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A Meeting of the Buddha and the Christ: A compassionate spirituality by Dr Patricia Sherwood

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In the deep exploration of the living spiritual experiences of Buddhists and Christians there emerges the common ground of compassion. The doorway to this compassion is through “ the good heart”, that can be developed by Buddhists and Christians alike. This paper is not a theological discourse of comparative spiritual traditions but a sharing of the nature of the profound meeting places of compassion between Buddhism and the Christianity. In particular it focuses upon five arenas. These are:

  1. The compassionate heart of healing,
  2. The compassionate hand of social justice,
  3. The compassionate spirit of peace,
  4. The compassion mind healing the sword of dualism; and
  5. The compassionate feet dancing the dance of interconnectedness


The Dalai Lama, in the John Main seminar for 1995, a seminar series noted for its focus on multi-faith dialogue, encapsulates the meeting place of the Buddhist Christian encounter as “The Good Heart”. He proposes that to achieve meaningful dialogue between the two great spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Christianity, it is essential that we begin by recognising that both traditions “share a the common goal of producing a human being who is a fully realized, spiritually mature, good and warm hearted person.”(Dalai Lama, 1996:80). In addition, he suggests it is essential that one recognize the diversity of dispositions and spiritual inclinations of different peoples of the world. Thich Nhat Hanh (1995, xvi-xvii) another of the great exponents of dialogue between the Buddhist and Christian traditions, writes in his inspiring work Living Buddha, Living Christ:

It is safer to approach God through the Holy Spirit than through theology. It is our duty to transcend words and concepts to be able to encounter reality…when we see someone overflowing with love and understanding, someone who is keenly aware of what is going on, we know that they are very close to the Buddha and to Jesus Christ.

The profound point of meeting between the Buddha and the Christ, is I believe through entering “The Good Heart.’ It is here, in the heart’s beating, lives a vibrant spirituality named compassion, the signature of the presence of the breathing of the Buddha and the Christ in our human life. This is the fourth spiritual path identified by Matthew Fox: “the Via Transformativa.” The first path he identifies as the via positiva, the experience of the joy and beauty of God, the Second path the via negativa, the path of letting go. This is where clinging to things ends and where God begins to be; and the third path he terms the via creativa, the path of the birth of the self in God when he cites Eckhart (Fox, 1983, 80): What good is it to me, If this eternal birth of the Divine son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself ? ” It is in the fourth path of the Via Transformativa, or the path of compassion, that I have found the meeting of the Buddha and the Christ. Eckhart (Fox, 1983:102) argues: “those who follow compassion find life for themselves, justice for their neighbor and glory for God”. Compassion is the radiance of the being of the good heart. It is the warmth of deeds of love. Compassion is the spirituality that is the cosmically transforming dance of our redeemed thinking, feeling and willing. It is a way of being, built upon the profound recognition of interconnectedness of all life and all being. It is born of shared pain, shared celebration, togetherness and it is public event for in its birth within us, all beings come to have a share of its blessings. Born in the heart, compassion rises to illumine the mind so that all deeds become infused with the vibrant healing and energizing power of all who are spiritually awake. Through compassion we come to share in the transformative power of the Buddha and the Christ.

This paper is not a theological discourse of comparative spiritual traditions but a sharing of the meeting places of the Buddha and the Christ in our world today. I will share how the Buddha and the Christ have deep roots within our hearts. These roots are entwined to form the tree of life, whose fruits are compassion. Many are the meeting places, but I will focus on the following five where the signatures of compassion of the Buddha and the Christ stand luminous among the shadows. These are:

  1. The compassionate heart of healing
  2. The compassionate hand of social justice
  3. The compassionate spirit of peace
  4. The compassion mind healing the sword of dualism
  5. The compassionate feet dancing the dance of interconnectedness

This paper will not focus on the diversity of practice and theology within these traditions, but rather upon the core strands within each tradition whose meeting places are compassion.

1. The compassionate heart of healing

Both Buddha and Christ manifest profound commitments to the healing of humanity. Prince Siddharta, was touched by human suffering that he observed on his visit outside the Palace and his compassion for humanity led him to seek the cause of suffering and the liberation of suffering for humanity. He saw greed, hatred and delusion as the cause of suffering. In his famous sermon on fire, he described the ungoverned desires of the astral body that were raging uncontrollably within the unawakened human being;

Everything, O bhikkus is burning…the eye is burning: visible things are burning; the mental impressions based on the eye are burning…with what fire is it burning? I declare unto you that it is burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of anger, with the fire of ignorance; it is burning with the anxieties of birth, decay, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection, and despair.

Buddha's primary mission of healing to humanity was to show through the eightfold pathway, the way to the liberation of suffering. This liberation required insight into the forces of the astral body, so that mankind could step out of endless cycle of aversion and desire which binds them to and the endless cycle of rebirth. The astral body must be purified so that humanity can realize its potential freed from the fetters of the accumulated patterns of aversion and desire. This is illustrated through the eightfold path:

  1. Right view: the view of things not governed by antipathy or sympathy
  2. Right judgement; based not on residues of earlier incarnations or experiences but by independent thinking
  3. Right speech: the expression of experience that is based on right judgement and right view
  4. Right action: the consequence of thee above
  5. Right vocation: the application of the above principles
  6. Right effort: commitment to make the qualities above a habit in one’s life
  7. Right mindfulness: focus of his energies in the present moment:
  8. Right concentration: immersion in the true nature of the phenomena, free from the lenses of past experiences, or aversion and desire.

This path to the healing of the human astrality demonstrated by the Buddha, became a precious gift to human evolution. Steiner (1929:53) captures the significance of this gift:

The teaching of compassion and love came into existence then for the first time in the history of mankind in the form of human faculties which man has since been able to develop from his own very self

These teachings essentially impart to humanity a process for developing an inner moral sense from their own purified faculties. This is the foundation of compassion. When Anada wept as the Buddha died physically, the Buddha replied:

Grieve not that the Master is departing. I am leaving you with the Law of Wisdom and the Law of Discipline. For the future they will serve as substitutes for the Master (Steiner, 1929:53).

Compassion for Buddha is the radiance of wisdom; it is the heart in action as a result of illumination from the purified mind. In the liberation from human suffering. Buddha placed much emphasis on the power of the mind. He claimed:“The world is led by mind, by mind the world is drawn along; all have gone under the sway of the mind”(Piyadassi, 1991:63). Only when thinking is purified from all aversion and desire, can one become awake. It is not the place of quiet contemplation, often mistaken by some Christians as a place of withdrawal from the world; it is the place of from which arises right judgement and powerful transformative action. In the words of the Buddha:

I know what should be known,
What should be cultivated, I have cultivated.
What should be abandoned that I have abandoned?
Hence, I am the BUDDHA, the Awakened One ( Piyadassi, 1991: 65)

It is in this place that the heart becomes truly compassionate. The beauty of the compassionate heart in action to heal the suffering in the world is illustrated by the story of the birth of the Boddhisattva, Tara. Chenresig had a heart so big that his body was said to glow with the bright white light that shone from it and the rays of light and loved streamed forth to the world to heal all those who were suffering. One day, resting deeply in thought of how he could help even more people he began to grow new arms and each new arm had an eye that could see the suffering of people in distant lands. With his thousand new arms and thousand new eyes, he could see millions of beings in pain but still could not help them all. When he realised this, a tear welled up in his eye and as it fell to earth it became the beautiful spirit of compassion. The Boddhisattva, Tara could hear the cries of suffering humanity and always when called, she would speed to their assistance. She has 21 emanations, all embodiments of the active compassion revealed by the Buddha. She has many colours and many names: Kannon in Japan, Kuan Yin in China, but everywhere she is “the hearer of the cries of the world”. It is this compassionate heart of the Buddha which was developed in Mahayana Buddhism heralded by the famous Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 lines or Prajnaparamita scriptures, about five centuries after the Buddha’s death and a century before the birth of the Christ. Here, the archetypal Mother of all Buddhas, the perfection of Wisdom the Eternal Substance, beyond all divisions appears. She is the Grandmother of all beings (Macy, 1991:106-7). The archetype of the compassionate universal heart, the wisdom of eternal substance is exposed in all its power and its glory to humanity. Only then can the Christ be born and the Eternal principle of Love become manifest on earth.

The Christ can be born only when the Buddha has been born, both literally and metaphorically. The Buddha prepares the way. For unless one has awakened from the raging fires of the astral delusion, hatred and greed, then one cannot know the purified fire that the Christ brings. This is the Redeemers fire, the burning Gold spoken about so eloquently by Blake in his poem, Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green
And was the holy lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen…
Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
I will not rest from mortal fight
Nor shall my bow rest in my hand
Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

The Christ brings the redeeming and transforming power of love to suffering humanity. It is through love’s redeeming power, that the Christ sheds his own blood to reinvigorate the life streams of the planet. Christ brought the compassionate heart of healing to the world by embodying on this earth the manifestation of overflowing love, transcending the limits of self. He manifested and embodied the highest power of love within the being, which culminated in his redeeming work. His healing words demonstrated the highest power of love to transmute the suffering of humanity. The gospel abounds with stories of him healing the afflicted and suffering ones: the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind speak. Steiner (1929: 175) symbolizes the complementary roles of the Buddha and the Christ. One brings the Wheel of the Law, the other the Wheel of Love. Together we have the gifts to humanity of understanding of the laws of love, and entering the experience of the power of redeeming love. In their great act of healing suffering humanity, Buddha embodied for humanity the faculty of the highest moral insight, developed through conquering the fires of the astrality. Christ embodied for humanity the redeeming power of love that can only occur when the boundaries of the ego dissolve into the ocean of boundless compassion.

2. The compassionate hand of social justice/action

Both Buddha and Christ engaged in active compassion in the world. Both brought messages of transformation, that although begin with the personal, are in consequence social events. Buddha in the Sonadanda sutta, questioned brahminic supremacy (Jones, 1989:1990). In the Metta sutra, quoted by Kabilsingh (Badiner, 1990:12), Buddha argued for the spiritual rights of all persons, the rights of women and of all sentient beings including trees and animals. Robert Thurman notes eloquently that:

The coming to Buddhahood is a social event , involving a whole field of sentient beings, whose collective existence must be developed to the point where the whole land is transformed, from an impure land of violence and exploitation and suffering into a pure land. We need human qualities such as moral scruples, compassion and humility (Jones, 1989:323-4)

Compassion implies radical action arising from one’s moral faculties, which acts on behalf of the rights and needs of all living things. It is significant that the many of the recognised Saints of Christianity and all of the Bodhisattvas of Buddhism demonstrate compassionate deeds in the world. Buddhist examples include the School of Youth for Social Service and the Third Way movement led by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh during the Vietnam war. The compassion of Buddhism comes from the development of moral faculties. The exponents of this social action may be viewed as radical, as was the Indian Buddhist, Dr Ambedkar, but the demand for social justice and equality of opportunity is a morally powerful force in transforming society.

The Sarvodaya shramadana movement for community development in Sri Lanka. Macy (1991:40) is known internationally as an effort to create social justice through grass roots development of essential village and community based projects. It mobilises communities of individuals to work together for the common good. Each project begins with a meditation based on “metta” or loving kindness meditation that summons participants to enter the boundless heart of Buddha, the seat of loving kindness.

Compassion “karuna”, is the translation of “metta” into action for the well-being of others and is so beautifully expressed through the image of the Boddhisattva, the one who having achieved enlightenment returns to the world in compassionate service of the suffering.

A Boddhisattva resolves: I take upon myself the burden of all suffering, I am resolved to do so, and I will endure it. I do not turn or run away, do not tremble, am not terrified, nor afraid, do not turn back. At all costs I must bear the burdens of all beings.The whole world of living beings I must rescue from the terrors of birth, of old age, of sickness, of death and rebirth, of all kinds of moral offence, of all states of woe, of the whole cycle of birth and death, of the jungle of false views, of the loss of wholesome dharmas, of the concomitants of ignorance, from all these terrors I must rescue all beings (Burtt: 1982:153).

The compassionate hand of social action was the essence of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 25.34-46, Christ addresses explicitly six works of compassion:

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, come you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink?

I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. Then the virtuous will say to him in reply: Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink. And the king will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brethren of mine, you did it to me.”

Saint Francis of Assisi is the archetypal manifestor of the compassionate hand of Christ in the world, so poignantly expressed in his famous prayer:

Lord make me an instrument of the peace,
Where there is wrong let me bring forgiveness
Where there is discord let me bring harmony
Where there is error let me bring truth
Where there is doubt let me bring faith
Where there is despair let me bring hope
Where there is sadness let me bring joy.
Lord grant that I may seek to comfort rather than be comforted
To understand than to be understood
To love than to be loved
For it is in forgetting self-that one finds
It is forgiving that one is forgiven
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Eckhart (Fox 1983: 121) argued for a radical view of compassion and justice making in the 13th century. He wrote:

If a person were in a rapture as great as St Paul once experienced and learned that her neighbour was in need of a cup of soup,

It would be best to withdraw from the rapture and give the person the soup she needs.

In this century, the work of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, stands as a monument of compassion of Christ in action among the poorest of the poor. (Vardy :1995)

One of the most beautiful images of the compassionate hand of action is the jewelled net of Indra. Each being is a jewel, a node in the net of infinite connectedness, each jewel reflecting back and radiating to other jewels in this net of caring interdependence. And although the Buddhist experience may emphasize the interconnectedness of all beings, a moral interpenetration, and the Christian experience emphasize the immanence of God in all being, both lead to the development of the good heart. The spiritual recognition of interdependence and divine immanence, is the reality of the compassionate hand in justice making in the world.

3. The compassionate spirit of peace

The teaching of the Buddha has been a powerful force turning humanity from violence to compassion. Through the Wheel of the Dharma, the Buddha reveals the way to conquer aversion and desire, the means to escape the maelstrom of the astrality that leads to inner conflict, then manifests as outer conflict and violence. The Tibetan Buddhist image of the Warriors of Shambala provides a powerful description of the war and how it is to be won. The Warriors of Shambala are the metaphysical army that has come to transform darkness into light, war into peace and to dismantle the mind-made weapons of destruction, conflict and discord. The companion weapon for the Warriors of Shambala is insight into the profound interrelationships of all life, insight into the human being knowing that the line between good and evil is within each mind and heart, and the knowing that the war which must be fought, is first within. It is compassion, insight, and mindfulness that can sustain the transformation from conflict to peace. As a person follows the dharma teaching and opens to the path of mindfulness, compassion and insight there arises “a clear forest pool” within us, that Ajahn Chah (1985) describes as the consequences of this state of upekka or equanimity:

All kinds of wonderful, rare creatures will come to drink at the pool, and you will see clearly the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is happiness of the Buddha.

It is the space where arises freedom and clarity that are beyond either hope or despair. It is the place that transcends antipathies and sympathies. Here alone, one comes to know an inner peace, and it is from that place that we can make the most effective contribution to outer peace making. It is here individuality melts away in the recognition of the interdependence of all things, and our finiteness no longer oppresses us. All is interconnected. This recognition of our essential nonseparateness from any part of the world dismantles the walls erected out of fear and greed. It is the dharma gift of compassion that leads to non-violence. This can transform violence and conflict into social harmony and peace.

If there is no peace, no freedom from discord, there is no place for the Christ to born within the individual. Christ’s birth was heralded by the Angelic choirs singing “ glory be to God on High and on earth peace to his people of good will” Steiner (1929:73) suggests that the angelic choir actually was the Nirmanakaya or Body of the transformed Buddha, radiating upon the Christ child. What Buddha had given the world became incorporated in the Christ. Christ ‘s act of peace making went further. According to Christian esoteric writer, Todd Ferrier, (1926:163) Christ also came to undertake a planetary peace making process by bearing the very power of the Divine solar force into the earth to transmute the darkness that prevailed in and around the planet, and to infuse the planet with life giving and sustaining power. This process he terms the “Oblation”. This great work was complementary to the Buddha’s peace making mission. As the Buddha undertook to redeem human astrality, so the Christ undertook to redeem the planetary astral realms which had become so inimical to many of the planetary children, that without this great deed, and manifestation of love’s redeeming power, the planet and many of her children would be lost altogether (Todd Ferrier,1953: 388). It is through these great deeds of peacemaking that the Buddha and the Christ have brought the possibility of peace on this planet within our grasp within the next two millenia.

`The compassionate spirit of peace taught by the Buddha and the Christ, I believe, touches the animal kingdom. I agree wholeheartedly with Fox (1979) that human liberation from non-violence depends on the recognition of animal rights and on a compassionate response to these rights. Vaclavik in his work on The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ sights the writings of Joshua Evans ( 1731-1798). He was a Quaker and wrote passionately to his friends about the connection between killing animals for food and sport ,and human warfare. This view is supported by Todd Ferrier (1968) and articulated by Arundale:

The world as a whole is at war with the animal kingdom, as witness flesh-eating, hunting, and so forth. The aftermath of inter-kingdom war is inter -human war: and let us clearly realize that war never ends war…The only way to end war is to determine that there shall be no war anywhere, for war any where means sooner or later, war everywhere.

There is widespread belief among Christians who believe that Christ was connected with the Essene communities, that he was also vegetarian and manifested compassion to all life (Holmes-Gore,1971: 88). I share such a view for a compassionate spirituality means a heart that is open to the suffering of all life and which would refrain from killing animals for food, fashion, sport or experimental science. It is also the heart that could celebrate the joy of nature life so beautifully expounded by Saint Francis of Assisi in his Canticle of the Creatures (Linzey,1987:156).

Buddha had profound compassion for the non-human kingdom. He publicly opposed the Brahminical system of animal sacrifice:

Of life which all can take but none can give
Life wonderful dear and pleasant unto each,
Given to the meanest: yea a boon to all
Where pity is; for pity makes the world
Soft to the weak and noble for the strong-
Being as a God to these; albeit all Life
Is linked and kin and what we slay have given
Meek tribute of the milk and wool, and set
Fast trust upon the hands that murder them.

While still our lord went on, teaching how fair
This earth were, if all living things be linked
In friendliness and common use of foods,
Bloodless and pure- the golden grain, bright fruits,
Sweet herbs, which grow for all, the waters wan,
Sufficient drinks and meats –- which when these heard,
The might of gentleness so conquered them. (Todd Ferrier, 1968:26)

The first Buddhist precept is to refrain from taking life. Although many Buddhists are not vegetarian it, is still regarded as the most compassionate path. Kapleau, (1986) a very respected contemporary monk and scholar, writes of his awakening to the compassionate spirit towards animals or non-violence:

I wrestled with my conscience, trying to reconcile the first Buddhist vow to refrain from taking life with my obvious complicity in the slaughter of innocent creatures whose flesh I consumed. I pretended to love animals while at the same time regularly eating them. I knew Anatole France was only half right when he said, “Until one has loved an animal part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” What he also needed to say was that until one has stopped eating animals true peace of soul is impossible.
It is in Buddha nature that all existences, animate and inanimate, are unified and harmonized. All organisms seek to maintain this unity in terms of their own karma. To willfully take life, therefore means to disrupt and destroy this inherent wholeness and to blunt feelings of reverence and compassion arising from our Buddha mind.

Thus, both the Buddha and the Christ manifested an all-embracing compassion that recognized the interconnectedness of all life.

4. the compassionate mind overcoming the sword of dualism

Dualistic modes of thinking that have dominated Western world are separating and divisive. Dualism is a way of seeing life as either or, inside/ outside. Great Christian writers such as Eckhart have seen dualism as original sin. Contemporary Christian theologians such as Mary Daly and Matthew Fox agree that dualistic thinking and perception has poisoned the human capacity for spirituality. It is an antithetical gesture to compassion which is a gesture of inclusiveness, of both /and. Fox ( 1990:82) names dialectical consciousness as the antidote to the poison of dualism which judges, separates and is intolerant of diversity. Dialectical consciousness is a way of thinking that embraces suffering and joy, acts of humanity and inhumanity. At the heart of this dialectic is forgiveness, forgiveness of the nature that Christ manifest and so poignantly expressed at the hour of his crucifixion “Father, forgive them for they know not what they; do.” The move away from dualism with its competition, compulsion and judgement is a radical transformation of consciousness. As Fox (1990: 103) so aptly describes, it is to enter the cosmic dance of thinking:

(To pass from dualism) is to pass to celebration by way of letting be letting go and letting dialectic happen. This way lies all dance, whether the dance of the atoms or the dance of the humans, or the dances in between. This way also lies the divine dance, the divine dialectic that is meant to continue creation which is a celebration through that newly named divinity which is human beings. This is a way of living in harmony with nature so that it can be said that a new heaven and a new earth are eager to be born.

Buddhism has had at its heart a strong non-dualistic worldview. It seeking to discover the cause of human suffering Buddha discovered the principles of anicca (impermanence) and anatta (not-self).It is through the eightfold path, particularly the practice of mindfulness and concentration which lead to a direct experience of impermanence and non-self, that one wakes up to the nature of interbeing. As Tich Nhat Hahn (1995:184) elucidates

Some people say that buddhist practice is to dissolve the self. They do not understand that there is no self to be dissolved. There is only the notion of self to be transcended….

The recognition of not-self is the death of dualism. Anatta leads us to transcend separation, distinction and divisiveness. It takes away the grasping for ego over others, for us over them. Joanna Macy (1991:189), a western Buddhist and world leader in the environmental and social justice movement, proclaims the powerfully liberating and transforming nature of Buddha’s concept of not-self:

Buddhism undermines categorical distinctions between self and other and belies the concept of a continuous, self-existent entity. It then goes farther that systems’ theory in showing the pathogenic character of any reifications of the self. It goes farther still in offering methods for transcending these difficulties and healing this suffering. What the Buddha woke up to under the Bodhi Tree was the paticca samuppada, the dependent co-arising of phenomena, in which you cannot isolate a separate continuous self. We think, What do we do with the self, this clamorous I, always wanting attention, always wanting its goodies? Do we crucify it, sacrifice it, mortify it, punish it, or do we make it noble? Upon awaking we realize, “ Oh it just isn’t there.

When through the practice of mindfulness and concentration the nature of interbeing has been penetrated, then you are reborn. Thich Nhat Than (1995: 185) likens this to Thomas Merton’s notion of being reborn in the Holy Spirit when you acquire the true awareness “ that one has died and risen in Christ.” It is akin to what Matthew Fox terms: “the coming of the cosmic Christ”. You have penetrated what Buddha terms bodhicitta, original mind, or the mind of enlightment. It is then that one has become awake. It is form this place that one can alone come to understand nirvana described in The Tripitaka:

Nirvana is the area where there is no earth, water, fire and air: it is not the region of infinite space, nor that of infinite consciousness. It is not the region of nothing at all, nor the border between distinguishing and not distinguishing; not this world nor the other world; where there is neither sun nor moon. I will not call it coming and going, nor standing still, nor fading away, nor beginning. It is without foundation, without continuation and without stopping. It is the end of suffering (____, 1982:234)

Above all the outcome of this awakening that was brought by the Buddha and the Christ is the awakening to our interconnectedness with all of life, with all being. It is the spirituality called compassion that lives and breathes, in the light of this awakening. Thich Nhat Hanh (1987, 63-4) powerfully expresses this in this poignant poem:

Please call me by my true names

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
To be a bud on a spring branch,
To be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
Learning to sing in my new nest,
To be a caterpillar in the heart of flower,
To be a jewel hiding itself in a stone…

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
In order to fear and to hope,
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which when spring comes,
Arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond,
And I am also the grass-snake who,
Approaching in silence,
Feeds itself on the fog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones
My legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee
On a small boat,
Who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate
I am the sea pirate
My heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with
Plenty of power in my hands,
And I am the man who has to pay his
Debt of blood to my people,
Dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes
Flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it
Fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
So I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,
So I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
So I can wake up,
And so the door of my heart can be left open,
The door of compassion.

5.the compassionate feet dancing the dance of interconnectedness

All of the acts of compassion led to the triumphant dance of the spiritually awaked one: the dance of interconnectedness in pain and in joy. This is the understanding of the most modern physics and ecology.

It was the insight of Buddha in his great doctrine of “dependent origination.” Here no part of reality is self-existent. Each identifiable element of reality is related to a multiplicity of other elements, which serve as conditions on which it depends for its existence. Buddha was acutely aware of the implications of this pattern of existence and his discourses call attention to the need to recognise their interdependence with all living things in the environment. The Buddha laid down regulations against the desecration of nature. From a Buddhist view, the environmental crisis is a manifestation of a moral crisis resulting from failure to follow the middle Path enumerated in the 8-fold way. In Buddhist countries, the compassionate dance of interbeing is evident. For example, many rare species such as the snow leopard, and blue sheep are found in Nepal and Bhutan who follow a deeply compassionate dance with their natural environment. In Bhutan, under common law, killing a particular type of bird carries a life-sentence. Killing other creatures also carry penalties. It is not suprising that that Buddhist philosophy and practice are at the forefront of modern day environmental movements. It provides a cosmic ecology . Badiner (1990:xvii) goes further and terms it: “Dharma Gaia” or earth consciousness. “Thinking like a mountain, grasps this relationship” as does Synder when he describes himself as “A brown bear with honey dripping down my fur as I run to catch the bus to work”. The metta sutra exemplifies this compassionate core in Buddhism: “thus as a mother with her own life guards the life of her own child, let all embracing thoughts for all that live be thine”(Kabilsingh: 1990; 12). It is captured in the ancient Buddhist mantra, “May all beings be happy, May all beings be at peace”.

The message of Christ is primarily a cosmic message. He manifested the power of divine love generated by the ultimate connection of interdependence, becoming a burden bearer of the sins of humanity, in the ultimate sacrifice of Love upon the Cross of Golgotha. This was the act of fusing his very lifestreams with the planet for the healing and well being of all life. Eckhart (Fox 1983; 113) emphasizes Christian compassion that leads to peace that has at its heart, the recognition of interdependence. Fox, makes very clear the connection between a compassionate Christianity and the recognition of the interdependence of all living things: Compassion is spirituality as if creation mattered. It is treating all creation as holy and as divine. Rabbi Dressner (Fox 1994:31) captures the power of compassion to heal the wounds of separation:

The possibility of fulfilling the commandment, Love thy neighbour as thyself is only understood when we read the next phrase... Thus God tells us, thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself, because I am the Lord. That is to say, because your self and his are bound up, I in me: because you are not really distinct and competing beings, but together share in the one existence; because ultimately you are no self and he no neighbour but one in source and destiny.

The immanence of God is interdependence. In that way, one creature sustains another. One enriches the other. Anna Bonus Kingsford, (Todd Ferrier, 1905:38) captures the power of this immanence and what it means for a compassionate spirituality when she writes:

The Christ Within:

The wrongs of others wound the Son of God,
And the stripes of others fall on his flesh.
He is smitten with the pains of all creatures,
And his heart is pierced with their wounds
There is no offence done and he suffers not;
Nor any wrong and he is not hurt thereby.
For his heart is in the breast of every creature, and his blood in the veins of all flesh.
I am wounded in my right hand for man
I am wounded in my left hand for woman
I am wounded in my right foot for the creatures of the earth
And in my left foot for the creatures of the sea
And in my heart for all.


Buddha and Christ meet in the good heart, the compassionate heart where separation and divisiveness disappear and cosmic interdependence appears. Both have manifested a way of being that is marked by non-violence, justice, healing and wholeness. This planet has future because of the manifestations of both the Buddha and the Christ. Buddha brought into this world a body, which could unfold out of itself, the forces to purify the astrality, clarify perception and create morality from the highest points of wisdom. He brought through this awakened beingness the compassionate awareness of interdependence of all beings. The wheel of dharma, bequeathed to humanity by the Buddha has contributed three salving powers to the world: firstly, the means to develop wisdom and morality, secondly, the practice of the compassionate way, thirdly the power both of these active forces harness, to deal with the current world ecological crisis. The beingness of the world is in the balance and Dharma Gaia is prepared to midwife humanity through the crisis. Christ brought into this world a manifestation, which would allow for the development of a humanity who could transcend ego with overflowing love that could go beyond all boundaries or limitations. As Buddha undertook the redemption of the human astral body, so the Christ, through the death and oblatory work undertook the redemption of the planetary astral realms so that the solar divine lifestreams might again pour into the planet. These great deeds of love, of the Buddha and the Christ continue to infuse the planetary evolution with hope and with the promise of a new epoch governed by a spiritual morality named compassion.


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Dr Patricia Sherwood
Edith Cowan University
Dept of Cultural Studies

Sherwood, P. (1999) A spirituality named compassion: Buddhism and Christianity at Multi-faith conference, Adelaide.