It’s curious that if you study Buddhism you need to understand that Maya is an illusion and life is a product of cause and effect of past karma, so is deceptive. All my emotions are deceptive but not compassion.The void is the ultimate reality and is not part of anything bigger.

Why compassion is not deceptive then , if it is itself part of an illusion and it is an emotion ? Shouldn’t be only an act of positive karma which as well will create only positive effects? But why then positive karma can push toward the void , or “ultimate goal” if the sunnyata is anything else rather than void itself.

It shouldn’t have any attribute of “positive” or “negative” which are supposed to be moral and discriminatory observations.if the void needs to have moral attitudes to get access into, talking about sunnyata as ultimate reality , isn’t becoming a contradiction by its own logical terms?

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This answer is from the Theravada perspective.

You are thinking about this from the frame of reference of Vedanta, where there is only one thing real and eternal, and the others are illusion (maya) which are not eternal and changing.

In Vedanta, this one thing that is real and eternal is God, whereas you replace this with shunyata (emptiness), which means the great emptiness is the only real and eternal thing, or that the ultimate reality of the universe is voidness.

Next, you say that compassion is the really good emotion compared to others, and this moves one towards emptiness. Then you ask why only such a positive quality moves one towards emptiness, and why not other emotions?

Now, let's change our frame of reference to the Buddha's.

He doesn't ask, "what is the only thing real and eternal?". This was not important to him.

In the Acintita Sutta, he states that metaphysics should not be conjectured, otherwise it will lead to madness. In Parable of the Poisoned Arrow, he says to focus on the immediate problem (i.e. suffering) and not on how it all originated. In the Sabba Sutta, he taught to not speculate about things that's beyond The All.

The Buddha's frame of reference is really the Four Noble Truths - stating that there is suffering, identifying the cause of and solution to suffering, and teaching the Noble Eightfold Path as the method to realize the solution to suffering.

Emptiness in the original teachings of the Buddha refers to all phenomena being empty of a self. This is explained in this answer. This is not metaphysics. It explains that the self is really a mental idea - the illusion, that results in suffering. It doesn't mean that the ultimate reality of the universe is voidness.

It's true that Nirvana is what is attained by the enlightened ones. Maybe you might then say that this is the eternal thing or the ultimate reality of the universe. But Nirvana is just the extinguishment of suffering - it is that which is experienced by the mind when it is completely free of defilements and fetters. It is the only stable source of happiness and peace. It's not any kind of ultimate reality. It's not a supernatural state of consciousness. It's not immortality.

And what about compassion? Compassion is not the only positive mental factor. There are 25 beautiful mental factors listed in the Abhidhamma, in this answer.

Why do positive mental states lead to Nirvana but not negative ones?

That is explained in the Kimattha Sutta - skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, and the sutta explains how this leads to Nirvana.

The negative states of mind which are basically combinations of greed or lust, aversion and delusion, that enslave the mind and keep it clinging to sensual pleasures and existence of the self. When one does unskillful things or has unskillful thoughts, this also leads to remorse, and reinforces suffering.

Skillful virtues and positive states of mind brings one freedom from remorse and joy, but this is only one of the three parts of the Noble Eightfold Path called virtue (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood). There are still the other two parts that need to be cultivated - concentration/ meditation and wisdom.

Without the five precepts and cultivation of virtue, it is impossible to practise concentration/ meditation or deepen wisdom. With the mind becoming positive and virtuous, it can then calm down, concentrate and experience insight and wisdom.

From the perspective of karma, virtues and positive mind also reduces or removes future consequences of bad actions, and therefore reduces suffering.

So, you have to change your frame of reference:

Vedanta talks about the metaphysical reality of the universe (real/ eternal i.e. God vs. the illusion), and it talks about how to go from illusion to real/ eternal. Vedanta also postulates the individual self as being part of, or identical to, God.

Buddhism addresses the problem of suffering and how to end suffering. Buddhism is not concerned with the metaphysical reality of the universe. Buddhism also takes the self as an idea conjured by the mind - which leads to suffering.

From SN 22.86:

In the past, as today, I describe suffering and the cessation of suffering.

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    That can be an acceptable answer from a Buddhist. I basically agree with that, although If Nibbana concept is different from Void itself ,this classify Void as a good mental state to attain the ultimate reality , and not the last one itself. This also explains quite well why Buddhist philosophy and practices generally works pretty well towards this state of mind (Void) Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 5:22
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    Who downvoted this answer and why? Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 2:32

There was an archaeological find at the site of the famed Buddhist university Nalanda. It was either on a piece of pottery or a mural inscription, I forget which, but the words in Sanskrit read "Seeing emptiness, he feels compassion".

You are laboring under a mistake. The reality is that compassion and emptiness are the same thing. When we directly perceive emptiness, we experience the compassion of the Buddha. It isn't a feeling or an emotion but rather an instinctual reaction to reality. Zen master Dogen likens it to a hand that reaches for a pillow in the night. The compassion generated by emptiness has no forethought or preconception. It simply happens. It simply is. The compassion of emptiness is a vastness that underlies us all.


You have put it wrongly. You say all my emotions are deceptive, that is an incorrect observation. Correct way to put it is emotions are not me , mine or myself. It will come as a surprise that you can also say consciousness is not me,mine or myself. Does that mean you will become devoid of consciousness? No you won’t. Does that mean consciousness is deceptive ? No.Similarly you do not become devoid of emotions (including compassion) and those emotions are not deceptive... you just don’t cling to it...Buddha was deeply compassionate... whatever he spoke he spoke out of compassion....Emotions are not deceptive...consciousness is not deceptive... choices are not deceptive... I think your understanding of Emptiness is wrong. When you realise that none of the five aggregates are me , mine or myself then you feel dispassionate towards them that is when you experience emptiness... emptiness itself doesn’t require moral qualification but it is step required to reach the goal of equanimity towards all.


You know that feeling when you look at the world and can't help but see that it is messed up (all wrong!)? And you feel a kind of aversion, a mix of pity and disgust?

Guess what, the enlightened folks looking at the world notice the same exact problems as you, except they don't feel aversion or disgust. Instead they feel compassion. So compassion is the purified equivalent of the same feeling as you have when looking at the world, just purified. Cool, huh? It can be purified but it never goes away.

Compassion is not yet another misleading feeling, because it's based on Knowledge and Truth, not on the Three Poisons. It is based on knowledge and truth of the illusion and the suffering that the confused sentient beings have to helplessly endure generation after generation. This is why Mahayana teaching states that compassion automatically and unconditionally arises in the mind of enlightened being, it cannot not arise.

Compassion is a form of Love, a form of being in harmony with reality. You see the way things work for sentient beings, you see they have to go through all these phases as part of growing up - and you are at peace with it, even though it involves considerable amount of growing pains and suffering. You love everything unconditionally, with all its imperfections, including even the very Samsara itself. Because you love it and accept it as it is, but at the same time you are acutely aware of how far it needs to grow yet, you feel compassion.

As for your comments about Shunyata, it exhibits even greater confusion on your part. You seem to think that The Good, The Kindness, the Peace is on the equal footing with The Bad, The Selfish, the Discord - vis-a-vis the transcendence that is Shunyata. This is wrong understanding. The worldly Good / The worldly Right is a crude approximation of The Ultimate Good/Right which is Shunyata. So it's not that we have to abandon The Good (including compassion) on our way to Shunyata, not at all. Rather, we have to perfect and refine our ethics, because the perfect Goodness (the Paramita level of transcendental goodness) is nothing else but Shunyata.

This is why all Buddhas of past, present, and future instruct sentient beings to adopt and perfect the Sila (ethics) not to abandon them. Abandoning compassion under an excuse of Shunyata is an evil path, not Buddha-Dharma.

The Good (including Compassion) is how the absolute of Shunyata gets projected onto the relative world of sentient beings. Compassion is a shadow of Prajna, in a manner of speaking.


I have asked a similar question previously albeit, from Mahayana's point of view. See the link below. Some of the responses provided there may point you in the right direction.

If no sentient being exists, for whom is there compassion? 'A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life' by Santideva

[Qualm:] If no sentient being exists, for whom is there compassion?

[Madhyamika:] For one who is imagined through delusion, which is accepted for the sake of the task.

[Qualm:] If there is no sentient being, whose is the task?

[Madhyamika:] True. The effort, too, is due to delusion. Nevertheless, in order to alleviate suffering, delusion with regard to one's task is not averted

A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life' by Santideva, Chapter IX: The Perfection of Wisdom.


I think that Buddhism talks about suffering and its cessation -- states of woe, and the liberations from or antidotes to those states. For example the three poisons: desire, aversions, and ignorance are all harmful in their own way.

The Brahmaviharas are said to be the answer to, the right way to behave in, all social circumstances.

Meeting someone who's suffering, for example, you might feel suffering yourself -- or you might feel pity, superiority, aversion -- none of which are ideal. Whereas compassion is the right (correct or noble) answer, for that situation.

For other circumstances there are different answers. Meeting someone who's noble (and not suffering), for example, there's mudita as a correct answer. Or meeting someone who's evil, equanimity.

They (the brahmaviharas) are all good, but they're situational, they're the right response to what arises.

I think that "emptiness" is similar, in the same category -- not superior to compassion, not meant to say that compassion is a lie or non-existent -- but a correct response to a certain situation's arising. And the situation for which emptiness is a correct response or antidote isn't especially a social situation (for which you have the brahmaviharas) -- I think that emptiness is especially useful as an antidote for (suffering resulting from) the arising of fixed or unwholesome views -- views of all sorts, "I'd like to be famous but I'm not", "I'm right and he's wrong", "I wish my friend were still alive", and so on and so on and so on.

One more thing, I think (because I read it, not because I've been taught it) that there's Tibetan (Mahayana) doctrine which says that even "Arhat" is a temporary state/place of rest on the longer journey towards becoming a Buddha. And if compassion is the primary (or only) motive of the Buddha, perhaps that's an argument that it shouldn't be seen as inferior to or erased by emptiness.


The Buddhist problematic — the central concern that Buddhism focuses on – is self-illusion. We believe that we should have a different relationship with the world than we do, a different relationship with others than we actually have, even a different relationship to ourselves. That self-illusion leads to discontentment and craving. Emotions aren't exactly illusions (or deceptive) in this sense. Emotions reflect karma: they are states that arise because we are caught by self-illusion.

Compassion is the state that arises when we see the world as it is, without self-illusion. When we understand how much of the world is a tangle of self-illusions, and how subtle and intractable those self-illusions can be, what other state could arise except compassion? Compassion isn't sympathy (an identification with someone else's self-illusion); it isn't judgement (a self-illusion that someone knows better or is better or should be better). Compassion arises when we recognize "here we are", and see the conditions laid before us.

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