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karuṇā


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(Skt.). Compassion, a virtue which is of importance in all schools of Buddhism but which is particularly emphasized by the Mahāyāna. In early Buddhism, karuṇā figures as the second of the four Brahma-vihāras or ‘Divine Abidings’. These qualities are cultivated especially through the practice of meditation and are directed towards other beings without restriction. In the Mahāyāna, karuṇā is emphasized as the necessary complement to insight (prajñā) and as an essential ingredient in the perfection of the fully enlightened. In Mahāyāna sources, insight and compassion are compared to two wings with which one flies to the island of enlightenment. The followers of the Hīnayāna are criticized for their lack of karuṇā and for seeking a purely personal enlightenment regardless of the needs of others. The Bodhisattva of the Mahāyāna, on the other hand, seeks to attain nirvāṇa for the benefit of all, and vows that he will not cease from his efforts until all being have attained liberation. Some sources go so far as to allow karuṇā to override all other considerations, and enjoin the commission of immoral actions if the Bodhisattva sees that the use of skilful means (upāya-kauśalya) would reduce suffering. In Mahāyāna iconography and art the symbolic embodiment of compassion is the great Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.‘the one who looks down from on high’. He is portrayed as having a thousand arms extended in all directions to minister to those in need. He is constantly appealed to for aid and intercession by those in difficult circumstances. In the course of time there appeared a doctrine of salvation by faith according to which the mere invocation of the name of a Buddha was sufficient, given the extent of the Buddha's compassion, to ensure rebirth in a ‘Pure Land’ or heaven.

Subjects: Buddhism.


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