|Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary
The multiplex set of religious traditions identified under the general heading of Buddhism derive their basic inspiration from the enlightenment experience of Gautama Siddhartha (463-383 BCE), who, based on this experience and the transformation it wrought in his life as perceived by his followers, came to be known as the Buddha (Awakened One). This experience has often been described as the realization of one's interconnectedness with all beings, given expression in the Truth of Interdependent Co-arising (Sanskrit: pratitya-samutpada). This realization is no other than the wisdom of seeing things just as they are (yatha-bhutam) that grounds a sense of kinship with all beings (maitri, also translated as friendliness, compassion).
This paper will examine key Buddhist scriptural texts from different epochs to shed light on the way Buddhists have understood this pivotal experience that is at the heart of their view of reality as well as their prescription for authentic living, and then explore its implications for our time.
1. The Metta Sutta contains the well-known passage: As a mother cares for her child, her only child, all her days, so have this mind in you toward all living beings. This all-embracing mind is the concomitant outflow of having reached that Place of Peace (Nirvana), where, having dispelled all the machinations of the delusive ego, and one is thereby enabled to see things as they truly are, in mutual interconnectedness.
2. The four cardinal virtues stem from upeksa, translated as equanimity, but more profoundly, a basic stance of seeing through things (upa + iks), that is the genuine key to inner peace and inner embrace of all beings as manifestations of ones own self.
3. Texts describing Emptiness suggest a vision of reality that results not in nihilism, but in a state of total liberation, that is, freedom from delusions and misconceptions of the egoistic mentality, and freedom to be a veritable being-for-others (the core meaning of the term bodhisattva).
4. a) Shinran differentiates the compassion of Self-Power from the compassion of Other-Power, presenting the latter as the genuine way in which one who has entrusted all to Amida Buddha's cosmic compassion is freed of all encumbrances, even of notions of one's own good deeds, and is enabled to truly be an embodiment of this cosmic compassion toward each being that one meets in one's life. b) Dogen presents enlightenment as the forgetting of self, which is the dissolution of all barriers between self and the myriad things of the universe. This state of realization of no-barrier enables one to see mountains and rivers, the sun, the moon, the stars, as no other than manifestations of one's own true self, and thereby be empowered to live at-one with all. c) Nichiren's worldview, centered on the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, finds its most succinct expression in a passage describing all living beings in this world as offspring of the all-wise and all-compassionate Eternal Sakyamuni. As such, all our thoughts, words, and actions are manifestations of this fundamental connectedness with one another.
These texts bring to light a common vision of reality that grounds authentic living. In other words, these Buddhist perspectives suggest axiological prescriptions as stemming from a basic ontological vision: ought as grounded on is. Here is a vision of reality that contains an inherent prescription for healing especially relevant for our contemporary situation facing major crises of global proportions.
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