compassion arose for me in doing Zen practice is that Zen practice was very simple. The way I understood it and the way I practiced it was a thorough acceptance of the moment as it was. Since I had a lot of suffering, it became a certain kind of acceptance, a certain kind of just being with, allowing it. This allowing the suffering to be there and being with it, that has a tenderizing effect. I kept all the resistance I had to it, the judgments I had about it, the discursive thought that would trigger. All these I would let go of them, come back, and just feel and be here with what was. And what was here was suffering, and that was tenderizing.
One of the good fortunes for me in those early years is I didn't know very much about meditation. So I didn't have any meditation techniques to try to work with it and fix it. I just sat in the open, somewhat simple way with experience. And doing so changed me. It changed me so much that this compassion grew. It became the orienting, organizing principle for my life. I decided at some point that I would dedicate my life to Buddhism, Buddhist practice, maybe teaching Buddhism, as my response to the suffering of the world. I never had any sense that I was going to be so effective in doing so. But I had a clear sense that that's what I wanted my life to be about. Given what we're doing here, sitting in the morning now, the image I had of myself when I started this route of wanting to respond to the world out of compassion was I would have a little storefront Zen center, a little meditation hall. I would get up in the morning. I had the key. I'd open it up. I would keep it clean, and I would let people come in and we would meditate together in the morning. That would be the core way in which I supported people. That was the idea. So now, many years later, we have this 7:00 am sitting, which is a fulfillment for me of a goal I had many, many years ago.
That was very nice. It was very nurturing. It was supportive, this idea of compassion. I discovered some of the ins and outs of compassion. I discovered that, to my surprise, that compassion can feel really nurturing, really sweet. A wonderful, pleasant feeling can come with pure compassion.
At some point, I started doing 'Vipassanā' practice. When I started doing 'Vipassanā,' especially when I did it here in United States, the teachers would teach loving-kindness practice - 'mettā.' Being from a Zen background, this loving-kindness practice just seemed too sentimental, too artificial to me when I was a young student. I would simply tune out the teachers that did a guided loving-kindness meditation. But in the course of sitting long retreats, especially the three month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, at some point, something started, a sweetness and warmth, and then against may be tenderizing. Something began to open in me that had a joy to it and delight or happiness part of it. Then when the teacher started to talk about loving-kindness, and loving-kindness meditation, I said, "That's it. I know what they're talking about now."
Then this idea of loving-kindness, loving-kindness meditation, had such a wonderful meaning for me and value to me, but had a very different flavor than compassion. It still had to do with caring for people and caring for oneself. But it came with a sense of delight or happiness and wanting them to be happy. It's a very different affect for me to have this more open, relaxed experience. I wondered for a long time whether it was something about Zen versus something like 'Vipassanā,' one compassion, one loving- kindness, or had to do with a particular phase of my life and what was you useful and what this kind of tenderizing and opening of the heart came.
Certainly the loving-kindness started to come when I didn't have so much suffering anymore. I'd become freer and freer a bit and had real moments of it dropping away. Sitting there and practicing without this suffering as a reference point maybe that's what made possible that loving-kindness could be the expression of this caring heart.
As the decades went along, at some point, I noticed that there was a shift in my experience of care, wanting to respond to the world or the certain kind of love that I felt. I started to become simpler and simpler. It became simpler in a way that I didn't quite associate it with compassion, though I could call it compassion, but it just seemed so simple. I didn't quite associate it with loving-kindness, because that seemed a more active to me, more energized, more relational in some more complicated way.
But there was a simpler thing that I associated a lot with a sense of freedom, a sense of ease, a sense of peace that had come with a practice. This idea that there was a very simple, caring responsivity, wanting to support and help and work for people, but it was clearly connected to a sense of peace, a sense of well-being, a sense of ease. It just seemed to be almost part and parcel that ease. As soon as I would refer to it as loving-kindness or compassion, it seems like it got a more activated, more conceptual, more involved. Nothing wrong with that at all. But I like the peacefulness. At times I struggled a little bit conceptually, "Is it okay to stay that simple? Shouldn't I be more actively concerned or worried or be more actively compassionate or actively loving-kindness." But it just felt so right this way.
Then I started studying the suttas around this idea of compassion and how compassion is talked about in the suttas. I started seeing there was a distinction in the suttas between compassion and 'anukampā.' The big difference is that the word 'anukampā' is the primary word the Buddha uses for actively doing and caring and serving other people, teaching others, working with others, being supportive of others, being generous to others. In the suttas that's over and over described to as being done out of 'anukampā.' It's never described as coming out of 'karunā' 'Karunā' has a very different meaning in the suttas. It's certainly different than what it's come to mean.
But 'anukampā' is the active verb and emotion for caring for others. It's not defined in the suttas, but over and over again when someone has 'anukampā,' they're concerned for the welfare of others. This idea of welfare of others is broader in nature than compassion. Because compassion is certainly about the welfare of other, but specific around not wanting to suffer, to alleviate suffering. Loving-kindness is more about letting people be happy. There can be a lot of compassion there too and concern for people's suffering, but its more specific. What I came to understand is in the suttas 'anukampā' is the broad feeling that encompasses all the 'Brahmavihāras' - compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. It's more like this is the broad term for being involved with a care of the world.
This is not from the Buddha, but my own sense of it then, is that 'anukampā' is the foundation for the other forms of love. And that I associate with this feeling of something very deep and peaceful, from which my care came. I've said, "Oh, that's probably 'anukampā'." Having a word for it really made a difference for me. It brought me delight, joy. It freed it up to be there as its own thing. I've come to translate it now as care.
The fundamental capacity to care that can be very simple, uncomplicated, coming from a sense of ease and peace and freedom, that that can be the foundation. Then as it's appropriate, that gets expressed in different ways.
So that's what I want to talk about this week - 'anukampā.' I hope that offering my own story of how I came to it sets the context for what we'll do for the next four mornings. Thank you for listening, and I look forward to tomorrow. Thank you.