Meditative and Soteriological Developments of the "immeasurables" (apramāṇa) from Early Buddhist Thought to their Contemporary Receptions

Tue., Aug. 19th, 14:00-17:30

Compassion in the Āgamas and Nikāyas

Analayo, Bhikkhu (University of Hamburg & Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Jinshan, TWN)

The paper will explore two main aspects of the description of compassion in the early Buddhist discourses found in the Pali Nikāyas in comparison with their counterparts preserved in the Chinese Agamas and, whenever extant, in Sanskrit fragments and Tibetan translation:

1)“Compassion in action”, which is usually referred to with the term anukampā. Such early Buddhist compassion in action seems to find its expression predominantly in teaching activity. This in turn provides significant indications on the conception of compassion within the framework of early Buddhist thought.

2) “Meditative Compassion”, karuṇā, which nearly always occurs within the context of the four brahmavihāras. The paper will the standard description of meditation practice of karuṇā as a boundless radiation. This points to a form of practice without a specified object and thus appears to be quite different from the descriptions in later manuals that have influenced modern day practice.


The Four Immeasurables in the Bodhisattvabhūmi and Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra and their Implementation in a Study of Brain Imaging

Bhikshu, Huimin (Dharma Drum Buddhist College, New Taipei City, TWN)

First, this paper investigates the implications of the four immeasurables (catvāry apramāṇāni) in the Bodhisattvabhūmi and Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, concluding that these two texts approach the four immeasurable states of mind from two different points of view. Based on the three groups of sentient beings, the immeasurables of kindness, compassion, and empathic joy arise accordingly on relating to sentient beings in states of neither-suffering-nor-pleasure (kindness), suffering (empathic), and pleasure (empathic joy) respectively. On the other hand, delusion, hatred, and greed can also be aroused when one experiences these three kinds of states (neither-suffering-nor-pleasure, suffering, and pleasure). Consequently, bodhisattvas generate a strong intention (adhyāśaya)—the mind state of equanimity, the fourth immeasurable—to guide these three groups of sentient beings to abandon defilements. This interpretation goes beyond the traditional definition of the four immeasurables in earlier Buddhist thought.

Second, based on the above conclusion, we are trying to establish a new measuring scale through the use of brain imaging measurements of MRI/DIT/fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). This measuring scale is being designed in the context of an integrated project developed at Dharma Drum Buddhist College in collaboration with other Taiwanese universities, which is entitled “Imaging Benevolence and Compassion: An Experiment with Meditation in Religious Education.”


‘Great Compassion’ in Indian Buddhism

Dhammadinna, Samaneri (Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Jinshan District, New Taipei City, TWN)

This paper presents a historical study of textual sources testifying to the emergence of a soteriology of ‘great compas­sion’ (mahākaruṇā) in Indian Buddhism. This development both reflects and plays a part in several doctri­nal and religious changes that eventually will provide the signature of Mahāyāna practices, where ‘great compassion’ becomes para­mount within the ‘augmented’ meditative and experiential field of the bodhisattva.

The historical excursion through a selection of texts to be presented in the paper – ranging from Abhidharmic sources to a number of bodhisattva texts of the Middle Period, Mahāyāna sūtras as well as meditation scriptures such as the so-called Yogalehrbuch – begins with the extrapola­tion of compassion (karuṇā) out of the fourfold scheme of the immeasurables (apramāṇas) or divine abodes (brahmāvihāras) and the projection onto compassion and then ‘great compassion’ of an apriori motivational function in the spiritual path. The primacy of this new mode of compassion entails a major soteriological shift. The notion of teach­ing the Dharma for liberation – the main aspect of the compassionate solicitude (anukampa) of the Buddha and the arhats – is largely replaced by the (great) compassion of the bodhisattva, functional to a salvific pro­gramme comprising all beings. Here the attainment of great compas­sion possesses a unique meditative power towards the achieve­ment of omniscience (sarvajñā) as an essential characteristic of a Buddha. With mahākaruṇā gaining philosophical and religious primacy within Indian Buddhism, related meditative objects and areas of investigation such as emptiness and conditionality come also to be philosophically requali­fied.

With doctrinal and religious changes of such magnitude in place, the key role performed by ‘great compassion’ in the Mahāyāna ideological discourse, with regard to rhetorical and polemical discourses vis-à-vis the Śrāvaka-/Hīnayāna, and the core identity itself of the Mahāyāna movement, i.e., the undertaking of bodhisattva vows and precepts, becomes easier to understand historically.



Neuroscience of Compassion: Challenges and Opportunities

Hangartner, Diego (Mind & Life Institute Europe, Hadley, MA, USA)

Most recent scientific research has been focusing on mindfulness, compassion and even the social benefits of meditation. While the tools of modern science are by nature reductionist, the findings have had a major impact on the definitions of, to name a few, focused attention, altruism, compassion, and kindness. This has far reaching consequences for training and application, and has implications for the understanding of these concepts so central to Buddhism.

This presentation will explore how modern research and the natural sciences are shaping these concepts, how they instrumentalize such important topics, and how experience risks being reduced to mere baseline “well-being.” This paper will look at the consequences of the findings by brain sciences, clinical sciences, as well as other investigations on the understanding and implementations of practice, and how neuroscientific research per se is looking at mental states. It will also present the experiences of an active participant in scientific studies of meditation (in the role of a guinea pig), and how this participation has informed the presenter’s understanding of meditation practice.

One of the most critical insights in the scientific exploration of mental states is the emerging shift from an exclusively objective, third person perspective to the inclusion of the subjective, first person perspective. This has far-reaching and important consequences with regard to the foundations of scientific methodology. Using the Brahmavihāra of Compassion, it will be argued that any study of mental states, be that scientific or Buddhist, needs to consider the insights that have emerged from most recent research data: be that with regard to methodology, with regard to context, or to the limitations and feasibility of objectivity.


Immeasurable Devices: Their Treatment in the Damoduoluo chanjing and Further Distillation in Japanese Zen

Mohr, Michel (University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA)

This paper examines the Damoduoluo chanjing 達摩多羅禪經 (T 15 no. 618), a meditation sutra translated in the early fifth century. Its fourteenth section (修行四無量三昧第十四) provides a minute description of the samādhi resulting from the practice of the four immeasurables (apramāṇa). I will introduce the commentary on this sutra composed by the Japanese Rinzai teacher Tōrei Enji 東嶺圓慈 (1721–92). First published in 1784 and available only in a woodblock edition, his commentary in six volumes entitled Darumatara zenkyō settsū kōsho 達磨多羅禪經説通考疏 allows us to broaden our understanding of how the immeasurables were emphasized in both scholastic Buddhism and the Chan/Zen traditions. Tōrei distinguishes between these two approaches while ultimately highlighting their nonduality. After having discussed the shortcomings of Zen teachers who failed to encourage the practice of the four immeasurables, in a passage titled “the Way of the Patriarchs” (祖師之道) Tōrei examines examples of those who valued the immeasurables.

While building on the legacy of Fori Qisong 佛日契嵩 (1007–1072) and his Chuanfa zhengzonglun 傳法正宗論 (T 51 no. 2080, Treatise on the Dharma Transmission’s True Lineage), Tōrei offered his own insight into the significance of this practice and in particular into the ability of the immeasurables to serve as devices pushing the mind to overcome its discursive limitations. Such writings, where Japanese Zen teachers utilize the legacy of Chan luminaries active in the Song dynasty, always beg the question whether they were merely replicating the teachings of their Chinese predecessors or trying to innovate. This commentary illustrates both continuity and discontinuity. Yet, while demonstrating a high level of textual scholarship, the solidity of Tōrei’s approach is occasionally weakened by sectarian agendas, such as his attempt to argue for Bodhidharma’s authorship of the sutra.

The delivery of this paper will coincide with the production of the first English translation of section 14 of the Damoduoluo chanjing, which should encourage the scholarly community to reexamine this neglected source and to move beyond unproductive discussions about who the enigmatic Dharmatrāta may have been.

Confluence: Adoption and Adaptation of Lovingkindness and Compassion Practice in Buddhist and Secular Contexts

Neal, Dawn (Institute of Buddhist Studies and Sati Center for Buddhist Studies, San Francisco, USA)

Contemporary Buddhists are adapting lovingkindness and compassion praxis. Using a few specific vignettes, I will explore how the distinct practices of lovingkindness and compassion are being borrowed and adapted both in Buddhist religious traditions, and in secular environments.
This discussion examines the adaptation process from two perspectives. First, I will explore how some teachers adapt lovingkindness and compassion practices. Second, I will highlight some textual sources used by those adapting or secularizing lovingkindness and compassion practices, including the Mettā Sutta and the Visuddhimagga, perhaps the most influential Theravāda compendium in contemporary Buddhism. The phrases and categories of lovingkindness praxis in the Visuddhimagga now appear nearly verbatim in teachings of secular compassion practice. This cross-fertilization occurs directly between Buddhist traditions as well. For example, the Mettā Sutta has been adapted for use in American Soto Zen communities.
In short, this paper provides a small amount of primary research documenting the adaptation of praxis and textual sources within contemporary Buddhism and the secular practices of lovingkindness and compassion derived from it.


IABS 2014 | Universitätsring 1  | 1010 Wien