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Blog 6: Donning the Armor of Compassion

In episode six of the podcast, we discussed giving rise to compassion in times of difficulty. During the episode, I brought up the example of donning the armor of compassion, a concept I had encountered during my high school days, and a teaching I have found extremely helpful in maintaining my Buddhist practice and resolving various troubled situations.

This was from an untranslated passage that I came across while perusing the Tripitaka. I’ve included my own translation of it here.

Give rise to a mind of great kindness and compassion that encompasses all sentient beings, wishing that they will all don the dignified armor of great kindness and compassion and swiftly leave all obstacles and difficulties… Through the power of this mind of kindness and thought of empathy, all celestial demons and obstructions will be stunned as if staring into the sun. They will each give rise to a mind of kindness and not cause any harm. (CBETA, T19, no. 930, p. 68, b26-c7)

I find that this attitude towards dealing with what we consider “negative forces” in our lives very refreshing and helpful. First, the passage starts off by teaching us to extend our kindness and compassion to all sentient beings—our enemies included. In doing so, we make the sincere wish that all beings can leave their difficulties. As the text explains, this thought is so powerful and brilliant that stuns the demons and obstructions (i.e. the people/situations we’re dealing with) and they also give rise to kindness and not cause any harm.

This differs greatly from how we would typically deal with issues or people that are trying to hurt us. Our immediate flight-or-fight response is based on aversion and a desire to either escape the situation or to beat it into submission. Looking at the Buddha’s life, when he was being attacked by a drunk elephant that Devadatta released in an attempt to kill the Buddha, there was no hatred, no animosity, no fear of the animal. Instead, the Buddha only had kindness and compassion, and it was through this that he peacefully subdued the elephant. This being said, our kindness and compassion is far less than the Buddha’s so we would likely not fare as well in the same situation.

What I would like to emphasize is why the Buddha had no aversion and no fear towards the elephant and Devadatta. Because of his understanding of causes and conditions, the Buddha saw that the situation arose out of a myriad conditions all coming together. Even though our wisdom and compassion has yet to be developed to the extent of the Buddha’s, we can start developing it and keep this in mind when we find ourselves angry and hateful.

As we mentioned in the podcast, it is easy to give rise to compassion when it’s directed towards a group that we consider innocent, oppressed, and easy to relate to. When it comes to those who are belligerent and hateful themselves, it is easy to say that they do not deserve compassion, that they should suffer. Those who are hateful do suffer, and it is not our job or responsibility to inflict further suffering on them. Instead, as aspiring bodhisattvas, we should work to alleviate even their suffering with the intention of bringing benefit to all sentient beings. By extinguishing their flames of anger with the water of compassion, we sooth the burns of afflictions and lead all sentient beings to live in the peaceful coolness of the Buddha’s Pure Land.

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