Emptiness and Compassion

Something that’s been on my mind off and on for years, so I’m sending this question about it to Shinzen Young, a fabulous meditation teacher….

Just left you a phone message.  To preview what’s puzzling me – I’m a writer, and it helps me to get things out on paper – it’s the idea I’ve come across repeatedly in Buddhist teachings that the realization of emptiness naturally makes you more compassionate, that it sort of follows logically.

I’ll take emptiness here as realizing that everything is process, subject to change, although the general form of a process – me or you, e.g. – may stick around for a while, even while particulars change, rather than the world consisting of solid, unchanging things.  The program on this computer that I’m writing with now, e.g., is a result of all sorts of processes interacting with “things” that are themselves the result of processes, rather than this computer being an eternal, solid lump of unchangium (a new element I just postulated for fun).  I can see things change in subtle as well as often obvious ways all the time, especially when I meditate, so at least intellectually I accept the idea that everything is process, impermanent.  I’m sure there are much deeper experiential realizations of emptiness available that I haven’t gotten to yet, of course.

What confuses me is that the various teachings are phrased in a way that implies that it is obvious, logical that when you understand impermanence you develop compassion for other beings.  I have no idea why this is logical or necessarily follows from seeing impermanence.  So am I dumb, or are teachers eliding over something?

Now I can understand a statement that people who develop good insight into impermanence (usually) develop more compassion for others too, because that’s simply the way it happens, without implying that there’s an obvious logic to it.

I can also see that compassion is one of our innate characteristics, regardless of our insights into anything else, and maybe developing more feeling for impermanence gives your natural compassion more things to perceive and think about – but again I don’t follow the apparent “logic” implied.

I can certainly hypothesize that I’m really dense on this issue and maybe other people understand the logic just fine – in which case I’d like to get less dense…




PS: I think I’ll put this puzzlement on my blog for the amusement?  Edification?  Stimulation? Whatever of my readers…..

One comment

  1. Is emptiness like being really quiet inside? When everything feels quiet but sort of hums with light too?

    If that’s what you mean, then your question isn’t very hard. Because everything gets kind of fuzzy and overlaps when I’m really quiet. It’s really hard to be mean to other people when that happens, ’cause hurting them would hurt me just as much. And if I can send some light their way, it’s like I can see better too.

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