Karuṇā (Sanskrit: करुणा) is generally translated as compassion or mercy and sometimes as self-compassion or spiritual longing.[1] It is a significant spiritual concept in the Indic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.

Translations of
(MLCTS: ɡəjṵnà)
(Pinyin: cíbēi)
(Rōmaji: jihi)
(UNGEGN: kârŭna)
(RTGS: karuna)
Vietnamesetừ bi, từ ái, bác ái, từ tâm, nhân từ
Glossary of Buddhism

Hinduism edit

In Hinduism, Karuṇā is one of the fundamental virtues and qualities that a spiritual aspirant is encouraged to cultivate. Many Hindu deities are depicted as embodiments of compassion.[2] Karuṇā is often linked with other virtues such as "Maitri" (loving-kindness) and "Ahimsa" (non-violence). Together, these virtues form the foundation of a righteous and spiritually fulfilling life. The word comes from the Sanskrit kara, meaning “to do” or “to make,”[3] indicating an action-based form of compassion, rather than the pity or sadness associated with the English word. In Hindu mythology, the concept of "Karuṇā" or compassionate action is deeply embedded and is often illustrated through stories, characters, and teachings.[4] Each avatar's story of Hindu pantheon is an embodiment of divine compassion in action. For instance, in Shiva tandava stotra, Shiva is described as Karunavataram, meaning compassion personified.[5]

Navarasa edit

Karuna is one of the nine primary rasas (aesthetic principles) in classical Indian arts and literature[6]."Karuṇā Rasa," or the sentiment of compassion, is a pivotal theme in the Ramayana, one of India's principal epics. The narrative commences with the sage Valmiki observing a tragic incident involving a pair of krauncha birds (Sarus cranes), setting the emotional tone for the epic.[7] Witnessing the male bird being killed by a hunter, leaving its partner in anguish, Valmiki is moved to curse the hunter through a spontaneous verse, which ultimately becomes the Ramayana's first shloka (verse). This moment, steeped in sorrow and compassion, not only initiates the composition of the epic but also symbolically prefigures the central narrative of love, loss, and separation experienced by the protagonists, Rama and Sita, embodying the essence of "Karuṇā Rasa."[8] Following this, the god Brahma instructs Valmiki to write Rama's story, revealing the entire tale to him.

Yoga edit

The foundational work of Yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras— which is a comprehensive compilation of Sanskrit aphorisms elucidating the theory and practice of yoga— specific emphasis is placed on the concept of Karuna.

The verse maitrī-karuṇā-muditopekṣaṇāṃ sukha-duḥkha-puṇyāpuṇya-viṣayāṇāṃ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam advocates for the cultivation of friendliness (Maitri), compassion (Karuna), joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upeksha) in response to life's dualities: happiness (Sukha) and suffering (Duhkha), as well as moral virtue (Punya) and vice (Apunya). This practice, according to Patanjali, is instrumental in achieving a state of mental tranquility (Chittaprasadanam), underscoring the psychological and ethical dimensions integral to yoga's philosophical framework.

Buddhism edit

Karuṇā is important in all schools of Buddhism. For Theravada Buddhists, dwelling in karuṇā is a means for attaining a happy present life and heavenly rebirth. For Mahāyāna Buddhists, karuṇā is a co-requisite for becoming a Bodhisattva.

Theravada Buddhism edit

In Theravāda Buddhism, karuṇā is one of the four "divine abodes" (brahmavihāra), along with loving kindness (Pāli: mettā), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha).[9] In the Pali canon, Gautama Buddha recommends cultivating these four virtuous mental states to both householders and monastics.[10] When one develops these four states, Buddha counsels radiating them in all directions, as in the following stock canonical phrase regarding karuṇā:

He keeps pervading the first direction—as well as the second direction, the third, and the fourth—with an awareness imbued with compassion. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with compassion: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.[11]

Such a practice purifies one's mind, avoids evil-induced consequences, leads to happiness in one's present life, and, if there is a future karmic rebirth, it will be in a heavenly realm.[12]

The Pali commentaries distinguish between karuṇā and mettā in the following complementary manner: Karuna is the desire to remove harm and suffering (ahita-dukkha-apanaya-kāmatā) from others; while mettā is the desire to bring about the well-being and happiness (hita-sukha-upanaya-kāmatā) of others.[13] The "far enemy" of karuṇā is cruelty, a mind-state in obvious opposition. The "near enemy" (quality which superficially resembles karuṇā but is in fact more subtly in opposition to it), is (sentimental) pity: here too one wants to remove suffering, but for a partly selfish (attached) reason hence not the pure motivation.[14] In the Pāli Canon, Buddhas are also described as choosing to teach "out of compassion for beings."[15]

Mahayana Buddhism edit

In Mahāyāna Buddhism, karuṇā is one of the two qualities, along with enlightened wisdom (Sanskrit: prajña), to be cultivated on the bodhisattva path. According to scholar Rupert Gethin, this elevation of karuṇā to the status of prajña is one of the distinguishing factors between the Theravāda arahant ideal and the Mahāyāna bodhisattva ideal:

For the Mahāyāna... the path to arhatship appears tainted with a residual selfishness since it lacks the motivation of the great compassion (mahākaruṇā) of the bodhisattva, and ultimately the only legitimate way of Buddhist practice is the bodhisattva path.[16]

Throughout the Mahāyāna world, Avalokiteśvara (Sanskrit; Chinese: Guan Yin; Japanese: Kannon; Tibetan: Chenrezig) is a bodhisattva who embodies karuṇā.

In the Intermediate section of the Stages of Meditation by Kamalaśīla, he writes:

Moved by compassion[karunā], Bodhisattvas take the vow to liberate all sentient beings. Then by overcoming their self-centered outlook, they engage eagerly and continuously in the very difficult practices of accumulating merit and insight. Having entered into this practice, they will certainly complete the collection of merit and insight. Accomplishing the accumulation of merit and insight is like having omniscience itself in the palm of your hand. Therefore, since compassion is the only root of omniscience, you should become familiar with this practice from the very beginning.[17]

In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the foremost authoritative texts on the Bodhisattva path is the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra by Shantideva. In the eighth section entitled Meditative Concentration, Shantideva describes meditation on Karunā as thus:

Strive at first to meditate upon the sameness of yourself and others. In joy and sorrow all are equal; Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself. The hand and other limbs are many and distinct, But all are one--the body to be kept and guarded. Likewise, different beings, in their joys and sorrows, are, like me, all one in wanting happiness. This pain of mine does not afflict or cause discomfort to another's body, and yet this pain is hard for me to bear because I cling and take it for my own. And other beings' pain I do not feel, and yet, because I take them for myself, their suffering is mine and therefore hard to bear. And therefore I'll dispel the pain of others, for it is simply pain, just like my own. And others I will aid and benefit, for they are living beings, like my body. Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?[18]

Jainism edit

karuṇā is associated with the Jain practice of compassion. For instance, karuṇā is one of the four reflections of universal friendship—along with amity (Sanskrit: maitri), appreciation (pramoda) and equanimity (madhyastha)—used to stop (samvara) the influx of karma.[19]

The concept of Karuna in Aldous Huxley's novel Island edit

In Aldous Huxley's novel "Island," the concept of "karuna" is pivotal to the philosophical and spiritual ethos of the society depicted in the book.[20] In the novel, it represents an ideal of emotional intelligence and empathetic living, contrasting with the more self-centered and materialistic attitudes seen in the Western world. This concept is integral to the practices and worldview of the inhabitants of Pala, the fictional island somewhere between Andaman Islands in India and Sumatra, emphasizing a compassionate approach to life and relationships.

Miscellaneous edit

karuṇā is a common first name throughout India, used for both genders.

See also edit

  • Natyashastra – Sanskrit text on the performing arts
  • Ramayana – Ancient Sanskrit epic
  • Life release – Buddhist practice
  • Mudita – Sympathetic or vicarious joy in Sanskrit and Pali

Notes edit

  1. ^ Regarding the Sanskrit word, see "karuṇā" in Monier-Williams (1964, p. 255), where the noun form of the word is defined as "pity, compassion".
     • For the Pali word, see "karuṇā" Archived 2012-07-11 at archive.today in Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25, p. 197), where it is defined as "pity, compassion".
     • Contemporary scholars, translators, and interpreters have consistently translated the word as "compassion", not "pity". This can be seen, for instance, in (listed chronologically) Warder (2004, p. 95), Buddhaghosa (1999, pp. 306ff, Vsm. IX.77ff), Saddhatissa (2003, p. 3, SN 3.39), Thanissaro (1994, AN 3.65), Salzberg (1995, pp. 102ff), Gethin (1998, p. 187), and Bodhi (2000, p. 1325, SN 41.7).
  2. ^ Karuna hinduismpedia [dead link]
  3. ^ "What is Karuna? - Definition from Yogapedia".
  4. ^ "Karuna, Karuṇā, Karuṇa: 44 definitions". 21 June 2008.
  5. ^ Bhandari, N. B. (2022). The Outlook: Journal of English Studies. Outlook, 13, 100-114.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Susan L. Rasa: Performing the divine in India. Columbia University Press, 2004.
  7. ^ Hammer, Niels (2009). "Why Sārus Cranes Epitomize Karuṇarasa in the Rāmāyaṇa". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 19 (2): 187–211. JSTOR 27756045.
  8. ^ "Inseparable in virtue". The Hindu. 20 August 2018.
  9. ^
  10. ^ For instance, in the Kālāmā Sutta (AN 3.65), the Buddha speaks of all Noble Disciples (Ariya-Savaka) developing the brahmaviharas. Thanissaro (1994)
  11. ^ Thanissaro (1994). The "four directions" refer to east, south, west, and north.
  12. ^ Thanissaro (1994). In regards to in which heavenly realm a frequent karuṇā-dweller will be reborn, Thanissaro (2006) identifies it as the realm of radiant (abhassara) devas, whose lifespans last two eons.
  13. ^ Sn-A 128 (cited by Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25, p. 197); see also, Buddha Dharma Education Association & BuddhaNet. Similarly, the post-canonical Visuddhimagga IX.105–109, provides further elucidation, such as with a metaphor describing mettā as a mother's wish for her (healthy) child to grow up and karuṇā as a mother's wish for her sick child to get well, Buddhaghosa (1999, pp. 313–14).
  14. ^
  15. ^ In Pali, sattesu... kāruññataṃ paṭicca, found in DN 3.6 (regarding Vipassī Buddha), MN 26.21 and SN 6.1, see, e.g., Bodhi (2000, pp. 233, 430, n. 362); and Thanissaro (1997). Several other references in the Pali Canon to the Buddha's acting out of "compassion" are not related directly to karuṇā but to the synonymous anukampā, which is also defined as "mercy" in Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25, p. 34).
  16. ^ Gethin (1998, p. 228)
  17. ^ Gyatso & Kamalashila (2019, pp. 42–43)
  18. ^ Shantideva (2011, pp. 122–123)
  19. ^ Shah. Regarding samvara, see "Release from karmas". From a comparative religion perspective, cf. Buddhism's four brahmavihara; for instance, maitri is often identified as a Sanskrit correlate of the Pali mettāRhys Davids & Stede (1921–25, p. 540), entry for "Mettā".
  20. ^ Huxley, Aldous. "Island." Harper & Brothers, 1962.

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