Ven. Geshe Thubten Soepa. Sect. 3: Compassion is the Root of the Teachings (2)
Special attainments in Buddhism concern healing, extending life spans up to a thousand years, increasing wisdom and purifying negativities and many other achievements brought about by the power of mantra recitation combined with Buddhist deity yoga—kriya, charya and yoga tantra—as well as the attainment of buddhahood in the same body within a single lifetime through developing the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra.
The root of all those methods is great compassion. All wholesome actions performed with the motivation of compassion can ripen as wholesome effects. If the motivation of compassion is lacking, even the highest practices will come under the influence of selfishness and thus their wholesome effect cannot ripen. The spiritual master Padmasambhava said:
With kleshas49 exhausted – no reason for Dharma practice.
Without compassion the root of Dharma rots.
Consider samsara’s sufferings again and again!Lord and subjects, do not postpone the Dharma!
The protector Nagarjuna taught:
The fact that nothing is ever born—
if it is deeply known by the mind,
compassion arises easily
towards those sunk in the bog of samsara.
The siddha Saraha said:
Whoever engages in emptiness lacking compassion
will never discover the highest most excellent path.
However, the root of Buddhist teachings is unbiased great compassion. Thus the main rule of vows for laypeople, novices, monks and nuns in the vehicle of hearers consists in giving up harming anyone. This giving up of harmful action occurs motivated by compassion. If compassion is lacking, the ethical discipline of giving up harmful actions towards others does not come about. For those belonging to the Mahayana path compassion is even more important. In the Mahayana the main thing being taught is that over and above giving up harmful actions it is necessary to benefit others–”perfect enlightenment is born from the attitude of benefiting others”, as it says in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.50 In the Commentary on Valid Cognition it says: “That which enables it51 is to develop compassion.”
When applying the Buddhist teachings, from among faith and compassion, the latter is more important. Engaging in Bodhisattva Behaviour gives the reason:
Between the Jinas52 and sentient beings
if you respect the Jinas, but not
sentient beings–how would you
accomplish something like Buddha Dharma?
In his Explanation of Bodhicitta Nagarjuna also describes the connection: From benefiting beings happiness arises as a result. From causing harm to beings, suffering arises as a result. The state of buddhahood can also be attained only in dependence on living beings.
Geshe Chengawa, a scholar of the Kadam tradition, said: “In order to attain the state of buddhahood, one has to learn something that is unusual in the world. Among their own interests and the interests of others worldly beings put their own first and consider it more important to honour buddhas than living beings. We have to do it the other way round.”
Buddha Shakyamuni states in the Stream of Mineral Nutriments Sutra:
To benefit sentient beings is the highest offering you can make me,
to harm sentient beings is the greatest harm you cause me.
In his Essence of Good Explanations on the Interpretable and Ultimate Meaning the great spiritual master Tsongkhapa describes how the three types of striving–regarding compassion for beings, faith in the Buddha and the wish that his teachings may last for a long time–reinforce each other.
Dromtonpa said: “Compassion is the root of a helpful attitude. All the characteristics of bodhicitta come about in dependence on compassion.”
And the spiritual master Atisha: “If you feel unbearable compassion for living beings, you’ll abandon everything and undertake anything that is of benefit to beings.”
In the Sutra Requested by Sagaramati it says: “The one teaching for bodhisattvas is this: great compassion that does not crave for one’s own happiness.”
The Sakya master Jetsun Dragyen said:
Abandon alcohol because, if you drink alcohol, your presence of mind will deteriorate.
Meat should be abandoned because, if you eat meat, your compassion will deteriorate.
In his Explanation on the Three Types of Vows Kedrub Je, a great pundit of the Gelug tradition, writes: “We certainly do not say that the rules of ordination permit eating meat under the power of attachment to the taste of meat. We would not even dream of saying that something like that isn’t a fault.”
Chankya Rimpoche, a great Gelug master, also said:
Into piles of flesh, blood, bones of beings
you dig your knives and drool in a rush to devour them—
as if about to subdue hostile troops and foes
compassionate beings behold this sham of a Sangha!53
I should like to turn to the members of the Sangha, persons training in the asceticism of pure conduct, with a little remark. How come people capable of resisting the temptation of what seems like the greatest happiness to the conventional worldly mistaken consciousness—the happiness of being with a woman—are incapable of resisting the enjoyment of eating meat from murdered animals? I wonder. But how could I possibly capture everyone’s interest making statements about the harmful effects of eating meat ? Even if one said that meat is poison—the persistent habit of indifference would continue to exist and they would go on eating meat.
The teaching that it is harmful to eat meat does not apply to monks only. It was given to laypeople and monks equally. The ten negative actions like killing, stealing, sexual misconduct etc. as well as negative actions relevant here—eating meat and the like—are not harmful for monks only, but for all the beings of the six realms as well. The rules that apply specifically to monks are those they have vowed to abide by before the Sangha represented by their abbot and master: not to enter into intimate relations with women, not to drink alcohol, not to eat in the evenings, not to hoard possessions and many other particularities. If they transgress any of those rules, this constitutes a negative action in the sense of a breach of the promise they have made as monks. These kind of negative actions do not exist for laypeople.
In the edicts of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen it says:
In line with the rules of the ordination masters
act as explained in the three collections of teachings:
Drink tea and what is proper for Sangha members,
for food take grains, molasses and creamy cheese,
for clothing wear plain saffron-coloured robes,
for lodging live together in a temple.
Do not indulge in drink, meat, rotten food.
People wishing to make offerings are not allowed to offer the ordained meat nor alcohol—such offerings are also mentioned explicitly in the sutras among the 32 impure offerings. Venerable Milarepa said:
This way of eating meat food—famished, without thinking of future lives for even a second… When I see these people I get frightened. Rechungpa, are you mindful of the holy Dharma?54
If you do not just pay lip service to the existence of future lives and karmic causes and effects but rather consider, from the bottom of your heart, how these hold together, you may develop enthusiasm about giving up meat. If you are not convinced that future lives exist, it will be even more difficult to gain conviction about the karmic effects of actions. However, if you examine whether or not there are former and future lives the reasons in favour weigh more heavily and there is only little negative evidence. Not only Buddhists accept the reality of former and future lives. Hindu yogis who have attained the concentration of calm abiding and thereby achieved supernormal cognitive powers also accept them.
In addition to that the Hindu tenet systems posit a permanent self, holding that this self exists in all former and future lives. They also accept cyclic existence and liberation as well as wholesome and unwholesome actions. We must not disparage the Hindu religion saying: this is a non-Buddhist system. In the tantra Vairocana’s Perfect Enlightenment it says:
However, Buddhists do not accept a permanent self but rather an uninterrupted impermanent continuum of self. Although the self accepted by Buddhists is an uninterrupted impermanent continuum, there is no true self such as it is conceived by our inborn grasping for an “I”: the Buddhist view is that it does not exist by its own nature.
Among those who are convinced that there are former and future lives, again, there are various attitudes. For example some feel undivided compassion for all living beings. They may be fully committed to finding ways and means to eliminate their own and others’ difficulties in this life.
Others who do not accept former and previous lives have a biased kind of love and compassion. They may benefit a lot of beings while also harming many. One example for this would be a person taking pity on a hungry dog and feeding it a fish killed for that purpose. The action may be motivated by compassion for one animal, but it causes great harm to another one.
Yet others are not convinced about former and future lives nor about the fact that happiness is the result of wholesome actions and that suffering is the effect of harmful actions. These kind of people who are very self-centred and unfamiliar with love and compassion may well be endowed with worldly knowledge and skills. If they obtain power and high positions they can do great damage to world peace—please check for yourselves!
The Buddhist teachings explain rebirth, i.e. the reality of former and future lives and the fact that wholesome actions bring about happiness and harmful actions bring about suffering. As all beings are the same in wanting happiness rather than suffering, there are the teachings on great compassion—the desire to protect all the beings of the six realms from the temporary suffering of this life and ultimately from all the suffering of cyclic existence—as well as the teachings on the six perfections, patience etc., and the view of emptiness as an antidote to ignorance, attachment, anger, wrong views, concepts and misconceptions. Through study involving listening and contemplating as well as the development of this wisdom realizing the view of emptiness combined with great compassion, through combining the concentration of calm abiding and special insight into one union, through recognizing the ignorance associated with mental afflictions, concepts and misconceptions will decrease more and more, and the nature of mind will gradually become clearer and clearer. The mind will achieve liberation and the state of buddhahood. The profound and vast path leading there is taught in authentic scriptures.
Author of this text is the ordained Geshe Thubten Soepa of Sera monastery. He composed this advocacy of animal rights in Germany after about 2550 years had passed since the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni and about 648 years after the birth of Lama Tsongkhapa in the year 2005 according to the Western calendar. May this text be like a cloud of offerings gladdening the buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those possessed of compassion. May it also further the wishes for health and a long life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso so that his wholesome activities for the benefit of living beings may continue for hundreds of eons. Also, may all masters of the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life. May all their wishes come true. May the holy masters of religions believing in a creator god and religions with faith in the law of karma interact in harmony and continue to develop mutually beneficial relations now that this is of vital importance. May all their shared practices of non-violence, compassion and love be allowed to increase and deepen more and more.
Arya-Lankavatara-Sutra Q775 ngu 165a7-ngu 172b6
Arya-Angulimala-Sutra Q879 tsu 133b2-tsu 214b8
Vinaya-Vastu Q 1030 khe 260a4-nge 47b6
[Q= Peking edition of the Tibetan Kangyur]
The Tibetan original of this book was initially translated into German by Conni Krause. The first English version by Philip Quarcoo was based on her German text. For a second English version Philip retranslated—from Tibetan—my poems as well as the versified quotations I had used, and made various changes that proof-readers had suggested.
I discussed this second version with my current interpreter, Karina Reitbauer, who made numerous insightful comments causing me to add various explanations, clarifications and notes. They have now resulted in this third version by Philip and Karina.
I dedicate all the merit accumulated through the publication of these two texts to the liberation of living beings. May all living beings be free from the suffering of being killed.
46. Writing down the teachings, making offerings, practising generosity, hearing the teachings, retaining and understanding them, teaching others, reciting sacred texts, contemplating and meditating.
47. The point being made here is that early humans were very much like the gods they descended from who only subsist on mental activity rather than impure physical food. [Return to text]
48. As you take refuge to the Three Jewels, one of the practice instructions you commit yourself to is to give up causing harm to any living beings. That is why it would go against the practice of refuge to harm living beings.
49. Delusions, afflictions.
50. By Togme Sangpo.
51. I.e. the attainment of Buddhahood.
52. “Victors”–designation of the buddhas.
53. In other words: “Monks, rather than taking delight in killing and eating animals, please think about what you are doing and develop compassion!”
54. The question might be paraphrased in these terms: “Rechungpa, do you keep thinking of death, impermanence and your future lives while others fail to do so?”
55. Tirthika (Tib. mu stegs can) literally means “one belonging to a tirtha or holy place”, i.e. a worthy and holy man, a Brahmana. However, the word came to take on a pejorative meaning and was used by Buddhists, Jainas etc. to signify a “heretical” adherent of a religion or philosophy other than one’s own.
56. I.e. along the path, you will find yourself further removed from the goal of becoming Vairocana.
57. Area in North-Eastern Tibet.
58. The Tibetan reads phyi rol pa–apparently, what he meant are followers of other religions who nevertheless share certain essential tenets with Buddhists.