Compassion is an emotion that occupies a central position
in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy while it is often a neglected subject in
contemporary western philosophy. This essay is a comparison between an Eastern
view of compassion based upon Mahayana Buddhist perspectives and a western view
of the same emotion. Certain principles found in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy such
as the Bodhisattva Ideal, and suffering (dukkha) to name two, are explored for
the information they contain about compassion. An essay by Lawrence Blum is
taken as representative of a Western view (but not exclusively) and it is
analyzed for its shortcomings in light of the Buddhist view. The conclusion
briefly describes the value of understanding an eastern view on compassion as a
means of filling the void one finds in western medical ethics discourse which
focuses so heavily, and redundantly, upon issues such as patient autonomy and
paternalism. A Chinese Ch'an Master once said: 'We are all in the path of enlightenment,
but the question is, are we on the right track?' 
Compassion is an emotion that occupies a central position
in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy while it is often neglected in contemporary
western philosophy. Comparisons between Eastern and Western views on this
emotion are rare if they exist at all. Yet, such a study would prove invaluable
to the Western philosophical discipline of medical ethics. A study of this kind
would require a much larger text of research than the one presently before you.
However, one must begin somewhere and this essay is proposed as the beginning
of what is hoped will be a much longer and much broader discourse which
evaluates Eastern philosophical perspectives in terms of Western needs in
medical ethics. This essay will not attempt any elaboration upon the idea just
presented. Rather, it attempts to get at the root of some of the differences
and difficulties one uncovers when engaging upon a more or less
straight-forward comparative analysis of compassion from two culturally
different views. You will find before you first, a short explanation of why
emotions have been neglected. This is provided in order to prove the validity
of the assertion made in the opening sentence of this essay. It also provides
the reader with the insight that his or her own attitude towards emotions may
well have a negative bias which results in a less open attitude to the ideas
presented here. Having made this point the essay turns to an explanation of
certain important principles of Mahayana Buddhism as they relate to compassion.
However, the task of extracting information regarding an Eastern view based
upon Mahayana Buddhism turns out to be a complex process. Many ideas about
emotions are embedded in this philosophy as Padmasiri de Silva points out when
he says: Some of the central dimensions of emotions which I have described as presented
in the western philosophy of emotions can be accommodated within the Buddhist
perspectives on emotions... These observations are found dispersed in the
discourses of the Buddha... 
From among these discourses, then, concepts such as
conventional reality (Samsara), suffering (duhkha), impermanence (anitya), the
non-self (anatman) and the doctrine of the Two-fold Truth are discussed. And,
the importance of meditation as the vehicle to enlightenment is highlighted. The
outcome of this narrower focus is that certain arbitrary decisions have been
made regarding what to include here. In my discussion about the nature of
suffering as an inherent part of Being  I draw upon the Heideggerian model.
In addition, considerable time is taken discussing the Bodhisattva Ideal as it
applies here. [4,5] This is followed by a brief analysis of Lawrence Blum's
essay on compassion which is taken as representative of a Western analytic
perspective, but not exclusively.  Certain strengths and weaknesses of
Blum's analysis are pointed out to show where one must be careful about being
too analytical when examining the topic of compassion. Such an approach can
result in a lack of depth that is one of the features of Blum's otherwise
In my conclusion, I briefly discuss the value of
understanding this Eastern view on compassion since I believe aspects of it
will help fill the void one finds in Western medical ethics discourse which
focuses so heavily, and redundantly, upon issues such as patient autonomy,
paternalism and informed consent. Lastly, although Mahayana Buddhism makes no
formal claim to being an ethical theory, one cannot ignore the underlying
ethical tone of many of its doctrines. Therefore, although ethics or moral
theory is not the primary focus of this essay, in some way this is a discussion
The Insufficiency of
Discourse on Emotions--Lack of Balance
Despite a common prejudice, reason and emotion are not
natural antagonists. 
There is a noticeable absence of study about emotions in
philosophy which is ascribed to a prejudice against them. They are viewed as
being irrational and, therefore, undeserving of attention. In the West  such
attitudes are routinely expressed in philosophical discourse. They have their
foothold in the works of ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, and they have
been consistently reiterated and reinforced by most major Western philosophers
through the ages. During the 18th-century European Enlightenment, the tools for
analytic philosophy were finely forged with a disproportionate emphasis upon,
and valuing of, highly rational dichotomous thinking. The legacy of this
history has been a relegation of emotions to the 'back room' of philosophy
where they have been left to collect dust. In the meantime Western philosophers
have engaged in a centuries-old myopic discussion of the virtues of reason.
Over-emphasis upon reason has resulted in the creation of something like a
'straw man' where emotions are concerned. Often their only use has been to
emphasise how useless they are.
The result is that many Western philosophers have failed
to come to an understanding of the integral role emotions play in human
behaviour, particularly moral behaviour. Padmasiri de Silva describes
negativism towards emotions saying: ... they are considered antithetical to our
cognitive skills, to think, reason, perceive and understand. Emotions have also
been considered as states which interfere with the development of good character
and as ethically undesirable states which ought to be eliminated. In the realm
of human behaviour it is assumed that always emotions interfere with calm,
voluntary and rational behaviour. 
The above description differs from the balancing of reason
and emotions that is found in Mahayana Buddhism during certain period of its development.
 Dayal indirectly addresses this balance in the Eastern view when he
discusses 'The Ten Powers' and the 'Eighteen Avenika-dharmas' of the Buddha.
The following quotation tells us that without the use of reason and intellect
the Buddha would not have the mental power needed to fulfil his position. Dayal
says: A Buddha possesses the knowledge of correct and faulty conclusions. He knows
fully and truly the consequences of all actions in the past, present and the
future with regard to their causes and circumstances. He is cognizant of the
various aspirations and dispositions of different types of persons. 
This tells us that the Buddha is able to make sound
judgments. He is able to anticipate the outcome of actions on the basis of
logical deduction (or induction ). He then integrates this knowledge into a
cause and effect analysis. All of these processes are the activities of reason.
However, when Dayal says that the Buddha is 'cognizant of the various
aspirations and dispositions of different types of persons' we interpret this
to mean that the Buddha is aware that both aspirations and dispositions are
based in emotions. This means that emotions, and knowledge of them, are of
great importance to his functioning effectively. In another Dayal discussion about
the 'Eighteen Avenika-dharmas', emotions are again emphasised. He says that a
Buddha is distinguished from other beings by his deep and great pity, love,
mercy and compassion for all beings (karuna).  Possession of these emotions
is the mark that distinguishes a Buddha from ordinary people.
We see an incorporation of emotions into the Dharma 
when we consider, for example, discussions of the five aggregates (khandha)
which are regarded as comprising personhood. These aggregates are, (1) body
(rupa); (2) feelings (vedana); (3) perceptions (sanna); (4) dispositions
(sankhara) and (5) consciousness (vinnana). The five aggregates, representing conventional
notions of personhood,  are then integrated into larger principles until
one arrives at a single unified doctrine. A brief review of the Mahayana
principles mentioned in the introduction of this essay follows; it will provide
us with a clearer understanding of how closely mind (reason) and spirit (in
part emotions) co-mingle in this holistic philosophy. The tools of reason such
as language and logic are used to describe the significance of these principles
in growth of the spirit.
These examples show that while reason is important in
Mahayana Buddhism it does not rule disproportionately as it does in the West.
In Buddhism,  de Silva says, 'an emotion can be described as an interactive
complex emerging within a causal network'. This means that emotions like
compassion are not normally subjected to Western style reductive analysis, and
the devaluation that often accompanies such a process. This is not to say that there
are not similarities between Eastern and Western views of compassion.
In both, distinctions are made between good and bad,
positive and negative, active and passive emotions. Compassion is regarded as
an active, positive emotion with volitional qualities in both cultures.
The Bodhisattva Ideal
According to Dayal the word 'Bodhisattva' designates an
individual who is actively seeking to live a saintly life based upon the
Buddha's life and Dharma. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word that has 'Bodhi' as
its root meaning
'Enlightenment'.  'Sattva' can mean both 'any living or
sentient being' and 'a being of (or destined for) Enlightenment'. Taken as a
whole this word exemplifies the belief that each person has the seed of
Buddhahood within. Some time in the third century after the Buddha's death the
ideal of the arhat, as a person who emulated the teaching of the Buddha and was
free from worldly contamination, underwent a change. Monks, called arhats, began
to ignore important aspects of fundamental Buddhist teachings. They became
increasingly self-centred and ceased to be committed to zealous missionary work
among the people. To counter this unwelcome change, the whole arhat ideal was
challenged by a new one, the Bodhisattva doctrine, which promulgated the ideal
of compassionate action. Its history is as follows:... bodhisattva doctrine was
promulgated by some Buddhist leaders as a protest against lack of true
spiritual fervor and altruism among the monks of that period, The coldness and
aloofness of the arhats led to a movement in favor of the old gospel of 'saving
all creatures'. The bodhisattva ideal can be understood only against this
background of saintly and severe, but inactive and indolent monastic Order... 
This statement concludes by saying that it borders on
blasphemy to think of a Buddha who is not loving and altruistic. The new
Bodhisattva Ideal made the selflessness of compassion a requirement for the
Bodhisattva. This requirement dictates that the Bodhisattva must sacrifice
entering nirvana himself because to do otherwise would mean abandoning those
suffering in samsara whom he must teach. His vow is to 'lead all being to
Liberation.... 'staying in samsara'... till the end, even for the sake of one living
soul'.  Statements such as this reveal the underlying ethics found in
Mahayana Buddhism. In the Bodhisattva Ideal one comes to understand that
suffering is not necessarily disclosed to those who suffer
yet, nevertheless, exists. Suffering (duhkha) is the
ground from which the Being of human beings arises.  It is a deeper
suffering than the physical or emotional or psychological although these forms
of suffering are symptomatic of this deeper affliction. Such suffering is a
universal circumstance of all beings. In this essay it is called the primordial
 nature of suffering as an affliction of all living human beings.
The Doctrines of
Non-self and Two-fold Truth
Virtuous man, since
the time without beginning all living beings have been thinking wrongly of the
I and of the one loving the I. As they do not know that they are just the rise
and fall of consecutive thought, they
give rise to love and hate and indulge in the five desires; (arising from the
objects of the five senses).
Compassion is an emotion that is 'other' directed, it
involves a concern for the well-being of others rather than our own. Thus, it
moves us away from the ego-centric self towards the non-self. In developing
compassion one comes to understand and acknowledge the interdependence of
things upon each other (pratitya samutpada). We become enlightened to the fact
that when we help others we help ourselves. We also recognise that the ego-centric
assumptions we make about our own individuality and independence are falsely
grounded in our cravings and desires. Gadjin Nagao tells us that:
It is a matter of
course that in Buddhism defilements based upon ego-consciousness are to be
removed. The aim of this removal.... is to elucidate... the dependent nature of
the 'doer', 'goer' and so forth all of which are wrongly assumed to have
independent and absolute existence. The subject that is freed from
ego-consciousness and is of the other dependent nature can attain the perfect enlightenment.
In Mahayana Buddhist doctrine we are called upon to free
ourselves from the defilements of the samsaric world which arise because of our
ego-consciousness. A central notion of the ego-centric person is that he
is, in some way, the centre of the universe and that the
things of this world are his. He sees himself as an independent ruler of his
life and as a powerful person who has some control over the impermanence
(anitya) of all things. Believing in his power he also believes that he has a
right to ownership of the things of this world just as he clings to these very beliefs
themselves. His attitude is concerned with the satisfaction of one's own desires
without consideration, oft-times, of others. Such ego drive carries with it a
profound misunderstanding of what it means to have Being in this world. Such is
the sense in which we should understand Nagao's statement about how an
ego-centric view 'wrongly' assumes that it has an 'independent and absolute
existence' that is without attachment to others. In his wisdom the Buddha
understands that this ego-centric view of the world is wrong; it is an
artificial creation of our imagination which leads us away from the real truth
of our interdependent natures. To be freed of these false pretences we must
free ourselves of the 'self', the ego and its drives which sway our
perspective.  Nagao explains:
Through our cognitions, or discriminations, or intellect,
we are always projecting some kind of imagination (which is always false imagination
from the Buddhist point of view) onto the world that is originally neutral.
This projection of false imagination changes or contaminates the world. People
become attached to this contaminated world, thinking that it is the real world.
This attachment gives rise to all forms of human suffering, discontent,
conflict, defilement and so on. 
Compassion, because it takes us away from our selves, is
intimately linked to the ability to free ourselves from false assumptions and
the elements of the samsaric world which we falsely perceive (ditthi ) as
Clarence Hamilton  describes how loss of
ego-centredness into selfless compassion is an integral part of the Bodhisattva
Ideal. He says of Bodhisattvas:
They do not become enervated by prosperity, and do not
lose composure in adversity... They are unwearying in clothing the nakedness of
others... they acquire the roots of virtue by keeping themselves aloof from
passion, hatred and folly... They are skilled in bringing solace to those in
trouble and misfortune. They do not hesitate to enter all kinds of service...
They are free from sin... they love their enemies... 
The Doctrine of the Two-fold Truth is inextricably linked
to the doctrine of the Non-self (anatman). This doctrine provides a way of
explaining the relationship between samsara and nirvana, but it should not be
taken simply as a literary device. Samsara is the material world of the
everyday, it is the world into which we are born and then leave in death. 
Samsara is filled with ignorance and suffering because our ego-centric view
prevails in it. Its falsity is even expressed in words which, by their nature,
set limits to our experience. Words describe our erroneous beliefs and, thus, perpetuate
our ignorance of the true nature of Being. Nirvana, on the other hand, is the
ideal world of enlightenment. It is free of ignorance and suffering. Yet, it is
not a material world as samsara is. Rather, it is 'the ultimate goal of
Buddhist striving, a suprapersonal and non-dual experience of voidness which is
the end of all duhkha and the highest happiness.  If samsara is ruled by
ignorance, nirvana is the home of perfect wisdom. Nagao explains the equation
between wisdom and nirvana; through wisdom nirvana is met.  The limits of
language make it difficult to explain nirvana because it is unexplainable. To
reduce nirvana to linguistic formulations objectifies it, yet, it is not an
object but an extraordinary experience. Language places limits, yet, nirvana is
unlimitable. Thus, in a sense, language puts an end to nirvana's existence. In
silence alone nirvana is.
Nagao says that the Two-fold Truth opens a channel in
which "Language recovers itself in spite of its falsehood and
ignorance". As the 'silence' of nirvana is true wisdom (prajna), logic
which was recovered and moulded in the form of language, represents the 'great
Compassion' (maha-karuna) of the Buddha toward the illusory world. Logic and
language are the means by which suffering humans in the samsaric world are
taught that there is a way out of their situation.  The compassion of the
Buddha is so great that he provides a means of explaining the unexplainable in
order to draw others towards nirvana. Thus, his message of salvation's way can
be transmitted to all who are reached through the Bodhisattva's missionary
zeal. The doctrine of the Two-fold Truth allows us to speak the unspeakable for
purposes of explaining the difference between samsara and nirvana.
Wisdom, Meditation and Compassion uiring great wisdom one
advances to nirvana or enlightenment. Although wisdom and nirvana are not the
same we cannot have one without the other. When we speak of 'wisdom' we are not
speaking of ordinary wisdom but that which transcends the mundane to a profound
understanding of the true nature of Being as arising from the ground of
universal primordial suffering. Meditation is the vehicle of this profound
insight. It brings one to the necessary conclusion that one must become
detached from the cravings and desires of this world if one is to be free of
the suffering originating in our primordial nature. In meditation one enters
the realm of the non-self and, thus, one becomes purified of the self-centred
defilements of this world. Our cravings and desires to which we have clung are
of no importance any longer. In wisdom we understand m a most profound way that
these defilements are the ground of all human suffering. It is how we perceive
the world that makes the difference. Meditation of the profound nature
recommended in Mahayana Buddhism is the vehicle for changing our perspective.
Achievement of the nirvanic state is primarily a mental
process. Although we may be completely unaware of our physical bodies when in
nirvana, we are not (strictly speaking) physically transported beyond the
Thus, a samsaric state of mind and nirvanic state of mind
might be best described as two different, non-simultaneous states of
consciousness in the same individual whose physical body is in the samsaric
world. A scriptural passage that comes to mind to describe this state of being
is, 'He (Jesus) was in this world but not of it'. The enlightened live in this
world beside the unenlightened. But, in wisdom they:... are free of all false
imagination and attachment, for them, the world is no longer imagined and
contaminated; it is pure and consummated. The world in which they live their
lives differs in no way from our own. 
Discussions about compassion are dispersed in Western
philosophical discourse and focused primarily under the categories of moral
theory, emotions or theories of emotion. And, while compassion is a central
notion in Mahayana Buddhism, it is more of a peripheral topic in the West. Lawrence
Blum's essay on compassion provides us with an analysis of this emotion that
will be the basis of the discussion about to be undertaken. His remarks are
taken as representative, although not exclusively, of an analytic perspective
in Western philosophy.
Blum complains that emotions, and compassion in
particular, have received insufficient attention in philosophy. It is his
belief that compassion is 'central to morality'.  The goal of his essay is
'to bring out compassion's particular moral value, as well as some of its
limitations'. From the beginning of his discussion it is evident that Blum
engages in the prevailing Western philosophical tradition of dichotomous
thinking. For example, he claims that compassion is an object-orientated emotion.
This subject-object dichotomy creates a distance between those needing compassion
and those offering it that is virtually unbridgeable. In the end this distance
is maintained in such a way that it is clear that Blum does not have in mind a
discussion of compassion of the depth found in Mahayana Buddhism. His analysis
never arrives at a discussion of the universal nature of suffering as a
primordial condition of human existence. He tends to deal mostly in surfaces
such as the observation of adverse conditions in a person's life which arouse
compassion in the observer. For this reason, his analysis is regarded as
superficial although, perhaps, not in the most usual understanding of this
word. That is, his remarks are not totally without depth such as when he speaks
of the psychology of a 'creative imagination' that allows the observer to put
himself in the place of victim for whom compassion is felt.
The notion of distancing oneself from the object of our
compassion comes through strongly in Blum in a number of ways. For example, he
says 'compassion does not require that its subject have experienced the sort of
suffering that occasions it'.  He says that we can feel compassion for someone
who has lost a child even though we may be childless. This is true, of course.
But, such a statement reveals how very different Blum's focus is than the
Mahayana Buddhist. In Mahayana it is not so much the loss of the-child that is
the cause of suffering as it is our clinging to the child whom we desire to be
still alive and our clinging to memories of the child. We suffer because we
cling. This interpretation provides a depth of focus that is not found in Blum.
According to Mahayana thought, Blum is expressing the faulty view that we feel
compassion for another because of a particular circumstance in his life rather
than having the understanding that the suffering the parent experiences over
the loss of a child is symptomatic of a deeper problem that is universal and
primordial in nature.
Since his view is on the particular it allows the observer
to sustain a distance from the object of compassion because he (the observer)
does not always share in the object's experience. Blum says that compassion may
be "part of a complex attitude (of a subject) towards its object". By
this, he means that one may feel compassion for another because of something in
that person's life which brings out this feeling. Yet, his focus remains upon
the symptoms, i.e. death, hunger, and the like, rather than upon the deeper
primordial disorder. In fact, his analysis takes us further away from
compassionate identification since there are those we can observe as having
nothing in common with us. Such dislocation of self-identification with others
risks taking us further away from compassionate identification which motivates
us to act in behalf of others.
One observes in Blum an almost continual distance between
subject and object, the observer and observed, It is as if the latter suffers
but the former does not. This attitude is apparent when Blum discusses the
origin of the word compassion as involving a 'feeling with' another person. He says:
In one sense this
means that the subject and the object have the same feeling-type: distress,
sorrow,... But in a more important sense the feelings are not the same: for the
relation between their subjects and their objects are different. The focus of
my neighbor's distress is his own homelessness; the focus of my distress in
having compassion for him is my neighbor's homelessness. 
Here Blum points out that differences between the subject
and object are more important than any shared experience. He continues by
saying that when I suffer with my neighbour it is not the same as his
suffering, I suffer less than he. Suffering is a matter of degree. This idea is
troublesome in this comparison of views because on the Eastern perspective
compassion is not discussed as a matter of degree. The fact that a Bodhisattva
volunteers to give up entering nirvana until all are saved strongly suggests
that he has suffered at least equally; his first hand knowledge of suffering is
one of the main motivating forces for his compassionate behaviour. The fact that
he has known the same suffering as his fellow human beings forms a bond of
unity between he and them. In Mahayana this bond is expressed as
gotra or family in what is regarded here in the purest
sense of the word; one with others.
Another way that Blum distances us from identification
with others is by introducing analysis that serves to distract us from a
discussion about compassion. He claims that one may also have other feelings
towards a person which may or may not over-ride compassion. For example, one
may feel compassion for the blind person because of his blindness but feel over-riding
admiration for this person because he has become the successful president of
his own business. Blum's point is that sometimes we must sort out our feelings
of compassion from other feelings to determine which is more appropriate. In a
sense, he is recommending that we reason through our compassion to another
emotion. Such an idea moves us further from any core notions about the
universality of suffering and compartmentalises our thinking on the topic.
Analysis of this kind takes us away from not only an intuitive response to the
suffering of others by rationalising but may well move us into a position where
we feel no compassion at all. If we decide we admire someone more than we feel
compassion for them then we risk rationalising our feelings and so may find an
excuse not to act compassionately when it truly is the appropriate response.
This particular part of Blum's analysis discloses the Western tendency to
intellectualise our emotions by ranking reason over emotions.  For him the
of compassion are people "capable of feeling or being
harmed". One might conclude from this that everyone qualifies to be the
object of compassion. However, Blum maintains a clear distinction, hence
distance, between the 'object' of this emotion and subject or observer. The
people he has in mind live in compassion arousing circumstances 'suffering some
harm, difficulty,' or 'danger' which is 'past, present, or future'.  Blum refers
to these conditions as 'negative' and says there are many of them but not all
such conditions are "possible objects of compassion".  For him,
compassion involves a selection process, that is, we decide who we feel
compassion for on the basis of our evaluation of their condition. He describes
a negative condition as follows: The negative condition must be relatively
central to a person's life and well-being, describable as pain, misery,
hardship, suffering, affliction, and the like. Although it is the person and
not merely the negative condition that is the object of compassion, the focus
of compassion is the condition. 
Such an analysis implies that some are exempt from
compassion because they do not have the condition which draws upon this
emotion. The difficulty with this view is that it tends, once again, to focus
upon the surface or observable characteristics of suffering (symptoms) rather
than the disease. According to Blum we feel compassion when we observe a
'negative condition' in another such as blindness or hunger. He says, too, that
compassion is not always focused upon specific individuals, it also may be
directed towards classes of people such as starving communities. Here again, he
relies upon our observations of the plight of others, which by its nature deals
with surfaces. In Mahayana Buddhism, deep meditation which sees surface
conditions as illusory, brings with it profound knowledge of the very origins
of human suffering. Compassion arises within the Bodhisattva because he
recognises that he and all other humans are one in their shared primordial
suffering. From this knowledge, compassion is extended outward to all humans
and until all are saved the Bodhisattva will not enter into nirvana.
Blum's idea of a 'negative condition' being 'relatively
central to a person's life' tells us that he misses the mark where his
understanding of compassion and the conditions which arouse it are concerned.
Much of his discussion sets in place boundaries for compassion as to who its
recipients should be. By maintaining the subject-object perspective, he not
only distances one person from another, but he tends to dilute the importance
of compassion as the above discussion has shown.
While Blum says that compassion "involves a sense of
shared humanity" his understanding of what it is we share is considerably
different than what we find in the Mahayana. The 'could' in the following
quotation shows this.... compassion involves a sense of shared humanity, of
regarding the other as a fellow human being. That means that the other person's
suffering (though not necessarily their particular afflicting condition) is
seen as the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, including oneself
insofar as one is a human being. 
The 'could' is understood to suggest that the suffering
Blum is discussing is not common to all. 'Could' implies that something might
happen but not universally. By extension, the 'could' sets limits upon the
dimension of compassion; not everyone qualifies for it since he does not
identify the negative conditions which are the basis for arousing compassion as
universal. Surely, without intending it, Blum is denying that suffering exists
on the level explained in the eastern view. Such denial sets limits upon the
very nature of compassion as a deeply felt, volitional emotion that all should
experience both as givers and receivers which is how the Eastern view is taken.
There is no indication from Blum's text that suffering arises because of false
views and ignorance.
Distance between subject and object and dilution of the
importance of compassion are two unfortunate features of Blum's essay. it is
not that his analysis is not thorough because in a number of ways it is very
careful and well-explained. The problem for this reader is that he fails to
place the origins of compassionate feelings in the right location. The result
is less depth of discussion. There are a number of ideas in Blum's essay that
might be added to this comparison but such an effort would extend the length of
this essay beyond reasonable length.
This essay has been an attempt to come to a better
understanding of compassion by identifying some of its characteristics as found
in both an Eastern and Western view. In Eastern philosophy, represented here by
Mahayana Buddhism, compassion is central to its doctrinal teachings. However,
Blum's essay, as representative of a Western view dichotomises and compartmentalises
this emotion into categories of lesser emotions such as 'feeling sorry for'
and, in the process of such analysis, reduces compassion's importance as a
motivator for ethical behaviour. His analysis provides us with a restrictive
sense of its use since it relies heavily upon our observing a 'negative
condition' in others.
In the course of this comparison some of the weaknesses of
Western analytic tradition are visible. Such weaknesses include over-analysis
which moves us away from a discussion centred on compassion with a
disproportionate emphasis upon reason above emotions and perpetuation of a
dichotomous perspective that tends to stereotype thinking into inflexible
categories of ideas which contribute to both staleness and redundancy not only
in mainstream Western philosophical discourse but in medical ethics as well.
And, lastly, it relegates emotions to the 'back room' of
philosophy resulting in a long-standing neglect of the important impact
emotions have upon ethical behaviour. A study of both views on this emotion
enables us to understand some of the advantages as well as limitations inherent
in both. The Eastern view opens us to a considerably broader perspective on
this emotion but suffers from being too idealistic. It calls for certain
behavioural changes that must be made in order to experience compassion in the
fullest sense as an enlightened person. This includes engaging in meditation,
giving up egocentric ways and seeing oneself in the continuum of existence, or co-dependent
origination (pratitya samutpada), rather than taking the view of being an
isolated individual with only oneself to be concerned about.
All of these Eastern ideals go largely against the grain
of Western (American) society which cherishes the ideal of individualism and
speedy high-tech thinking. Perhaps, one of the most important insights arising from
the Buddhist view is the idea of suffering (duhkha) as universal and primordial.
It is important because from this idea arises the even more important notion
that since suffering is universal those who understand its source are virtually
mandated to help others.
Now, you may be wondering how this comparison between
Blum's essay and Mahayana Buddhism might be beneficial to Western philosophical
discussions in medical ethics. There are a number of ways. First, it
reintroduces the topic of virtuous behaviour (virtue theory) into a discussion
laden with repetitious discussion of ethical theories such as utilitarianism
and Kant's deontological ethics which have very limited applicability in the
medical setting. Second, utilitarian theory risks imposing
the tyranny of the majority upon minority populations and always raises the
question, 'Who decides what is best?' Third, Kant's deontology is regularly
criticised for being content-less in part because it speaks from an idealised
view that is difficult to apply in specific cases. When Kant and utilitarian
theory are presented as options to the same problem they bring us to
contradictory conclusions. Thus, decision making involving medical ethics
problems becomes confusing if not seriously hampered.
The reintroduction of virtue-based ethics, such as
recommending expansion of the discourse on compassion, offers the hope of
arriving at a more generally acceptable approach to the pedagogy and problem
solving of medical ethics. When we add to this discussion principles of
Mahayana Buddhism such as suffering (duhkha), the doctrine of the non-self (anatman),
clinging, and the idea of on-going change we arrive at a conversation in
medical ethics that advocates kindness, giving, sacrificing self-interest,
acceptance (particularly of death as part of the life cycle) and the renewed
awareness that we live in a world community of humans who are very much related
to one another. If health care personnel are taught these Eastern views then
there is the hope of introducing these ideas to society at large since these
are the people workers in the health care field deal with on a daily basis. In
Eastern cultures where Mahayana Buddhism flourishes, what is of fered in this
essay is not particularly new information. But, in the secular West, suffering
from spiritual collapse in many quarters, the lessons to be learned from our
Eastern relatives offer the hope of renewal not only in the field of medical
ethics but in our daily lives as well.
 INADA, KENNETH K. (1995) Preface to Philosophy 555 (Buffalo, SUNY).
 DE SILVA, PADMASIRI (1991) Twin Peaks, Compassion and
Insight: Emotions and the Self in Buddhist and Western Thought (Singapore:
Buddhist Research Society) p. 44.
 Being is capitalized here to distinguish it as the
Being of being human from ordinary use of the word. This idea follows from
Heidigger. For a discussion of this use of the word Being see: HEIDEGGER, MARTIN
Being and Time, JOHN MACQUARRIE and EDWARD ROBINSON,
(Trans.) (New York,
Harper and Row) pp. 21-32.
 Regrettably, I am not a Buddhist scholar of the first
order although I have studied this philosophy in translation over the last
several years. Therefore, I have had to rely upon translated texts from the
original Sanskrit such as the Dayal text which was recommended to me by Dr
 DAYAL, HAR (1991) The Bodhisattva Doctrine In Buddhist
Sanskrit Literature (Singapore,
Buddhist Research Society).
 BLUM, LAWRENCE
(1980) Compassion, in: Examining Emotions, AMELIE RORTV
(Ed.) (Berkeley, University of California
Press) pp. 507--517.
 DE SOUSA, RONALD (1990) The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge, MIT Press) p.
 The word "West" and "Western" are
used essentially in the same way and will also be used to describe Blum's ideas
as they represent a Western view vs an Eastern or Mahayana Buddhist view.
 DE SILVA, op. cit., note 2, p. x.
 Dayal tells us that Mahayana Buddhism underwent a
series of changes over the centuries of its development where reason and
emotions were alternately upheld then set aside.
 DAYAL, op. cit., note 5, p. 20.
 The word "induction" is used here according
to a definition of this process found in: HOWARD KAHANE and PAUL TIDMAN (1995)
Logic & Philosophy: A Modern Introduction (Wadsworth, Belmont.) p. 5, which says:
"The basic idea behind inductive reasoning is that of learning from
experience. We notice patterns, resemblances, or other kinds of regular/ties in
our experiences, some quite simple,... some very complicated... and project
them onto other cases".
 Dayal's citation indicates that this information was
obtained from several Sanskrit sources including: LEVI, S. (1907) (Ed./Trans.) Mahayana-sutralankara
P. (1902-13) led.) Sata-sahasrika
COWELL, E.B. & NEIL, R.A. (1886) Divyavadana (Cambridge). NANJIO, B. (1923) (Ed.)
For a complete copy of this citation, see Dayal, p. 327.
 Phra Khantipalo's definition of Dharma is being used
here. He says: "Dharma--When used... with a capital D it always refers to
the Teaching or Law of Buddha". See KHANTIPAL, PHRA (1964) Tolerance: A
Study Front Buddhist Sources (London,
Rider) p. 160.
 In reviewing this remark, Dr Kenneth Inada made the
following observation: "Five khandhas represent only the conventional
notion of self or personhood, but they depict the organic (genetic) way in
which the conventional self functions".
 De Silva's remarks are of a general nature regarding
Buddhism but his remark applies here.
 Dayal, op. cit., note 5, p. 18 from the following
primary source: MINAYOFF, I.P. (Ed.) (1989) Sanatideva's Bodi-cary-avatara,
(Zapiski) vol. iv, pp. 155-225; vii, 18.
 Dayal, op. cit., note 5, p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Being with a capitol 'B' is used here to denote the
Being of human beings much in the same sense that Heidigger uses this word.
 Primordial is used here in somewhat of the
Heideggerian sense. It denotes a quality of human existence that is fundamental
to our Being that goes before all other experiences. It is the ground out of
which we arise. It precedes all experience and, in a sense, shapes it. It goes
before us and follows after us. It is only removed upon full Enlightenment.
 KHANTIPALO, PHRA (1964) Tolerance: A Study from
Buddhist Sources (London,
Rider) p. 93. Original Sanskrit source cited: Sutra of Complete Enlightenment,
 NAGAO, GADJIM M. (1991) Madhyamika and Yogacara,
LESLIE S. KAWAMURA (Trans.) (Albany, State University
of New York
Press) p. 11.
 A discussion similar to this occurs in: TACHIBANA, S.
(1975) The Ethics of Buddhism (London,
Curzon Press), p; 180:
 Nagao, op. cit., note 23, p. 63.
 The word 'ditthi' is from the Pali while 'ditti' (an
equivalent word) occurs in Sanskrit.
 HAMILTON, CLARENCE H. (Ed.) (1952) Buddhism: A
Religion of Infinite Compassion (New
York, The Liberal Arts Press).
 Hamilton, Ibid., pp. 107-108.
 Khantipalo, op. cit, note 22, p. 163.
 Ibid, p. 162.
 Nagao, op. cit., note 23, p. 32.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 BLUM, LAWRENCE(1980)
Compassion, in: AMELIE RORTY, (Ed.) Explaining Emotions, (Berkeley,
University of California Press) pp. 507-517.
 Blum, Ibid., p. 510.
 Ibid, p. 510.
 For an entire text that deals with this idea see:
DESOUSA, RONALD Reason And Morality.
 Ibid, p. 508.
 Ibid, p. 511.
 Ibid, p. 511.
 Ibid, p. 513.
Vol. 6 No. 1 Mar.1996, Pp.5-16
by Asian Philosophy