Can a bodhisattva or lay Buddhist be too concerned with truth at the expense of compassion and altruism?

What is the relationship between truth and compassion? e.g.. is the truth always compassionate, and if not, which is more important? Or, can we pursue the Buddha dharma out of a desire for the truth alone. etc.


8 Answers 8


One can cling to the idea of truth without any truth or compassion

One can cling to the idea of compassion without any truth or compassion.

Compassion is a mental attitude that is against suffering. To be clear, it's not a belief or theoretical idea.

You don't have to be a "me" and they don't have to be a "them" for compassion to arise. The idea that there is a "you" or that there are "other people" is not admitted of by actual non-conceptual ultimate truth. If you are close with this ultimate truth then you are also close to compassion. You know, "You" and "other people" have no apparent separation that isn't assumed.


there is no compassion without truth

when the truth is not beneficial for another person, what is practised in 'equanimity' rather than 'compassion'

how can something be 'altruistic' if it is not the truth?


Love is a one sided affair... compassion is a one sided affair... you love no matter whether you get love in return or not... you show compassion no matter whether you get compassion in return or not .... why so? because you believe in the truth this is suffering... everyone is going to suffer... why show cruelty towards those who are bound to suffer...???


By tending to your own renunciation, you may become dispassionate (which is a way to deal with your own suffering), but by cultivating compassion, you can create the balance needed in dealing with others. Renunciation and equanimity is how you deal with your own suffering. Meanwhile, compassion is how you deal with others' suffering.

In fact I would say, in order to get closer to the truth, you need to deepen your renunciation and compassion.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote in "The Balanced Way":

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha's own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

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    If I understood right, I think Samana Johann suggested that acts of generosity help to counter-act one's own clinging and desires -- so to the extent that generosity and compassion are related, maybe those aren't just two (the other being "renunciation") separate wings, but mutually reinforcing.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 12, 2021 at 8:11

The 'truth' (such as it is) is subtle, transcendental, and wordless. The best we can do is see it and point at it; we cannot own it. Unfortunately, the word 'truth' has come to imply a kind of absolute intellectual property. When someone says "I know the truth", the implication is that the person 'owns' a piece of information that cannot be questioned or evaluated, and this can lead to loss of compassion as the person struggles to maintain his 'truth' against any contestation or alteration.

The truth — in that subtle, transcendental, wordless sense — is neither compassionate nor un-compassionate. It's merely factual. Compassion or its lack are qualities of our attitude towards that truth. Human suffering is a part of truth; what we think we know about human suffering — those little pieces of information we own and try to apply — is something else. If we see that higher truth we will always (unavoidably) act with compassion, regardless of what we know. However if we cling to the little truths we know... Well, clinging is poisonous to compassion.


Only if they think that one's lies can prevent other people from having bad experiences.

Ie one lies to save another from a painful circumstances but one is heir to his own actions. Lying just confuses the one being lied to and corrupts the liar.

Basically when a person lies to save another thinking it is a refuge, it doesn't work because what is due to be experienced will come into play even if in future lives.


The conditioned truth is the smallest elements which is possible to arise and vanish by conditioning.

The conditioned wholesome truth can think of either living beings or lifeless things.

Non-anger, adosa is a conditioned wholesome truth only which conditioning each other with every each other wholesome elements.

Only non-anger on living beings is called loving kindness, compassion, metta when focusing on giving happiness to them.

The other non-angers is called patients, khanti.

When the practitioner can see through the truths and their processing by seeing dependent origination, they are automatically enduringly trust on karma and can't break 5 precept through that life.

This is the perfect basis of the compassion, an elements of 3 SammaSankappa (right thinking).

After really getting seeing the dependent origination, the non-angers must growing up only until the end of that life.

It is impossible for a practitioner who gotten seeing the dependent origination to say "I want to kill living being" even for keeping the truth because this is perfectly broken by automatically enduringly trust on karma.

Meditate Jhana with Pa-Auk Tawya and see Abhidhamma and Visuddhimagga for getting in detail.


I'm not sure there is "truth" and "the truth".

Perhaps like other things in Buddhism, there is the arising and cessation -- e.g. of ignorance, including falsehoods and wrong views, and cessation of ignorance.

There are truths or observations -- "that pot should be washed" -- transient though, right?

So I'm not sure you can "pursue truth"; only cessation or non-arising of ignorance.

That isn't antithetical to compassion, I think we're told that Gautama Buddha was motivated by compassion -- compassion remained -- before and after his enlightenment.

I don't know what happens with a "private Buddha" -- why they don't expression compassion in the same way (e.g. by teaching) -- I don't know whether that's some absence of compassion; absence of skill (e.g. of teaching); or some other necessary condition. I think that "by definition" though, that doesn't apply to a "bodhisattva".

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