Monthly Dharma Quotation: On Empathy and Caring for Others

As a group we recently watched the recordings of Rigdzin Shikpo’s teachings on “Death and Dying” over Zoom together. One of the students from that event felt that this quotation from those teachings was deeply inspiring and submitted it as this month’s Dharma quotation.

For great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, they could experience someone else’s emotions directly. But I think one doesn’t need to think that as an ordinary practitioner, you would be ruled out from that experience. Only that the experience you might have of such a thing might be just for a moment.

In the case of certain diseases, one is shut off it seems from the other person. I think there are two things you can say about that. One is that, for the reason I just said, that’s never entirely true and therefore for a moment you may be able to experience something of that person even if there’s just the sense of fellow feeling somehow, just a moment of a window opening between you and them somehow, just very very briefly. But that’s not a thing to be denigrated if you have that experience even for a very slight period of time. It is actually just as genuine as if you had it for a very long time.

The other thing that one worries about when people are cut off, say with dementia, is that somehow something bad has happened to them. That they’re no longer aware and it’s a big problem somehow. But it’s more like the communication between us and them is shut off. And that is not particularly a problem from a Buddhist perspective. The fact that they are not able to relate to us in the way we’re used to does not make them bad, it does not mean that their mind is corrupted in some sense. It’s just a temporary condition and it doesn’t have any karmic consequences, particularly.

You could still experience a moment of togetherness or empathy with that person and we don’t want to start saying, “Only great Bodhisattvas and Buddhas can somehow do this.” It happens all the time in small ways with all of us but we don’t recognize it. And we have a wish somehow not to acknowledge it because it’s the beginning of a kind of responsibility that ends up as the responsibilities of the great Bodhisattvas and the Buddhas. They have an overwhelming responsibility which isn’t onerous for them because they’ve passed beyond ego. I mean, if they had ego and all that responsibility, they’d crack! And you would hear the crack throughout the universe.

Rigdzin Shikpo

If you enjoyed this quotation then good news! We have scheduled another viewing of Rigdzin Shikpo’s teachings over Zoom for Friday, 30 April. We will be showing the teachings on “Mandala Principles in the Dzogchen Tradition.” For more information, see the event page here:

And if you are a student of Rigdzin Shikpo and have felt inspired by a quotation that you have transcribed or heard in a teaching, please submit it! Just send the transcription or simply where we can find the teaching to and we would be happy to include it in these monthly posts.

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