Compassion as Empty Phenomenon

by Robert Wolfe on December 31st, 2012

In Dzochen, the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness are spoken of as a relative truth, according to Ponlop Rinpoche who says that these relative practices can be instrumental in leading one to realizing ultimate truth.

An element of this compassion is the desire to bring realization of the true nature of phenomena to others, to alleviate suffering by dedicating one’s time, energy and interests to this endeavor.
 “We see that beings will continue to engage in the confused cause-and-effect actions…unless the nature of impermanence is recognized, together with the nature of emptiness…(those suffering) do not understand the true nature of the cause of their suffering.”
“To see the suffering of ‘others’,” however, is conceptual. “At some point, our practice develops into non-conceptual experience…”
If “compassion” and “loving-kindness” are on the levels of relative (conceptual) truth, what is the ultimate truth? “When it comes to the absolute or ultimate truth,” we are considering “complete realization of emptiness, selflessness or egolessness,” through which emerges genuine (non-objectified) compassion, not “tainted by the self-centered view.”
“Ego-centered compassion…is not arising from a heart that is willing to fully sacrifice its own desires to end the suffering” of others.
What obstacle seems to arise, precluding the realization of egolessness? Because of habituated ego-clinging, “complexities have developed in our mind; layer after layer of dualistic perceptions…” which result in a “labeling process.”
“On the absolute level, it is the ego, our clinging to [a belief in the existence of] a self, that is the focus…” As a means to excoriate the belief in our existence as an independent entity, “we must go to the other extreme: ‘between the two poles of existence and nonexistence,’ we come to a discovery.”
The relative truth is concerned with existence, the manifestation of the appearances that we experience: “the sensory perceptions and their objects [such as ‘others’], and conceptual mind and its objects [such as ‘suffering’ and ‘compassion’].” When “(Buddhist) logic, reasoning and contemplation” is applied to these, “nothing solid and real exists” in phenomena.
These appearances are given their relative relationships through the artifice of labels: “When you look at labels, it is very easy to see their relative nature” (such as “suffering”/“compassion”). The labeling process is the function of the mind (itself a label).
Break anything down, that we label, and we come to subatomic particles that have no materiality, in fact are mere “probabilities”: “nothing solid and real is found….regarding the existence of external phenomena, nothing existing is found at the atomic level”; what science calls an energy field, Buddhism calls emptiness (shunyata), complete groundlessness.
With “the complete refutation of any notion of ‘existence’ [as a solid reality, such as ‘others’ or ‘self’]…we transcend any kind of clinging onto existence whatsoever [no self: no existence]—there is a complete sense of negation, in the absolute truth.”
Yet, we can “go beyond that negation, to find the real nature of phenomena, which transcends both ‘existence’ and ‘nonexistence’…which is not simply descriptive of genuine reality, but is the reality itself, the basic state” that “goes beyond”—where “there is nothing to hold onto…Buddha said that ‘emptiness’ is also nonexistent….
“It is first of all necessary to embrace the stage of complete negation….Afterwards, we may go beyond that stage…that notion [nonexistence] should also be abandoned.”
This “brings us back into the middle….both existence and nonexistence are extreme positions; the absolute truth is beyond…goes beyond nothingness…”
This brings us back to the relative, which cannot be left out of the equation with the absolute: “if you separate these two truths…you lose the actual reality….
“Chandrakirti asserts that the two truths are inseparable, they are one nature right from the beginning. When you see relative truth, its nature is absolute truth.” Anything relative does not exist “outside of the absolute nature….the inseparability of appearance/emptiness…should be how we understand the two truths. “When we see a form, hear a sound, or experience a thought (as being real), to that same degree we can also experience them as the nature of emptiness.”
When “we cling onto the subject/object relationship…‘your’ pain, your happiness and joy…(the) experience of a thought…(or) holding a particular view…we can see beyond it.”
When we “apply the absolute view…we can experience the absolute truth and…experience the relative truth in a more transcendent way.”


If I understand the sense of Ponlop’s presentation (condensed from a 10-page transcription of a talk, published in Bodhi, Vol. 6, No. 4), the dualistic perception and its labeling process, creating relative conditions, is a product of the egoic mind. No reality exists in phenomena, including the separate person (and its consequent intentions). Any apparent relative conditions cannot be separated from emptiness. The subject/object relationship is realized as false when not tainted by the subject/object perspective, such as “your suffering”/”my compassion.” To apply the absolute view is to experience the relative truth in a transcendent way.

Posted in Monograph, Unpublished    Tagged with compassion, phenomenon, suffering, truth, ego, egolessness, realization, Dzochen, Chandrakirti, existence, nonexistence


Maria Collier - January 1st, 2013 at 11:01 AM
Beautifully stated, selected, and concluded! Thank you, Ponlop Rinpoche, and thank you, Robert Wolfe. As the Old Year concludes and the New one begins, my cup runneth over!


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