Compassion and Bhakti-rasa, Part II

The capacity to recognize and empathize with another’s suffering.

Though it is rather unexciting from the literary point of view, I will do some academic basics, like looking in the dictionary for clues about where to go with the research on the topic of compassion. After all this is a blog. And a blog is basically a diary notebook, so for my own edification and future reference, I will do a bit of academic legwork. I haven't been excercising my due-diligence muscles here for some time now.

Let us start from Amara-kośa, the most basic and universally used Sanskrit lexicon. Sanskrit lexicons usually are more like thesauruses, in that they give lists of synonyms grouped together. The group in which we find karuṇā goes like this: snigdhas tu vatsalaḥ ghṛṇā | kṛpā dayānukampā kāruṇyaṁ karuṇā. Here are the relevant definitions taken from Monier-Williams (MMW).
  • vatsala = child loving, tender, affectionate towards offspring, kind, loving.
  • anukampā = sympathy, compassion
  • anukrośa = tenderness, compassion
  • dayā = sympathy, compassion, pity for
  • ghṛṇā = a warm feeling towards others, compassion, tenderness.
  • karuṇā = pity, compassion
  • kāruṇyaṁ = compassion, kindness
  • kṛpā = tenderness, compassion
  • sūrata = well-disposed towards, compassionate, tender
The word anugraha, which is usually connected to these meanings, is not found in Amara. According to MMW, it means: favor, kindness, showing favor, conferring benefits, promoting or furthering a good object, assistance. For some reason, it is often used in the specific sense of bestowing initiation. [See HBV 1.47ff anugrahaṁ mantra-pradānādikam, 1.121 The mantra is given gurv-anugrahāt, etc.

Another word that comes up is prasāda, which basically means pleasure. In the sense that compassion is the pleasure of the person giving it. If I please you, then you will be grateful and bestow your grace. Whereas the other words are unidirectional, prasāda in this sense is given a reciprocal and conditional aspect.

yasya prasādāt bhagavat-prasādo
yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto'pi

Another expression frequently seen, especially in the epics and Puranas is hita, which usually is translated as welfare, hita-kārī, "acting for the welfare"; sarva-bhūta-hite rataḥ, "engaged in welfare acts for all beings." (Gītā 5.25, 12.4)

Now it may be possible to do an in-depth search through different textual genres to find out how often and in what way each of these terms is used, how they overlap and differ, but for the time being, I think that the commonality of meanings indicates that they are all fairly semantically synonymous. Of this list, an intuitive hierarchy of frequency [not that much due diligence, sorry!!!] would put anukrośa, ghṛṇā and sūrata near the bottom, dayā, kṛpā and karuṇā at the top.

In the English dictionaries, we get the following definitions:
  • compassion: feeling of sympathy for another’s misfortune
  • mercy: compassion shown to an enemy or an offender
  • grace: favor, good will, mercy, clemency
The English thesaurus also gives the following as synonyms: pity, compassion, commiseration, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, tenderness, humanity, mercy, clemency, charity, grace.

In the Bhāgavatam, the qualities of a devotee sādhu are listed and include several characteristics that are related in one way or another to empathy. I am going to just quote the whole set of verses, adding insights from the commentaries, since they are such a worthy subject for meditation:

kṛpālur akṛta-drohas titikṣuḥ sarva-dehinām |
satya-sāro 'navadyātmā samaḥ sarvopakārakaḥ ||
kāmair ahata-dhīr dānto mṛduḥ śucir akiñcanaḥ |
anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ sthiro mac-charaṇo muniḥ ||
apramatto gabhīrātmā dhṛti-māñ jita-ṣaḍ-guṇaḥ |
amānī māna-daḥ kalyo maitraḥ kāruṇikaḥ kaviḥ ||

  • Devotees are compassionate (kpālu), that is, they cannot bear to see anyone suffering in this world.
  • They do not make enemies (akta-droha), even when others act towards them in an irrationally aggressive manner.
  • They are tolerant (titiku), meaning that they forgive the offenses of all other creatures, even those who insult them.
  • They are committed to the truth (satya-sāra), in other words, they take strength in the truth.
  • They are faultless (anavadyātmā), i.e., free of flaws like envy and so do not cause a disturbance to the least of God’s creatures, whether in word, thought or deed.
  • They are equanimous (sama), taking happiness and distress, praise or criticism without being disturbed.
  • They are helpers to all (sarvopakāraka), in other words, they are the well-wishers of all creatures and act for their welfare, especially by helping them to understand their constitutional position as spiritual beings.
  • Their intelligence is not disrupted by sensual desires (kāmair ahata-dhīḥ).
  • They have control over their external senses (dānta).
  • They are gentle (mdu),
  • They are clean (śuci),
  • They are not accumulative (akiñcana), which can be extended to mean indifference to any of the four goals in life, including liberation.
  • The devotees are inactive (anīha), in the sense that they do not engage in purely mundane activities, whether based in sense gratification or renunciation.
  • Their eating is controlled (mita-bhuk), which means not only that they eat sanctified and sāttvika foods, but that they only consume what is absolutely necessary.
  • They are peaceful (śānta), for they have no desires.
  • Devotees are steady (sthira); if they take up a service or duty, they see things through to the end without being perturbed.
  • Devotees take exclusive shelter of Krishna (mac-charaa). According to Kaviraj Goswami, this is the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, the others are all taṭastha-lakṣaṇa
  • They are sage (muni), possessing all the qualities of the sthita-dhīḥ described in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
  • They are careful (apramatta): being always fixed in bhakti, they are never swept away by obsessions.
  • They are profound (gabhīrātmā): their actions are not always easily understood by others due to their detachment from the customary motivations of ordinary people and their deep meditation on the Lord.
  • They are patient or steady (dhtimān), meaning that they have conquered over the tongue and genitals and are capable of distinguishing between the permanent and the impermanent or good and bad.
  • They have conquered over the six “knots” or “waves” (jita-a-gua) – hunger, thirst, grief, bewilderment, old age and death.
  • They are humble (amānī), seeking no honor for themselves.
  • They are respectful (mānada), willing to give all honor to others.
  • They are capable (kalya), meaning that they are expert in explaining spiritual matters to others and engaging them in bhakti.
  • They are friendly (maitra), which means that they do not cheat others, especially not when it comes to spiritual teachings.
  • They are merciful (kāruika); unable to tolerate the suffering of others, which is a result of ignorance of spiritual truths, they do everything in their power to help them.
  • And finally, they are wise (kavi) – they know what is liberating and what is entangling. (11.11.29-31)
In a shorter description of the Vaishnava qualities Kapila says to Devahūti in the Third Canto:

titikṣavaḥ kāruṇikāḥ suhṛdaḥ sarva-dehinām |
ajāta-śatravaḥ śāntāḥ sādhavaḥ sādhu-bhūṣaṇāḥ ||
The devotees who are ornaments of the saintly are tolerant, compassionate, the well-wishers of all beings, never create enemies and peaceful. (3.25.21)
From these verses, although it may be argued that compassion still does not have the central role that it plays in the Buddhist scheme, it remains very much a part of the concept of the Vaishnava character.

The compassion of the devotees no doubt takes many forms, as we may think of compassion taking place on numerous levels, from aiding the body, to the mind, to the soul. In the Ayurveda world, Charaka (here seen as the incarnation of Ananta) is described as expounding the medical science for the benefit of the suffering:

tatra lokān gadair grastān vyathayā paripīḍitān.
sthaleṣu bahuṣu vyagrān mriyamāṇāṁś ca dṛṣṭavān. 
tān dṛṣṭvā'tidayā-yuktas teṣāṁ duḥkhena duḥkhitaḥ.
anantaś cintayāmāsa rogopaśama-kāraṇam. 
There, in many places he saw people in the grasp of diseases, suffering from pain, agitated and dying. Filled with great compassion on seeing them, suffering from their suffering, Ananta (Śeṣa) thought about the means for pacifying disease. (Bhāva-prakāśa of Bhāva-miśra 1.59-60)
But the devotee is concerned with teaching bhakti, which in his mind is the greatest good. This is nicely stated by Raghunath Das in his homage to Sanatan Goswami:

vairāgya-yug-bhakti-rasaṁ prayatnair
apāyayan mām anabhīpsum andhaṁ
kṛpāmbudhir yaḥ para-duḥkha-duḥkhī
sanātanaṁ taṁ prabhum āśrayāmi
I take shelter of my master Sanatan Goswami, the ocean of mercy (kṛpāmbudhi) who is distressed to see the sufferings of others (para-duḥkha-duḥkhī). Though I was blind and had no desire for it, he made so much effort to make me drink the rasa of devotion, which contains the flavors of dispassion. (Vilāpa-kusumāñjali).
So let us not think that the devotees are passive in their compassion. Indeed, delving into the depths of the teachings of the rishis of bhakti-yoga and expanding on them is compassion of the highest magnitude. To be compassionate one must certainly understand the causes of suffering and the means for alleviating suffering. If someone is hungry, the problem is simply diagnosed and countered. The spiritual condition of the individual is not always so easy to diagnose. To be a doctor of souls no easy task for one who is still afflicted by ego.

One more verse to complete this installment of this survey: The speaker of the Bhāgavatam is said to be motivated by compassion:

yaḥ svānubhāvam akhila-śruti-sāram ekam
adhyātma-dīpam atititīrṣatāṁ tamo'ndham |
saṁsāriṇāṁ karuṇayāha purāṇa-guhyaṁ
taṁ vyāsa-sūnum upayāmi guruṁ munīnām ||
I take refuge of Śrī Śukadeva the teacher of all sages, the son of Vyāsadeva, who, out of compassion for those entangled in the cycle of birth and death who yet desire to cross over the dense darkness of material existence, spoke this most confidential Purāa [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam], which is self-endowed with supra-mundane power, being the essence of all the Vedas, one without compare and the light of supreme transcendence. (1.2.3)


Anonymous said…
To the one's born from the shining womb of light; prasAda, hitA and all that you have spoken of come naturally.

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