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QN: I'm looking for Buddha's teachings on self compassion. (Especially for lay practitioners.)

There are few verses which can be found in Dhammapada:

He, who by good deeds covers the evil he has done, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds. (Dhp, verse 173)

Angulimala Sutta also represents forgiveness and self compassion if some mistakes has happened due to lack of mindfulness or by ignorance.

I personally think that self compassion is required otherwise we may fall in too much guilt instead of improving ourselves.

And by understanding our own suffering, we can understand the suffering of others and help them better. It will make this world a better place.


Update: At the beginning, I was asking for very specific suttas but I understood that there are less suttas directly connected to Self compassion. (So you can use any sutta which are relevant and makes sense.)

And I think there is a reason for it.

I feel that Buddha wanted to say, develop compassion in all directions (including inward & outward). Because if we develop it only towards self or only others in either case, it will lead to Identification which will stop us from direct knowing and release.

He always mentioned it as whole.

I also found [SN 56.11] very relevant.

"Mendicants, these two extremes should not be cultivated by one who has gone forth. What two? Indulgence in sensual pleasures, which is low, crude, ordinary, ignoble, and pointless. And indulgence in self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and pointless. Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One woke up by understanding the middle way..."

I hope everyone will participate. And you're free to edit and improve your answer if needed.^^

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You've already mentioned the relevance of SN56.11, so we might look at some finer points. For example, here we find a balance for our compassion:

AN4.95:3.3: But the person who practices to benefit both themselves and others is the foremost, best, chief, highest, and finest of the four.

And you've noted the importance of understanding good/bad deeds, so here is the balance of ethical behavior. Reading this sutta very carefully, we understand that the Buddha has not taught Dhamma for ethical purity alone. There are three practices to end suffering: ethics, wisdom and immersion. In other words, we have to go beyond good deeds.

SN35.74:8.1: “In that case, mendicant, why do you have remorse and regret?” “Because I understand that the Buddha has not taught the Dhamma merely for the sake of ethical purity.” “If that is so, what exactly do you understand to be the purpose of teaching the Dhamma?” “I understand that the Buddha has taught the Dhamma for the purpose of the fading away of greed.” “Good, good, mendicant!

Finally, there is a limit to self-involvement. In this sutta, we see that good deeds have good outcomes, but if we limit our good deeds to self-compassion, then even though we may end up in the company of Gods, we have missed the heart of the Buddhas teaching and must go beyond self-compassion. If compassion is limited to self, it is not limitless and the Buddha calls on us to practice limitless love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity.

DN33:3.1.132: They think: ‘If only, when my body breaks up, after death, I would be reborn in the company of the Gods of Brahmā’s Host!’ They settle on that thought, concentrate on it and develop it. As they’ve settled for less and not developed further, their thought leads to rebirth there.

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  • First sutta you have mentioned is good. It will be better if you edit your answer and explain other two suttas in your answer (especially the last sutta, I didn't understand what you want to convey). – rht Jun 19 at 10:50
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    Apologies. I tend to the terse. Thank you for taking the time to explain what is not working for you. Hopefully the additional comment will be of assistance. DN33 is the first sutta I studied deeply. It is very very long and very very helpful. There are probably other suttas that may help you as well. I found these. – OyaMist Jun 19 at 13:17
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    Thanks for answering. 🙏 It is short but very clear. And I understood what you want to point out using DN33. – rht Jun 19 at 14:05
  • But don't you think both first and last sutta that you mentioned are making similar sense according to your explanation. – rht Jun 19 at 17:12
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    Yes, that's why I mentioned [SN 56.11]. Thanks for explaining. – rht Jun 20 at 1:57
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You may be interested in AN 3.99, which states that by developing yourself in body, virtue and mind, a trifling evil deed that is done, will not bog you down:

"Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?"

"Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink."

"Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?"

"No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink."

"In the same way, there is the case where a trifling evil deed done by one individual [the first] takes him to hell; and there is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by the other individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

'Now, a trifling evil act done by what sort of individual takes him to hell? There is the case where a certain individual is undeveloped in the body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind [i.e., painful feelings can invade the mind and stay there], undeveloped in discernment: restricted, small-hearted, dwelling with suffering. A trifling evil act done by this sort of individual takes him to hell.

'Now, a trifling evil act done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind [i.e., painful feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable. A trifling evil act done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

From SN 42.8, we get a similar message:

"There's the case, headman, where a certain teacher holds this doctrine, holds this view: 'All those who take life are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell. All those who steal... All those who indulge in illicit sex... All those who tell lies are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell.' A disciple has faith in that teacher, and the thought occurs to him, 'Our teacher holds this doctrine, holds this view: "All those who take life are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell." There are living beings that I have killed. I, too, am destined for a state of deprivation, am destined for hell.' He fastens onto that view. If he doesn't abandon that doctrine, doesn't abandon that state of mind, doesn't relinquish that view, then as if he were to be carried off, he would thus be placed in hell.

"[The thought occurs to him,] 'Our teacher holds this doctrine, holds this view: 'All those who steal... All those who indulge in illicit sex... All those who tell lies are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell.' There are lies that I have told. I, too, am destined for a state of deprivation, am destined for hell.' He fastens onto that view. If he doesn't abandon that doctrine, doesn't abandon that state of mind, doesn't relinquish that view, then as if he were to be carried off, he would thus be placed in hell.

"There is the case, headman, where a Tathagata appears in the world, worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in clear knowing & conduct, well-gone, a knower of the cosmos, unexcelled trainer of those to be tamed, teacher of human & divine beings, awakened, blessed. He, in various ways, criticizes & censures the taking of life, and says, 'Abstain from taking life.' He criticizes & censures stealing, and says, 'Abstain from stealing.' He criticizes & censures indulging in illicit sex, and says, 'Abstain from indulging in illicit sex.' He criticizes & censures the telling of lies, and says, 'Abstain from the telling of lies.'

"A disciple has faith in that teacher and reflects: 'The Blessed One in a variety of ways criticizes & censures the taking of life, and says, "Abstain from taking life." There are living beings that I have killed, to a greater or lesser extent. That was not right. That was not good. But if I become remorseful for that reason, that evil deed of mine will not be undone.' So, reflecting thus, he abandons right then the taking of life, and in the future refrains from taking life. This is how there comes to be the abandoning of that evil deed. This is how there comes to be the transcending of that evil deed.

"[He reflects:] 'The Blessed One in a variety of ways criticizes & censures stealing... indulging in illicit sex... the telling of lies, and says, "Abstain from the telling of lies." There are lies that I have told, to a greater or lesser extent. That was not right. That was not good. But if I become remorseful for that reason, that evil deed of mine will not be undone.' So, reflecting thus, he abandons right then the telling of lies, and in the future refrains from telling lies. This is how there comes to be the abandoning of that evil deed. This is how there comes to be the transcending of that evil deed.

"Having abandoned the taking of life, he refrains from taking life. Having abandoned stealing, he refrains from stealing. Having abandoned illicit sex, he refrains from illicit sex. Having abandoned lies, he refrains from lies. Having abandoned divisive speech, he refrains from divisive speech. Having abandoned harsh speech, he refrains from harsh speech. Having abandoned idle chatter, he refrains from idle chatter. Having abandoned covetousness, he becomes uncovetous. Having abandoned ill will & anger, he becomes one with a mind of no ill will. Having abandoned wrong views, he becomes one who has right views.

"That disciple of the noble ones, headman — thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction [the east] with an awareness imbued with good will, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. Just as a strong conch-trumpet blower can notify the four directions without any difficulty, in the same way, when the awareness-release through good will is thus developed, thus pursued, any deed done to a limited extent no longer remains there, no longer stays there.

"That disciple of the noble ones — thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction with an awareness imbued with compassion... appreciation... equanimity, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with equanimity — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. Just as a strong conch-trumpet blower can notify the four directions without any difficulty, in the same way, when the awareness-release through equanimity is thus developed, thus pursued, any deed done to a limited extent no longer remains there, no longer stays there."

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I can recall these lines;

Seeing others as yourself; don't wish suffering on anyone. One protects others by protecting oneself; one protects oneself by protecting others.

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    I think you are talking about Dhammapada, Yes but I was looking for some suttas. – rht Jun 16 at 11:17
  • Dhammapada is included in Suttapitaka afaik – MAGA2020 Jun 16 at 16:51
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    Yes. I already checked Dhammapada but I was looking for more relevant suttas where Buddha specifically taught self compassion. @ruben2020 – rht Jun 16 at 17:17
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This isn't quite what you were asking, but on the subject of "too much guilt instead of improving ourselves", there's SN 42.8 which includes --

Take some teacher who has this doctrine and view: ‘Everyone who kills a living creature, steals, commits sexual misconduct, or lies goes to a place of loss, to hell.’ And there’s a disciple who is devoted to that teacher. They think: ‘My teacher has this doctrine and view: ‘Everyone who kills a living creature, steals, commits sexual misconduct, or lies goes to a place of loss, to hell.’ But I’ve killed living creatures … stolen … committed sexual misconduct … or lied. They get the view: ‘I too am going to a place of loss, to hell.’ Unless they give up that speech and thought, and let go of that view, they will be cast down to hell.

But consider when a Realized One arises in the world, perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed. In many ways he criticizes and denounces killing living creatures, saying: ‘Stop killing living creatures!’ He criticizes and denounces stealing … sexual misconduct … lying, saying: ‘Stop lying!’ And there’s a disciple who is devoted to that teacher. Then they reflect: ‘In many ways the Buddha criticizes and denounces killing living creatures, saying: “Stop killing living creatures!” But I have killed living creatures to a certain extent. That’s not right, it’s not good, and I feel remorseful because of it. But I can’t undo what I have done.’ Reflecting like this, they give up killing living creatures, and in future they don’t kill living creatures. That’s how to give up this bad deed and get past it.

Some other points:

  • My first impression of "compassion" is that it's other-directed, directed toward others, and so "self-compassion" is a bit of a contradiction in terms -- for example,

    The world suffers. But most men have their eyes and ears closed. They do not see the unbroken stream of tears flowing through life; they do not hear the cry of distress continually pervading the world. Their own little grief or joy bars their sight, deafens their ears. Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. Being stiff and narrow, how should they be able to strive for any higher goal, to realize that only release from selfish craving will effect their own freedom from suffering?

    It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self.

    Through compassion the fact of suffering remains vividly present to our mind, even at times when we personally are free from it. It gives us the rich experience of suffering, thus strengthening us to meet it prepared, when it does befall us.

    Compassion reconciles us to our own destiny by showing us the life of others, often much harder than ours.

  • Nevertheless the practice of Metta Bhavana -- as derived from the Metta Gatha -- starts with,

    May I be free from enmity and danger

    ... before going on to wish the same for everyone else.

    See also No compassion, goodwill for oneself?

  • Also, while I'm on subject of the "self-or-others", I remember the Dalai Lama saying that he sees himself as being "just like everyone else, no different".

  • I don't think that that the suttas say much about compassion, specifically -- normally it's mentioned in the context of being one of the four brahmaviharas.

    One place it's mentioned is MN 26, as the reason for the Buddha's consenting to teach:

    Then, understanding Brahmā’s invitation, I surveyed the world with the eye of a Buddha, because of my compassion for sentient beings.

    Another is AN 6.13 where it's antithetical to harming:

    Take another mendicant who says: ‘I’ve developed the heart’s release by compassion. I’ve cultivated it, made it my vehicle and my basis, kept it up, consolidated it, and properly implemented it. Yet somehow the thought of harming still occupies my mind.’ They should be told, ‘Not so, venerable! … For it is the heart’s release by compassion that is the escape from thoughts of harming.


There are a couple of suttas mentioned as Basic Wisdom:

  • This is the way leading to discernment: when visiting a brahman or contemplative, to ask: 'What is skillful, venerable sir? What is unskillful? What is blameworthy? What is blameless? What should be cultivated? What should not be cultivated? What, when I do it, will be for my long-term harm & suffering? Or what, when I do it, will be for my long-term welfare & happiness?'"

    MN 135

  • Whenever you want to perform a [bodily, verbal, and/or mental] act, you should reflect on it: 'This [...] act I want to perform — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful [...] act, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful [...] act with painful consequences, painful results, then any [...] act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful [...] action with happy consequences, happy results, then any [...] act of that sort is fit for you to do.

    MN 61

If "wanting to not cause harm" is an essential component of compassion, these suttas seems to support your thesis, i.e. that compassion should be developed "in all directions", "inwards and outwards", towards "self and others".

Incidentally, though this may be too fine a distinction to try and teach someone, I don't think this is the same as saying "self is good" or "self should be cherished" -- it's not speaking in praise of self-view, instead it's speaking against harm and oppression ...

ahita
harm; unkindliness. (adj.) harmful.

vyābādha & byābādha
oppression, injury, harm, hurting; usually in phrase atta˚ & para˚; (disturbing the peace of others of oneself) MN.i.89; SN.iv.339; AN.i.114, AN.i.157, AN.i.216; AN.ii.179-Also at SN.iv.159

... which is true both of "self-harm" and of "others'-harm".

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  • Is Metta Gatha Chanting is original teaching of Buddha? also see Dhp 166 & AN4.95:3.3 (My first impression of "compassion" is that it's other-directed). Thanks for replying 🙏, Keep updating your answer If you found some references which are helpful. – rht Jun 19 at 13:49
  • @roheet The Metta Gatha seems to me closer to what's in the Visuddhimagga than what's in the Tripitaka but IMO the suttas are mostly not very detailed (not as detailed as the Visuddhimagga) in their description of forms and methods of meditation -- see Is Chant of Metta from Tipitaka? – ChrisW Jun 19 at 13:51
  • And also check references which I have mentioned in my above comment. – rht Jun 19 at 13:52
  • @roheet I don't know what to add to those references. The more relevant one (about compassion) might be Dhp 129 which you know already. If you're open to Mahayana doctrine too, the Bodhisattva vow refers to "all beings" which IMO doesn't distinguish between self and others. The Dalai Lama (e.g. here) says than human beings are fundamentally the same. And the Dhamma should be "known by onself". – ChrisW Jun 19 at 14:11
  • "My first impression of "compassion" is that it's other-directed" you yourself used that line. So, I mentioned it. – rht Jun 19 at 16:06

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