More Precious than a Wish-fulfilling Jewel

Chiron was a centaur, and if you know your Greek mythology, you’ll recall that centaurs are half-human, half-horse. Chiron, however, was a something special. He was extremely wise, and he was an immortal god to boot. One day he was accidently struck by Hercules’ arrow. The wound was so agonizingly painful, Chiron wanted to die. But he couldn’t, because he was immortal. One of the downsides to being a god, I guess.

Eventually, he was able to renounce his immortality and before he went off to Elysium (the afterlife), he taught the art of medicine to man, and to gods, including Askelpios, who became the god of medicine. For this, Chiron is known as the “father of medicine” and the “wounded healer.”

Carl Jung borrowed “wounded healer” to describe an archetype he saw in the relationship between an analyst and patients. An analyst, or doctor, is able to treat others because “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”

If we unpack that idea a bit, then we can say that generally speaking, as we are all wounded in some way, for we all experience pain and suffering, and because each of us has the capacity to help others to alleviate their pain and suffering, we are all healers. Furthermore, as the myth of Chiron represents the ideal of compassion and selfless service, it is similar to the ideal of the Bodhisattva; so, we can be Bodhisattvas, too.

Jung, in outlining his concept of the wounded healer in Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy (1951), said he believed disease was the best training for a physician.

Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”
Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”

There is no doubt that the experience of sufferings is beneficial training for the practice of altruism, but in Buddhism the prime cause for helping others is much more fundamental. In Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti wrote, “Compassion alone is seen as the seed . . . as water for its growth, and as ripening into a lasting source of usefulness. And so, first, I pay homage to compassion.”

He’s talking about Bodhicitta, the wish to realize awakening for the benefit of all living beings. There are two kinds of bodhicitta: “aspiration bodhicitta”, generating the thought, and “action bodhicitta” or putting the thought into practice.

Year ago, at a meditation class I was leading, a first time visitor, a rather cynical young man, wanted to know why we should practice compassion. He thought there should be a reason for it. I must admit that I failed at making him understand that compassion does not need a reason. It is a kind of vicarious identification, you see the suffering of living beings and you feel empathy, you feel compassion. I realize now that he suffered from an acute sense of separation from others and consequently, he thought he needed some rationale for practicing compassion.

That is why it is important for us who understand the inseparability, the interdependence of all things to reflect on thoughts like the one we find expressed in Geshe Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Training the Mind:

By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.


3 thoughts on “More Precious than a Wish-fulfilling Jewel

  1. I wonder if the young man who questioned practicing compassion was not so much suffering from an acute sense of separation, but instead was seeking to avoid pain and suffering for himself. In my experience having true empathy and thus compassion for others most times involves some level of sharing, a “sitting with them,” in their pain and suffering. Why do that for others if that means also sharing and thus experiencing their pain and suffering?

    1. Liam, I think you are right. It may be that in wanting some justification for the practice of compassion, he was actually seeking to find a way out from dealing with his own pain and suffering. At the same time, to share with others or even just to be with others, there must be some sense of connectedness. I think he was not only disconnected from others but from himself as well.

      Thanks for leaving the comment.

  2. Karuna (compassion) is huge in eastern(indian) religions, particularly buddhism. It is for a reason. A logical, objective, practical reason. There is no other virtue that is as closely tied/inter-linked to the buddha’s core topic of teaching – suffering.

    In other words, if one does not fully comprehend what having a pure, unbiased, uncompromising compassion means, he has no chance of transcending (understanding/going-beyond) suffering , which is the ultimate goal of buddha’s teaching.

    Perfect Compassion (Bodhicitta) means one reached perfect non-duality. All suffering is one and the same. One does not see distinction. “self” falls off.

    Karma-wise , there is probably no other action that can bring exponential results other than the dwelling in pure-compassion (aka non-duality). It is the great short-cut to nirvana.

    Shantideva’s whole practice is around this. Practicing bodhicitta means practicing pure non-duality, in spirit, and deed.

    It is not really about feeling connection with others, its rather about not seeing “any separation” or distinction (non-duality). There is a difference. As long as one perceives it as “connection”, there is a sense of self, and other. (duality).

    I also disagree with Liam’s suggestion that expressing or having compassion , is somehow “painful”. Well, one does see/experience other’s suffering, but it is more like how how a mother expresses compassion to her child in suffering, it is natural, and infused with unbiased, uncompromising love. It is not in any way undesirable pain/suffering. And Bodhicitta is even purer – as there is no “self” aspect unlike the mother’s example.

    Compassion is also a great “seed”/tool for gaining perfect wisdom. It strengthens one’s ability to “feel” (understand) anything. No mind limitations (monkeying around) or “fear of suffering (of any/all forms)”

    Its probably the best exercise (“karma”) if there is any.

    And, its the way(“dharma), the right thing to do.

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