Is Compassion Attachment?

Question: About these words…

‘Seeing Form itself as Emptiness
produces great Wisdom
so one does not dwell in birth and death;

Seeing Emptiness as equivalent to Form
produces great Compassion
so one does not dwell in Nirvana.’


If we are not going to dwell in Nirvana, what are we going to do? Is it true that 佛度有缘人 (the Buddha guides those with affinity to liberation)? 普度众生 (universally guiding beings to liberation) is a vow to liberate all. Is it also considered as 执著 (attachment) to do good?

Answer: ‘Dwelling in Nirvana’ refers to being attached to Nirvana. Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are not attached to it, as they traverse freely to 度有缘人. Even if some lack (affinity; conditions) at the moment, they will await for it to arise while doing their best to help it arise. This is not attachment but simply the perfectly natural expression of perfect compassion with wisdom. Just as the sun is not attached to shining but just shines, it being the sun’s true nature, likewise, Buddha-nature realised leads simply to the natural expression of compassion with wisdom with total ease. The Bodhisattvas and Buddhas do not suffer when they can’t help some beings at the moment due to lack of affinity because just as they are not attached to Nirvana, they are not attached to Samsara either. This is the deeper meaning of the Heart Sutra – to be neither attached to the forms of Samsara nor the emptiness realised in Nirvana. Realising this and being on the Middle Path is Ultimate Nirvana attained.

Question: What is the difference between Nirvana and Ultimate Nirvana?

Answer: ‘Nirvana’ is self-liberation, ‘Ultimate Nirvana’, as pointed out in the Heart Sutra, is complete liberation, being able to liberate oneself and others. Ultimate Nirvana (究竟涅槃) is Buddhahood; while Nirvana is Arhathood.

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