Hermeneutic and Buddhist Meditations
Edited By David W. Jardine, Christopher Gilham and Graham McCaffrey
Chapter Two: Idiot Compassion
Compassion, “suffering with,” is bound to suffering and arises in response to suffering. If suffering is part of the human condition, an aspect of experience that calls for understanding and not only complaint, rejection, and avoidance, then compassion cannot be simply a countervailing fix for suffering. If suffering is at least in some aspects pedagogic through its intimate place in ecologies of human life, then compassion also has to be honoured without idealization, along with its aporias, shadows, and absences. Here I explore compassion from various directions, including Mahayana Buddhist archetypes of compassion and wisdom and my own experience as a mental health nurse. Compassion deserves attention—it is worthwhile, which means that it is important but signals that it is not necessarily straightforward. “In asking after worthwhileness, we are asked to find our measure in such things that awaken us and our interest” (Jardine, 2012, p. 176). Necessity instils the tragic into suffering, and it does the same for compassion. Suffering and compassion are bound together dialectically. Exploring compassion critically is not about diminishing compassion or looking for self-protective distance. It is pointing to a fuller appreciation of compassion in a world in which it is, and will go on being, misplaced, misguided, or simply missing. And by world, I include my own “body, speech and mind” (Ehrhard, 1991, p. 25), using an expression from Vajrayana and Zen traditions that prompts attention to how we are immersed...
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