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Dharma World Buddhist magazine

Showing Compassion for Those Who Suffer

by Nichiko Niwano


Many bodhisattvas appear in the Lotus Sutra. Among them, one of the best known is the Bodhisattva Kannon who hears the voices of those suffering in the real world and transforms herself into many different forms and shapes in order to liberate them. The Kannon who looks upon people with compassionate eyes is one ideal image of humanity, which put into our everyday terms could be expressed as true friendship, sympathy, and empathy.

However, when we face a disaster such as the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, we may have no clue about what we should do and remain frozen in place. What actually happened made us reconsider how we come to terms with a difficulty that we have not experienced firsthand, and how we can get close to the feelings of suffering people and stand by them as a companion as they move forward. It seems that since that day, many people have come to think about what they can do to help, that is, how they can put compassion into practice.

As is often said, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Being cut off from connections to other people, being alone and feeling abandoned - that is a condition lacking love or compassion. Thus we could say that being considerate of people who are suffering, never forgetting them, and praying from the heart that their suffering will ease even a little is getting closer to them and putting compassion into practice.

If we can provide assistance in a concrete form, then it is important that we continue to do so. However, even though we may not be able to participate in volunteer activities or offer as much financial assistance as we would like, all of us can at least continue our practice of compassion by hoping and praying for the happiness of those people who are suffering.

Widening the Circle of Warmth

When people are experiencing some difficulty, we think about what we can do to help them and, within the realm of the possible, we want to lend them a hand. This arises from the mind of consideration for others that everyone possesses or the mind of donation and benefiting others. From another perspective, such practices could also be called repaying our debt of gratitude for being caused to live.

This world is a realm of gratitude for all things supporting us, where numerous encounters form a network of relationships linked together. When we think about things in this way, we come to see that acting with consideration for others and sharing with them whatever we have is the least we can do to repay our enormous debt of gratitude for the multitude of blessings we are receiving.

When we think about doing something for other people, we may end up being overanxious concerning it. In that case, we may feel discouraged because our efforts seem inadequate, but if we are to repay our debt of gratitude, then without feeling discouraged we can simply go about doing whatever small things come naturally. After all, we are all brothers and sisters leading lives that are part of the same great life. And since there is, from the beginning, no distinction between oneself and others, all of us are already walking together on the same path.

In reality, the assistance that each of us can offer may be rather minor. However, when we look at things with an eye toward the source of all life, then even though what we can offer may seem negligible, our hearts and minds that pray and hope for the sake of the world and of humanity are thereby connected to a great system of support. Being considerate toward our own families leads to warming the hearts of many people, the emotion passing from one person to another. The consideration we show others in our daily lives becomes the starting point for widening the circle of warmth in society.

Such hearts and minds are functioning in this way because of the presence of Kannon, who awakens in us the heart and mind of compassion. Kannon may be a family member or a friend, or perhaps even someone seen on television. I think that learning compassion and wisdom from what Kannon teaches us is, indeed, walking the Way together.

Nichiko Niwano is president of Rissho Kosei-kai and a president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. He also serves as special advisor to Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan).

This article was originally published in the July-September 2013 issue of Dharma World.

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