Wisdom and Compassion

Wisdom and compassion are the cornerstones of Buddha’s teachings. Wisdom includes the teaching of emptiness. Compassion includes the teaching of interbeing or interdependence and altruism based on the insight of interbeing.

What do we mean by emptiness? When you say that something is empty, you must ask, “Empty of what?”

Take that mug on the kitchen counter. When you say that it is empty, you mean that it is empty of water or empty of tea or empty of something else. Even though the cup may be empty of water, empty of tea, and apparently empty of everything else, it is not empty of a separate existence. It is made up of only non-cup elements, like clay, paint, the potter’s work product, the oven it was fired in, the truck driver who brought it to the store where you bought it, and many other elements. So when we say, “empty,” we mean empty of a separate existence.

What do we mean by interbeing? This word was coined by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to emphasize the interconnected nature of all reality. When you embrace the insight of interbeing, you recognize that your happiness depends a lot on the happiness of everyone around you – your family, friends, neighbors, and so forth. You feel compassion for your fellow human being and all life forms. As the Dalai Lama says, “Everyone wants happiness and to avoid suffering.”

These words of wisdom come from Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist turned monk and a very beloved one at that. I have admired his teachings for many years now.


Union of Compassion and Wisdom | April 21, 2014

The essence of Buddha’s teaching is the union of compassion and wisdom, the view of interdependence and emptiness. An altruistic attitude is altruistic. It is not confused in itself. But without wisdom, we can act with obscured compassion or stupid compassion.

—Matthieu Ricard, “Karma Crossroads”

 Matthieu Ricard on Happiness


These word were said in the context of the question, “What if your intention is good, but the results are harmful?” by Tricycle magazine online.

What is your understanding of obscured or stupid compassion?

Connect with Meditation Practices

Connect with

Or enter your name and email address below.