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Dinner and Discussion: Compassion and Emptiness

Dinner & Discussion: Compassion and Emptiness


"The hand and the other limbs are many and distinct,

But all are one - the body to be kept and guarded.

Likewise, different beings, in their jobs and sorrows,

Are, like me, all one in wanting happiness...

And therefore I'll dispel the pain of others,

For it is simply pain, just like my own.

And others I will aid and benefit,

For they are living beings, like my body.

Since I and other beings both,

In wanting happiness, are equal and alike,

What difference is there to distinguish us,

That I should strive to have my bliss alone?"

-Shantideva in “The Way of the Bodhisattva”  

At first glance, the Buddhist teachings on ‘compassion’ and ‘emptiness’ seem completely unrelated. Compassion is easily seen and felt. It can be giving a hungry person food, a sick person medicine, a lonely person a hug, or a sad person a warm smile. Most of us have probably felt compassion or have been shown compassion by others. If compassion is warm and direct, then what exactly is emptiness? Teachings on emptiness are typically seen as extremely lofty, abstract philosophical methods far removed from daily life. Furthermore, from the time of the Buddha himself, people have very often misunderstood emptiness as something negative and nihilistic. Far from being opposed, however, compassion and emptiness are often taught to be inseparable:

"Subhuti, a good son or daughter who wants to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind must create this resolved attitude of mind: 'I must help to lead all beings to the shore of awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, in truth I know that not even a single being has been liberated.' Why is this so? If a disciple cherishes the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a universal self, then that person is not an authentic disciple. Why? Because in fact there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind."

-Chapter 17 of the Diamond Sutra References to the inseparability of compassion and the wisdom that arises from understanding emptiness abound in numerous Buddhist texts, such as the above quoted Diamond Sutra. It is also often taught that enlightened beings that have been liberated through the perfect realization of emptiness are solely motivated by compassion to teach and help others. The connection between compassion and emptiness would therefore seem quite strong.

 Join us for an evening of dinner and discussion as we explore the relationship between the Buddhist teachings on compassion and emptiness. Some of our discussion points include: 

-What exactly is emptiness? What is it not?

-What are some of the ways that compassion and emptiness directly relate to each other?

-How can a better understanding of emptiness improve our practice of compassion and vice versa?

-How do the teachings of emptiness and compassion fit in with other Buddhist teachings (e.g, the bodhisattva vow, the Four Immeasurable States, etc.) 

Further Reading: “The Diamond Sutra”, translated by Alex Johnson 

“Emptiness: The Most Misunderstood Word in Buddhism” 

"Chapter 3: Compassion and Emptiness", from “Universal Love” by Lama Thubten Yeshe 

“Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior” by Shantideva, translated by Alexander Berzin 

-------Note: we are here to share and provide others with opportunity to speak. Also we need to be cognizant not to preach or solicit. Look forward to meeting everyone, 


Eddie, Jody, Rob

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  • Eddie Victor O.


    1 · July 10, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    Thank You Rob and Eddie for for the wonderful experience of sharing compassion and emptiness although we where never empty but filled with compassion and love of the Dharma teachings. Rob the book called the way of the Bodhisattva is order already and on its way to me. Thank you eddie

    July 10, 2014

  • Rob P.

    We’d also like to recommend a classic Buddhist text about the relationship between compassion and emptiness. “The Way of the Bodhisattva” (Sanskrit: Bodhicaryavatara) was composed by the Indian master Shantideva in the Eighth Century and has become especially popular in the Tibetan tradition. H. H. the Dalai Lama has said of this work "If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of the Bodhisattva path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it." There are many English translations available, however, we recommend two in particular. The first is a translation by the Padmakara Translation group and is published by Shambala ( The second a translation by Vesna and B. Alan Wallace, which is published by Snow Lion/Shambala ( With joined palms,
    Andy, Eddie, Jody, and Rob

    2 · July 9, 2014

  • Rob P.

    Greetings everyone! First, thank you all for coming out! Although we were tightly packed in, we had some wonderful discussions and made some great dharma connections. A special thanks goes to Ven. Guo Xing for taking the time from his busy schedule to join us. His many insightful answers to our many, many questions are much appreciated. As a quick follow up, here are a couple of links of interest. The text of the Tagore story Rob read at the beginning is story XXXVII from a collection called “The Fruit Gathering” (

    2 · July 9, 2014

  • Sangita

    Sorry I can't make it tonight :( I had some dental work done today, so not in the greatest shape... I'll be there this Fri though!

    July 8, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    My friends can't come this time but I will be there. A tree has roots twice as long as it is. Are my intuitive roots twice as long as me. How deep can I go to understand me? If I reach empty mind will my mind know my roots? Will I be attached to my roots. Can I be attached to something twice as long as me or longer. Could the answer bring me to enlightenment? Does it matter?

    July 7, 2014

  • Al G. A beautifully clear lecture on the nature of Emptiness
    Ven. Rabina Courtin, an Australian Buddhist nun. Extremely unpretentious, straight forward and lucid in her teaching. Well worth watching in my opinion.

    July 1, 2014

  • Nancy

    This is amazing, just yesterday I gave a lecture on these to very things, emptiness and compassion! I would like to try and come, I live in NJ and work up til 4 PM but could come to the city right after work.
    Nancy Fleming

    June 30, 2014

    • Jody C

      Awesome! Looking forward to meeting you.

      July 1, 2014

  • Eddie Victor O.

    Eddie I will envite a few more people to come I will let you know by July first if any one else besides me is coming for the dinner and talk eddie

    2 · June 30, 2014

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