In the Tibetan tradition, and as far as I understand, the Mahayana in general, there’s a lot of emphasis on compassion for all sentient beings. Compassion for all sentient beings sounds great. But I sometimes wonder about this all-encompassing compassion in practice.

An example: I was attending a two day meditation and reflection session this weekend. We did meditation on compassion for all sentient beings. The teacher did not get tired of underlining how importance of no exceptions. It all sounds very nice. At the end of the first day we were discussing meditation on the skhanda’s and I asked if we could repeat this the next morning. Teacher said yes, but forgot it. I asked if he could send me a mil with some info I needed. He said yes but forgot. This made me wonder. You know, compassion for all – aren’t your students included in “all”? Is it a risk that you may slip in to a state where you meditate very “big” and think about you compassion for all the universe(s), but forget “thy neighbor”?

Does the Buddha address this directly anywhere? This tendency to be compassionate when you’re on the cushion but when the chips are down in real life it isn’t that much mindful compassion left?

  • Maybe the teacher had a lot on his plate and simply forgot. Does that mean that he didn't have compassion? I don't see the connection. Please clarify.
    – user2424
    Dec 8, 2015 at 11:30
  • I think that compassion should entail care. That you care for those you have compassion for. And if you care for your student you listen to what they say. If you are a teacher and on a weekend with your group I think being a teacher that weekend for the group is what should be on your plate Dec 8, 2015 at 12:05
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    Aversion arises when one does not get what one wants. It is important that one is aware of the aversion, how it is caused and conditioned by factors.
    – user4878
    Dec 8, 2015 at 14:36
  • Remember that teacher, like you and me, are still sentient beings on various stages of the path who are trying to work toward enlightenment. As such, "compassion for all" is still something one aspires towards, not something already been attained. He might be a few steps ahead of you, but he's not the Buddha. So I'd cut him some slack, extract any useful info. from the session, and refocus on how to cultivate the Path with my own effort and time.
    – santa100
    Jan 6, 2019 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


Teacher said yes, but forgot it. I asked if he could send me a mil with some info I needed. He said yes but forgot.

The teacher saying "yes" could be a manifestation of compassion. But the teacher forgetting what he said he would do sounds like a manifestation of heedlessness (the opposite of mindfulness) -- these are two different things.

Also both saying "yes" and forgetting could be heedlessness. It's hard to guess one's mind state even when one is answering a simple thing with "yes".

In any case, "compassion" can be a tricky term to understand. It's generally understood as "the desire to see other beings free from suffering". Sometimes is useful to emphasize it does not mean to actively do what other people ask one to do -- compassion may manifest even as harsh actions.

You know, compassion for all – aren’t your students included in “all”?

I see two things here. First, doing or teaching compassion meditation does not make one flawlessly compassionate onwards. Second, that meditation can have a short term goal (as a path to samatha) and long term goal (as a means of transforming one's mind and strengthening the habits of compassion). Out of the cushion is hard to be always compassionate (or always benevolent, or always mindful, or always equanimous, etc), hence the practice.

Having said that, yes, students are included in "all" -- stuff like that happens.


Simply forgetting to respond to your request does not necessarily mean your teacher has no compassion for you. The teacher's compassion may embrace you in ways you are unaware of (that is, you don't realize that benefits to you come from the teacher); it may be much larger than an email with information. Compassion has to do with wanting to relieve your suffering, not with fulfilling your desires. If desires are what cause your suffering (such as your hurt at not receiving a response), then others should not necessarily fulfill your desires, or they should do so only with the intention of leading to your ultimate happiness (nirvana).

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