Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

Awakening Precludes Psychopathy

defining religious mania and
common & spiritual psychopathy

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"May all people who are interested in awakening remember the parallel importance of compassion, and my all people who are attracted to a teacher they feel is awakened remember that awakening does not necessarily guarantee compassion." - Boyle, R.P. : Realizing Awakened Consciousness, p.226.

"Progression to the attainment of non-return or full awakening as the true culmination point of all early Buddhist meditation practice requires one to combine the practice of compassion with the cultivation of the awakening factors." -
Anālayo : Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, p.74.


1 Depth Psychology on Spiritual Insanity
Compassion and Wisdom
3 Compassion without Wisdom
4 The "Wisdom" of Psychopaths as Insanity.

No Awakening without Compassion !

This short paper is written in response to the publication of Richard P. Boyle's Realizing Awakened Consciousness (2015). In this book, this former professor of sociology interviews a number of Buddhist teachers and develops a new perspective on the mind based on a qualitative analysis of the various narratives these practitioners develop about their spiritual itinerary.

The stone of contention is Boyle's conclusion : "it is possible for awakening to exist without compassion. That may make a lot of Buddhists unhappy, but I think its implications are healthy and long overdue." (p.223). In what follows, this conclusion is challenged. I will argue Buddhists cannot become unhappy about a non-issue, for awakening cannot exist without compassion. The fact some so-called "masters" are deemed "awakened" by their (at times very large) following reminds me of the statement of Richard von Weizsäcker (1920 - 2015), who claimed : "
Auch die Mehrheit kann sich irren." ("also the majority can be wrong."). In other words, for various psychological, sociological & economical reasons, these followers are definitely wrong. Given these would-be masters indeed behave as if awakened, merely suggests they, instead of being living Buddhas, suffer from religious mania, psychopathy or both.

The basic questions before us are : What is awakening ? What is compassion ? Can wisdom exist without compassion ? Can compassion exist without awakening ?

Awakening is a radical change of perspective causing the
"turning of the base" ("āśraya-parāvritti"), a "transformation of the mind" (as in Yogācāra), in other words, a simultaneous arising of relative & absolute reality (as in Prāsangika-Madhyamaka), involving the direct "seeing" of that-what-is (as in Ati-Yoga). Or put very simply : awakening, rooted in compassion, is the irreversible end of suffering (as in Therāvada). Awakening is the product of two vectors, the method-vector of compassion ("karunā") and the wisdom-vector of emptiness ("śūnyatā"). If the case, and this will be shown to be self-evident, awakening without compassion does not exist.

Compassion is an empathic caring for all other sentient beings, making one not only kind and sensitive to what others feel, but foremost actively engaged in actually eliminating their suffering as soon as possible. Care is active, engaging, committed, effective.

To succeed in this, compassion may, at times and given specific boundaries, be "wild" or "tough". If we may believe the Ārya-Bodhisattva-gocara-upāyavusaya-vikurvana-nirdesha Sūtra ("The Noble Teaching through Manifestations on the Subject of Skillful Means in the Superior Bodhisattva's Field of Activity"), compassionate violence is not excluded ...

These definitions are in tune with what Boyle writes : "... awakening is a rearranging of the mind to provide a completely different perspective for awareness ; compassion is an opening of the heart, a primordial feeling that opens up a new dimension of experience." (p.223).

Awakening is however not identical with wisdom. Wisdom is seeing reality as it is, without any reification whatsoever. Compassion radiates care out for all and such a mind facilitates the wisdom realizing emptiness to happen. The "bird of awakening" only flies if and only if both these wings are at work. Awakening is compassionate wisdom as well as wise compassion.

If wisdom happens without compassion, it is not the supramundane wisdom realizing emptiness as taught by the Buddha (it is neither
"prajñā" or "jñāna"), but possibly another kind of "wisdom" (a form of worldly wisdom or, in the context of the Buddhadharma, a distorted view of emptiness-mind as a blank, object-less mind).

I argue (1) compassion without wisdom is possible, but blind, (2) wisdom without compassion is possible, but in conflict with the view on emptiness as taught in the Buddhadharma, (3) religious mania and spiritual psychopathy explain the financial, sexual and drugs-related excesses of certain spiritual and religious persons & situations and have proven to be more common as one would have expected, (4) "wild" or "tough" compassion is possible, but rare & dangerous, and finally (5) awakening always includes compassion (and therefore precludes psychopathy, always lacking care).

Where compassion is absent, awakening is too. As psychopathy excludes compassion, awakening precludes psychopathy.

This begs the questions : What are the characteristics of the wisdom lacking compassion ? Do psychopaths have "wisdom" ? To answer this last question, Kevin Dutton's The Wisdom of Psychopaths (2013) proved helpful. However, are psychopaths to be called "wise" at all ? I think not ...

1. Depth Psychology on Spiritual Insanity

Let us first tackle insanity in relation to spirituality. Conventional clinical psychology & psychiatry, driven by a materialist research programme, do define insanity, but only rarely insofar as the field of spirituality is concerned, and if so, then mostly pejoratively. Indeed, in the last century, it was custom to understand altered states of consciousness not as alternative states, but as abnormal conditions of the mind (statistically, normatively and/or genetically). Some psychiatrists went even so far as to consider Plato's ontological model, opposing the "world of being" with the "world of becoming", as proof of his schizophrenia ! In the same line, in epistemology, to doubt naive realism was tantamount to a symptom of pathology.

"The hardest of hard data are of two sorts : the particular facts of sense, and the general truths of logic. (...) Real doubt, in these two cases, would, I think, be pathological. At any rate, to me they seem quite certain, and I shall assume that you agree with me on this. Without this assumption, we are in danger of falling into that universal scepticism which, as we saw, is as barren as it is irrefutable." - Russell, B. : Our Knowledge of the External World, Mentor - New York, 1956, p.60.

The study of mysticism was thus crippled by an incomplete model of the mind presupposing trance and ecstasy were, in various degrees, pathological. Hence, no real advances could be made in truly understanding what altered states of consciousness were all about. Nor could the message of mystics, yogis and great spiritual masters be taken at face value. Fortunately, transpersonal psychology, at work in the last half of the XXth century, but also comparative religious studies and cultural anthropology changed all of this this dramatically.

This evolution, from a materialist prejudice to a genuine interest not taking the phenomena at hand as a priori proof of insanity, can also be found in depth psychology. What did these psychologists of the unconscious have to say about spiritual insanity, i.e. mental disorders insofar as they relate to spirituality ? Summarizing the salient points, Freud, Jung and Assagioli are briefly touched.

Before doing so, let me clarify how the idea of the "unconscious" came to be. Two stages are to be noted : on the one hand, the unconscious was introduced to explain certain problems occurring at the conscious level. A good example, to mention only one of her symptoms, was the rigid paralysis of Bertha Pappenheim (alias Anna O), treated by Freud. He discovered the various symptoms of his "hysterical" patients were not caused by any physiological problem, but were residues and mnemic symbols of a particular traumatic experience stored in the unconscious (the "Es" or "Id"). Hypnosis and later free association would bring this trauma to the surface and thus becoming conscious of it and shedding the light of consciousness on it, brought the associated symptoms to an end. So the "unconscious" is introduced to explain how these trauma's can be cured and how they operate negative consequences in conscious life (neurosis & psychosis, the standard insanities, are likewise symptoms of unconscious processes).

On the other hand, modelling (mapping) this conjectured unconscious activity, gave rise to an objectification of the unconscious. Instead of being a hypothesis explaining errors in conscious functioning, "the unconscious" became a stratum of the mind, albeit one not normally accessible by the conscious ego. As soon as this theoretical activity happens, the workings of the unconscious receive a life of their own, one in principle distinguishable from any possible pathological impact on conscious life. In fact, the unconscious can then be invoked in absence of any pathology, and be used for various purposes (as in the work of Jung). Even Freud, who claimed to be a hard-core empiricist, developed extensive psychoanalytical speculations on the "Id" (cf. Eros/Thanatos).

One should always remember that basically the unconscious is a construct to explain and treat unwanted conscious activity or, more extensively, to understand conscious life. The moment it is used for something else, the idea becomes more speculative and elusive.

(1) Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis :

"Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis."  - Freud, S. : The Future of an Illusion, 1927.

"Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires." - Freud, S. : New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1933.

Freud's Iceberg Model of the Mind

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939), the father of psychoanalysis, developed the first major depth psychological model and tried to understand religion and spirituality in several books, including Totem and Taboo (1913), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and Moses and Monotheism (1938).

For him, religion, religious experience and mysticism are an expression of underlying psychological neuroses and distress, an attempt to control the Oedipal complex, a means of giving structure to social groups, wish fulfilment, an infantile delusion, and an attempt to control the outside world. As an atheist, Freud deemed religion as something to overcome. A healthy, mature individual, cannot be religious or experience altered states of consciousness.

So for Freud, spirituality as such is problematic. This is the most extreme position, and it cannot help us understand the differentiation between the possible wisdom and folly of spiritual teachers, masters & guru's. In fact, for Freud the term "spirito-pathology" is a misnomer, for all spirituality is illusionary and pathological. Such a view is consistent with his materialist metaphysical research programme, which also impacted Freud's view on other phenomena (cf. his conflict with Jung about parapsychology).

"The evidence for Extra Sensoric Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK) -and I have presented only brief summaries of a few examples of it- seems to be adequate. Serious attention to the evidence should be convincing to all except those who are irreversibly committed to the worldview of materialism and sensationalism, according to which ESP and PK are impossible in principle." - Griffin, D.R. : Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality : a Postmodern Exploration, State University of New York Press - New York, 1997, p.89

This position may be contrasted with his own "psychoanalytical pessimism", the fact Freud concluded that most of the time his own psychoanalytical therapy does not cure mental disorder. This begs the question whether Freud's model is not too reduced and narrow. Traditional psychoanalysis clearly is. Neo-Freudian models are less restrictive, but they too do not offer a constructive perspective on religious, yogic & mystical experiences. Hence, the rejection of spiritual experience on the basis of psychoanalytical theory is ad hoc and questionable indeed.

(2) Carl Gustav Jung and Analytical Psychology :

"I want to make clear that by the term 'religion' I do not mean a creed. It is, however, true that every creed is originally based on the one hand upon the experience of the numinosum and on the other hand upon pistis, that is to say, trust or loyalty, faith and confidence in a certain experience of a numinous nature and in the change of consciousness that ensues … We might say, then, that the term 'religion' designates the attitude peculiar to a consciousness which has been changed by experience of the numinosum."
- Jung, C.G. : Collected Works, vol.11, § 9.

Jung's Map of the Mind

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961) had personal experiences of the Divine. Early on in life he came to recognize the centrality of such experiences for creating a sense of meaning and purpose in life. So, for him "religion" was not foremost a belief in God or gods or a particular system of religious belief and worship, but "... a careful observation and taking account of (from relegere) the numinous." (CW, 11, § 982). He rejected Freud's view as too limited and his approach to depth psychology as authoritarian. The fact Freud was so opinionated as to refuse investigating the full gamut of psychological processes he deemed unreasonable. Because Jung included all possible psychological phenomena, he was able to define the dangers of spiritual experiences.

In Jung's analytical psychology, so-called "ego-inflation" was the potential pitfall for anyone practicing a "spiritual path", and without humour, honesty and humility, the danger only increases as one advances into the "higher" stages. With this view, Jung hit the nail. The basic danger was identification with the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

"Identification with the collective psyche (...) amount(s) to an acceptance of inflation, but now exalted into a system. That is to say, one would be the fortunate possessor of the great truth which was only waiting to be discovered, of the eschatological knowledge which spells the healing of the nations. (...) Now this is identification with the collective psyche that seems altogether more commendable : somebody else has the honor of being a prophet, but also the dangerous responsibility. For one’s own part, one is a mere disciple, but nonetheless a joint guardian of the great treasure which the Master has found. One feels the full dignity and burden of such a position, deeming it a solemn duty and a moral necessity to revile others not of a like mind, to enroll proselytes and to hold up a light to the Gentiles, exactly as though one were the prophet himself. And these people, who creep about behind an apparently modest persona, are the very ones who, when inflated with identification with the collective psyche, suddenly burst upon the world scene. For, just as the prophet is a primordial image from the collective psyche, so also is the disciple of the prophet. (CW, 11, chapter 4).

When the ego identifies with the collective psyche and its operations, it loses boundaries. This loss causes the natural frontier between conscious & unconscious to become too thin, resulting in strong reequilibrations or compensations (the psyche always strives for balance). These may lead to neurosis or worse, the breaking up of the psyche or psychosis. This mental disorder is a way for the psyche to cope with insistent wrong identifications, and leads to further problems.

So here we have our first criterion : spiritual insanity is directly related to the patterns of identification of the ego. In the process of individuation (the Jungian term for the path to full psychological maturity), connecting with the collective psyche is necessary (after the Shadow, Anima or Animus are dealt with), but this harbours the danger of identifying the ego with the archetypes, which should at all costs be avoided.

After having integrated the contents of the personal unconscious (in the form of the Shadow) and after having assimilated the energies of the complementary erotic aspect of the mind (Anima for a man, Animus for a woman), Jung identified the archetype of the totality of the psyche as a whole as the Self. His analytical views on this synthetic aspect of the mind were not as clear as those on the other archetypes, in particular because he placed the Self in the unconscious and did not want to attribute a superconscious nature to it.

Jung was always very careful when dealing with the Self, probably because he knew it to possibly entail a dangerous kind of identification and therefore lead to an ultimate type of ego-inflation, namely the "I am God" syndrome. When visiting India, he refused to meet up with an "enlightened" yogi precisely because he knew the extent of the charisma & magnetism of the inflated ego (and their proselytizing disciples). It became the task of Assagioli to deal with superconsciousness in a more balanced manner.

(3) Roberto Assagioli and Psychosynthesis :

"Psychosynthesis is a method of psychological development and self realization for those who refuse to remain the slave of their own inner phantasms or of external influences, who refuse to submit passively to the play of psychological forces which is going on within them, and who are determined to become the master of their own lives." - Assagioli, R. : Some Collected Works, Satsang Press - Genth, 2010, p.12.

Assagioli's Map of the Mind

Roberto Assagioli (1888 - 1974), closer to Jung than Freud, emphasized that depth psychology should not only be concerned with depth (the unconscious, personal & collective), but also with height (the superconscious). Just as the ego is the focal point of the personal field of consciousness, so is the Self the coordinating point of superconsciousness.

More than Jung, who throughout his life maintained a psychiatric outlook, Assagioli fully recognized the fundamentally spiritual nature of humans. Only by integrating all elements of the personality (by way of psychosynthesis) can this spiritual enfoldment successfully happen. If this lacks, mental disorder is the outcome. In the measure in which the ego succeeds in releasing itself from mistaken identifications at the personal level, it becomes able to ascent, through the superconscious or transpersonal realm, toward the Self. This Higher Self needs the superconscious as its vehicle of expression, just as the ego needs the personality as its instrument in the world (a bi-modal view on consciousness also identified by Deikman, allowing for an ongoing pendulum-movement from conceptual to non-conceptual cognition).

If the superconscious is consistently neglected in the ascent toward the Self, then at some point time and effort will have to be put in to explore and develop it. But when the superconscious is not sufficiently developed, an intense experience of the Self can produce ego inflation and disorientation. On the other hand, if one drifts into the superconscious without having developed an adequate sense of ego-identity, one runs the risk of getting lost in it, and eventually regressing to the level of undifferentiated "mass consciousness". 

Worse, when these two levels are confused, one believes, after the spiritual experience, one is still identified with the Self while one has actually "descended" once again to the level of the ego. This can cause ego inflation, feelings of omnipotence, and in extreme cases the individual who, speaking from the personal self says : "I am God", thus ascribing to the "I" a spiritual nature that properly belongs to the Self.

Here we arrive at two other criteria : first, the ego needs to be healthy enough to make the ascent to the Divine and secondly, the egoic and superconscious levels need not to be confused. Hence, the ego is necessary and should not be destroyed or neglected. It has to first deal with its own issues (personal psychosynthesis) before trying to experience the Self (transpersonal psychosynthesis). The spiritual ascent is not a cure for ego's problems. Moreover, after the spiritual ascent, there is a "return into town with helping hands" (as Zen has it), i.e. after Buddhahood compassionate work remains. The spiritual Master is not living on a mountain, but remains constantly in touch with superconsciousness. He or she is not devoid of ego, but uses the "I" to identify functional processes actually ending the suffering of others.

(4) types of mental disorders, religious mania, psychopathy :

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV, a personality disorder is an "enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment." In this definition, "enduring" is the key word.

So within the broad category of "mental disorder", depth psychology identifies neurosis & psychosis. The former is foremost an intrapsychic conflict caused by a complex (an unconscious, conflictual psychic knot), mainly generating suffering for oneself. The latter is foremost an extrapsychic inability to value reality for what it is (mostly accompanied by hallucinations), mainly causing -in a social context- sufferings to others.

Spiritual insanity is a special mental disorder, giving rise to neurosis or psychosis. This is religious mania. When this mania merely upholds a conflict within the individual, it is a neurosis. But when this conflict disrupts the psyche to the point of disabling it to value reality, it becomes a psychosis.

Spiritual insanity (religious mania) arises when :

(1) the ego suffers from personal problems and has not reasonably solved them before starting the spiritual path (or worse, hopes this path to end them) ;
(2) the ego is too weak and suddenly overtaken by the direct experience of the Self (directly or indirectly, by coming in touch with an insane teacher) ;
(3) the ego confuses itself for the Self (or the Self of the would-be teacher) ;
(4) the Self has lost touch with the ego (or considers it as non-existent).

Psychopathy is also  a special mental disorder. Although not mentioned in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is has a pertinent relationship with spirituality (cf. paragraph 4). This is as disturbing as it is interesting. It suggests wrong spiritual practices may feed existing psychopathic traits.

2. Compassion and Wisdom

In the Buddhadharma, both compassion ("karunā"), wisdom (conceptual, "prajñā", or non-conceptual, "jñāna") and awakening (liberation or Arhathood and full enlightenment or Buddhahood) have specific technical meanings.

(1) Compassion ("karunā") :

Already in the Theravāda, compassion is part of the Four Immeasurables
("apramāna"). But also in the Mahāyāna, Calm Abiding ("shamatha") on these "four Divine states of dwelling" ("brahma-vihâra"), namely joy ("muditā"), love or kindness ("maitrī"), compassion ("karunā") & equanimity ("upekshā") remedies the various forms of self-cherishing, considering oneself more important than others. This initiates the path of altruism and care. By eliminating the narcissism of self-cherishing, the mind becomes supple enough to start practicing the wisdom advocating by the Buddha.

These perfect virtues ("p
āramitās") are said to bring about rebirth in the heaven or "Pure Abodes" of Brahmā. They were cherished in Hinduism and can also be found in the three "religions of the book" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). They represent the fine flowers of spiritual humanism and need no religion to be practiced. They are shared by all human beings. The "Pure Abodes" inhabited by Brahmā (Sahampati) are sublime attitudes. God-like dwellings are lofty and excellent abodes of the mind. There the mind reaches outwards towards the immeasurable world of living beings, embracing them with boundless, unselfish, pure emotion, just as Brahmā is the caring witness of the world.

In the
Anguttara-nikāya, Lord Buddha  explains how those practicing radiating the Four Immeasurables out to all beings in this life, dying "without losing it", are destined for rebirth in Brahmā's heavenly realm in their next life (the five Pure Abodes are the five highest heavens of the Form World). If, added to this, they realize the three characteristics (sorrow, impermanence & emptiness) of the five aggregates, then after their heavenly life there, they are "non-returners" and so need no more rebirth, immediately entering "nirvāna" ! Because these attitudes benefit all sentient beings, their benefits are immeasurable.

So let us summarize by saying compassion is a genuine, active, emphatic care for all sentient beings, an activity actually ending their suffering. It is more than just passively loving them, but involves an active engagement, a commitment or determination to work hard at this, even against all odds. Moreover, and in our context this is important, without "filling the basket of compassion", self-cherishing cannot be eliminated and as long as this is the case, the wisdom realizing emptiness (rooting out the higher forms of clinging, namely intellectual and innate self-grasping) cannot be attained. Therefore, without compassion, the wisdom of the Buddha cannot be, and without these awakening can never be the case.

In the Great Vehicle, the Bodhisattva generates Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. It is divided in relative and absolute. Relative (conventional) Bodhicitta (both aspiring & engaging) is the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings gathering the method to actually realize this mind and to generate love (aspiring) and compassion (engaging). Absolute (ultimate) Bodhicitta is the same mind gathering the wisdom realizing the emptiness of the subject, the content & the object of compassion, turning the latter into great compassion. 

The sublime attitudes are cultivated by radiating them out to all sentient beings, with no exception whatsoever,
integrating the welfare of all. Hence, their benefits cannot be measured. Radiating out the Four Immeasurables is relative Bodhicitta. This is the sublime method. Radiating relative Bodhicitta with wisdom-mind is absolute Bodhicitta, sublime wisdom, and their (dual) union ("eka") is awakening ("bodhi"). So then Buddhahood is the prehension of bodhi-mind of what is ("dharmadhātu").

In exceptional cases, between a disciple and his or her Guru, a special, deep and dangerous interaction may take place, a "wild" compassion. This is exceptional because the depth of this interaction is related to co-emergent karmic patterns, which are rare. The interaction is special because the more spiritually advanced confronts the disciple directly with his or her emotional & mental obscurations, and does so without shunning some violence, harsh speech and behaviour shocking the norm. The danger is obvious. Especially in tantric commitments this should not come as a surprise. As all initiation goes to the depth, the disciple cannot escape. The thick-headed, stubborn and too conditioned are loved in a "tough" way. However, these wrathful activities are not to be confused, as some do, with the financial, sexual and other abuse so-called Buddhists teachers (both Zen and Vajray
āna) at times have inflicted upon their disciples. These horrors happen precisely because compassion is lacking. Wild compassion is never without the sense of care, be it physical, knowledge-wise or spiritual. Its play is intimate and leads to a total transformation of negativity.

(2) Wisdom ("
prajñā", "jñāna") :

Compassion is active, engaged, committed caring for others. What is wisdom ? The wisdom of the Buddha is not worldly (as most of "sophia" in philosophy), but supramundane. This means it assists in moving away from the suffering of the world, away from "samsāra". This special, specific kind of wisdom is characterized as "realizing emptiness". So when, due to compassion, the mind is calm, supple, acute and sharp, it is able to penetrate reality. This investigation into reality leads to an insight unconcealing the true, absolute nature of all possible phenomena. This insight is simple, but due to our emotional & mental obscurations, difficult to understand. Whereas compassion takes away most emotional obscurations, insight meditation ("vipashyanā") deals with the mental ones. Mental obscuration (ignorance) is the root of all emotional obscurations.

Insight meditation, when conceptual, yields the best kind of understanding or "prajñā". On the basis of this, the Ārya-Bodhisattva realizes the non-conceptual "seeing" of the absolute nature, or emptiness ("śūnyatā"), of what exists or "jñāna". So what is understood and "seen" ?

Simply put, one first understands that not a single phenomena exists from its own side, independent and isolated from other phenomena. In technical terms, one clearly and irreversibly cognizes all possible sensate & mental objects to lack (to be empty of) substantial, inherent existence. One realizes they do not possess a substance-nature (an inherently existing essence with accidents), but are process-based. The self is a process. The others are processes. As processes, they rise, abide and cease, in other words, are all impermanent. This is their absolute property. The latter, as Tsongkhapa rightly points out, does not only solely exist as a mental fact (when emptiness is understood, i.e. intra-mentally), but also exists as an objective, absolute property of every possible existing thing (extra-mentally).

When we realize the emptiness of anything conceptually, we apprehend the absolute property of what is known. This property is the absolute reality of the object, and this is contrasted with its conventional reality, i.e. how the object appears to a mind not realizing emptiness and grasping at the same object as if it exists from its own side. The latter is a conventional grasping, which is valid (conventionally, in a relative sense), but mistaken (ultimately, in an absolute sense). Indeed, objects merely appear independent to a deluded, ignorant mind, a mind lacking the wisdom realizing emptiness. These are the conventional, worldly minds of sentient beings. For these minds, the absolute property is concealed. They are therefore called "truth-concealers" or deluded minds. These ignorant minds are the root-cause of all suffering (ignorance is the root of the reactive mind, accepting or rejecting, clinging or hating).

Regarding the "seeing" of emptiness this. When the mind has understood emptiness, it may -by meditating, on the basis of the special mind of "superior seeing", on emptiness itself- "enter" wisdom and "see" emptiness directly, unmediated by concepts. This is the prehension or intuitive cognizing of absolute reality ("jñāna"). Such a profound realization is an entry of the mind into the higher ("ārya") stages of spiritual evolution (the Ten Bhūmis, Bodhisattva Stages or Grounds). Only in the mind of a Buddha do the conventional and absolute properties of any object  rise simultaneously. Even superior Bodhisattvas (training on the "bhūmis") only experience emptiness directly during meditation, but return to conventional knowing when exiting the meditative state.

(3) Awakening ("bōdha") :

Siddhārtha Gautama awoke sitting under the Bodhi-tree and was thereafter called "the Awakened One" ("buddha"). In the Theravāda, this awakening is understood as a liberation, in the Mahāyāna, it refers to the full enlightenment of a Buddha. This ultimate realization is the realization of how things truly exist in the compassionate, caring mind of a Buddha. The bird of awakening has therefore two wings : compassion & emptiness. These are also called the two "baskets" to be filled in order to attain Buddhahood. The Sūtra's explain this as gathering compassion (to realize the Form Bodies of a Buddha) and wisdom (to realize the Truth Body of a Buddha). By making the fruit of Buddhahood part of the path (to Buddhahood), the Tantra's make both rise simultaneously (cf. Deity-Yoga).

Compassion prepares for wisdom ("prajñā"/"jñāna"). The wisdom of the Buddha is a special, supramundane wisdom, propelling one beyond the cyclic world of suffering. This wisdom knows the world as a dependent arising, an interconnected whole. Precisely by knowing nothing exists on and from its own (is empty of substance-nature, and so a process), can existence be experienced as an interconnected, organic whole, the basis of compassion, the care making us end the suffering of all possible others. To know we are all in it together is to realize only the happiness of all makes my own. A Buddha without compassion is not a Buddha.

When the mind realizes emptiness, it apprehends (conceptually) and prehends (non-conceptually) what is the case, namely the Net of Indra connecting all phenomena and reflecting all phenomena (the whole Net) in every single phenomenon part of the Net. This is a sea of dependent-arisings, the fact every object is other-powered and so itself a network of relations between other objects. Only in a mind fully cognizing emptiness, can dependent origination be perfectly known. Only when dependent origination is completely understood and directly experienced (prehended), is a mind truly wise. The wisdom realized by a Buddha is always caring. The care of a Buddha is always wise.

Compassion without this wisdom is possible, but blind. It does not apprehend the interconnectivity between phenomena, but merely knows the things related and their relationships. It acts caringly on the basis of the disharmonies in the proportions allocated to and between things. It is therefore very advanced, for it ongoingly continues to seek what creates harmonious novel relations between (new) things. If this compassion, fostering just & fair togetherness, touches emptiness, it stops placing the object in the focus of attention, but instead focuses on the relations and the lines of process of that object. Moreover, as the giver, what is given and the receiver are all cognized as truly empty, compassion turns into great (perfected) compassion ("mahākarunā"), or absolute Bodhicitta.

3. Compassion without Wisdom

Buddhahood cannot be understood or experienced without compassion. On the path to Buddhahood, precisely because the bird of awakening only flies if both wings flap, compassion & the wisdom realizing emptiness are taught as the two main branches of the path of the Buddha. Indeed, in the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, Buddha introduced compassion and wisdom together.

In the non-Buddhists paths, compassion is taught and practiced, but not together with the wisdom of awakening. So what about this compassion existing without the wisdom typical for a Buddha ? A compassion wanting just & fair proportions between things and their relationships not realizing emptiness ...

When the spiritual humanism embodied by the Four Immeasurables (Joy, Love, Compassion, Equanimity) is practiced, a genuine sense of care for all other sentient beings ensues. All things are understood as connected, but still grasped as existing from their own side, independent from other minds and things, as substance-natures part of an organic whole, and ruled by a universal harmony of monadic substances or by a "substance of substances", a Supreme Being or God.

Such compassion without wisdom is blinded by its own ontological premise, namely that substances exist and are necessary to grasp the act of caring. Both notions are wrong. Inherent existence cannot be found and the act of caring is actually impossible without the absence of substance. But compassion may exist without this understanding. Untouched by emptiness, this compassionate mind cannot end self-cherishing, only highly reduce it. And if the latter is still present in the mind, one cannot understand the wisdom realizing emptiness (ending self-grasping). Self-cherishing only truly ceases when the Immeasurables are introduced hand in hand with the wisdom-teachings of the Buddha. Compassion never touched by this wisdom attenuates self-love, but a remainder of emotional obscurations persist. They make the mind not stable enough to gain insight into reality.

Self-cherishing is related to the emotional obscurations, the two root-afflictions of the mind and the six branch-afflictions. The former are attraction & rejection, the latter anger/hate (hells), greed (spirit world), stupidity (natural world), exaggerated desire (humans), jealousy/violence (demi-gods) and pride (gods). Compassion without the wisdom of the Buddha is able to lessen these afflictions, but incapable of taking all these emotional afflictions away. This only happens when compassion is practiced with the right view on the wisdom of the Buddha. Then it serves to end the emotional obscurations (and thus self-cherishing) and prepare the ground for insight meditation on absolute & relative reality. This ends intellectual & innate self-grasping, as well as the hinderances to omniscience, making the radiant mind fully appear.

Because compassion without wisdom knows the world as interconnected, but not as impermanent, it cannot care with awakened attention. There always remains a kind of blindness or "privatio", a being deprived of a comprehensive view. Because of this, at times, this blind compassion may facilitate the very opposite it engages to achieve. Its blindness is never completely without danger.

4. The "Wisdom" of Psychopaths as Insanity.

Awakening without compassion and wisdom is not possible. But is wisdom without compassion possible ? Can the radical change of perspective offered by the wisdom realizing emptiness happen in a mind that never or no longer cares ? If, as Boyle, we first think we have found an awakened mind (because everybody says so) and we observe this mind to lack compassion, then we may think to have reason to conclude a radical change of perspective (wisdom) may exist without care. But as only a Buddha recognizes another Buddha, a deluded sentient being can never be absolutely sure who is a living Buddha and who isn't. Hence, it could be the case this so-called "uncaring awakened mind" is not awakened at all, but merely a religious manic or a psychopath, if not a person pretending to be awakened (caring or not). Given the technicalities of Buddhahood, this is very likely the case.

Before discussing spiritual psychopathy, let me point to the much milder case of the "blank mind" confusing its experience of "a void" with the direct prehension of emptiness (from the First Bhūmi onwards). Confusing the destruction of reification with the absence of objects in the mind, wrong insight meditation leads to a mind of "white noise", perfectly calm and concentrated on the absence of objects of mind, turning the mirror of the mind into a kind of "white screen". This wrong emptiness meditation is not a direct prehension, but a conceptual cramp. The presence or absence of objects is not the issue, only their reification is. And when emptiness is truly "seen", dependent origination unfolds before us, not a void or blankness. Emptiness is fullness and fullness is emptiness.

Let us start upfront by pointing to the fact Dutton's title The Wisdom of Psychopaths, does not really cover the contents of the book. Nowhere is the supposed "wisdom" of psychopaths clearly defined and one has the impression the catchy title mainly serves commercial purposes. He does give some descriptions. Psychopaths have the "consummate ability to pass themselves off as normal, everyday folk, while behind the façade - the brutal, brilliant disguise - beats the refrigerated heart of a ruthless, glacial predator" (p.vi). They may be functional or dysfunctional (clinical), have a "grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse, and the manipulation of others" (p.8), are "fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused. Yet, contrary to popular belief, not necessarily violent" (p.10). They decode vulnerability better than others (zero in on weakness), and although they are sensitive to what others feel (empathy), they basically have no care for others. Psychopaths "don't give a damn what their fellow citizens think of them" (p.30), and have an "intense 'reptilian' aura" (p.32n). The difference between Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and psychopathy (not mentioned in the DSM), given the overlap, is "the core affective impairment, the shadowy emotional twilight, redolent of the psychopath" (p.55). Indeed, they "inflict predominantly emotional, rather than physical pain" (p.144) and "all, all, without the slightest care in the world" (p.203), despite "a good 'vulnerability radar'" (p.206). A core feature of the psychopathic personality is "the transient, peripatetic lifestyle (...) and itinerant, nomadic existence" (p.234).

When Dutton discusses the relationship between psychopathic and spiritual traits, an interesting matrix appears (p.238). Slightly adjusted (adding all described traits and keeping to the classical definition of altruism as caring about other people and their interests more than you care about yourself), the following table ensues :

Psychopathic Traits Overlapping Traits Spiritual Traits
narcissism stoicism altruism
impulsivity mindfulness trustworthiness
lack of conscience mental toughness compassion
manipulativeness openness to experience loyalty
pathological lying utilitarianism faithfulness
cold-heartedness focus gentleness
affectively impaired altered states of consciousness caring
self-centred energy humility
absence of care creativity emotional richness
con artistry non-attachment  
thrill seeking ruthlessness
grandiosity empathy
superficial charm sensitive for what others feel

This table reveals the core issue : psychopaths, although possibly sensitive and empathic (able to feel what others feel), and (in the case of functional psychopaths) able to generate some interest in others, lack the ability to truly, genuinely care for others. But it also shows a important number of traits psychopaths and genuine spiritual practitioners have in common. This is very revealing.

The most psychopathic professions (in the UK) are CEO's, lawyers, salespeople, surgeons, journalists, police officers, clerics, chefs & civil servants. These risk to display the emotional poverty disabling one to care for others. But care workers, nurses, therapists, craftspeople, stylists, charity workers, teachers, creative artists, doctors and accountants (p.173) show the heart of psychopathy to be the lack of an emotional ability expressed as a care actually ending the suffering of others.

In Buddhist terms, this means they lack compassion, for the latter is the activity actually ending the suffering of others. The latter is impossible without having an authentic interest in someone, wanting that person to be well and happy (or loving-kindness).

If we glance at the shared traits, we see many of the characteristics of advanced meditators and yogi's. These are the outgoing, "Solar" features we find in spiritual warriors. But the spiritual traits not found in psychopaths are the "Lunar", rather feminine traits of advanced practitioners, all revolving around emotional richness, depth of caring, intensity of compassion and the genuine selflessness so typical for Buddhas, Superior ("Ārya") Bodhisattvas (from the First Stage onwards) and ordinary Bodhisattvas (on the Paths of Accumulation & Preparation). In the case of Superior Bodhisattvas, such care includes compassionate violence and the "wild" compassion at times at work in the intimacy between disciple & spiritual teacher.

Superficially, psychopaths do share an altered view on reality with the wisdom of a Buddha. When emptiness is fully realized, every moment is unique and reification has completely stopped. With the end of self-grasping, the dependent relativity of phenomena rises simultaneously with their appearance. Thus fixated, conventional reality is no longer experienced in the same way as sentient beings grasp at it. This difference is profound and has a radical impact on the way one interacts with the world. Even advanced meditators and yogis (Superior and ordinary Bodhisattvas) know this distinction, for they "see" emptiness during their meditations (experience ultimate reality), but still "return" to the ordinary, conventional view during post-meditation. Hence, this bi-modality itself serves to undermine the lingering presence of subtle forms of reification.

However, because of the absence of compassion, this "wisdom" of psychopaths is actually not wise at all. There is only a superficial resemblance between their emotionally barren mind and that of awakened beings. Indeed, the altered view on reality present in psychopaths is not one ending reification, but reveals a momentariness hand in hand with the emotional inability to gauge what another truly needs. Hence, it is not the wisdom revealing emptiness, but a worldly pseudo-wisdom born out of emotional sickness. This distinction is crucial. One may see the world differently (for example during or after an acid trip), but this is not the same as saying one "sees" the lack of inherent existence of what appears, quite on the contrary. It could be the case psychopaths, precisely because of their emotional rigidity, cherish a extreme form of attachment to self and so because of this narcissism project inherent existence on objects even more intensely than common sentient beings. In functional psychopaths a worldly wisdom of sorts may be the case, but in dysfunctional psychopaths a worldly insanity instead of a would-be worldly wisdom is the case.

So what is a spiritual psychopath ? Here we have a special type of psychopath, one who may or may not (additionally) suffer from religious mania.

• In the case if a spiritually insane psychopath (spiritual psychopathy) we have an individual who has directly observed the Self, but who was unable to integrate this in a positive, constructive way (religious mania) and who on top of that displays psychopathic traits. This may take neurotic or psychotic forms.

• In the case of a psychopath who is not spiritually insane (and so lacks religious mania), the possibility exists he or she uses and abuses spirituality in a psychopathic way, and thus without having experienced anything resembling the Self or higher states of consciousness. Such psychopaths are bogus spiritualists. They may confuse altered states with higher states, or may feel they have a "special" spiritual mission, but because they actually lack a direct experience of the Divine, their spiritual stance is nothing more than a fraudulent disguise enabling them to better manipulate gullible others. They use the trappings of religion & spirituality to further their narcissistic cause. This comes in functional, dysfunctional, neurotic or psychotic formats.

  Psychopathy No Psychopathy
spiritual psychopath
neurotic or psychotic
religious manic
neurotic or psychotic
No Spiritual Insanity common psychopath
neurotic or psychotic
functional or dysfunctional
abusing spirituality or not
sane spiritual practitioner

• Those only suffering from religious mania are not psychopaths and so do not lack the ability to care. However, because of the absence of a constructive integration of ego and Self, they exhibit a dangerous and extreme enthusiasm for the "higher", especially among a large group of people. They behave in a very excited and active way (manic), and manifest irrational, but irresistible motives for a belief or for certain "spiritually inspired" actions ... The milder neurotic variants lack the excessive reality-shattering psychotic symptoms.

• Sane spiritual practitioners fly on the wings of a wisdom realizing emptiness made possibly by a supple mind nurtured by a deep compassion for all sentient beings. The heart of their compassion is emptiness and the heart of their correct view of reality is compassion. When they realize emptiness, they experience dependent origination and when they identify this dependent relativity, they realize the lack of inherent existence. As long as the difference between "seeing" emptiness on the Path of Meditation and lacking such realization during post-meditation persists, they are Superior Bodhisattvas. As soon as the union of conventional & ultimate reality is simultaneous and ongoing, they are Buddhas.

Epilogue : No Awakening without Compassion !

"Whatever us dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist."
āgārjuna : The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, XXIV:18-19.

To beginners, Buddha teaches the Four Noble Truths, the Two Truths and the Eightfold Path. In the latter, ethics precedes meditation and wisdom. Ethics involves right speech, right action and right livelihood. Although not compassion proper, it prepares the mind for it.

Right Speech : tell the truth and speak in a thoughtful & sensitive way ;
Right Action : abstain from wrongful bodily behaviour (killing, stealing, mindless intoxication, and wrong sensual pleasures) ;
Right Livelihood : do not harm others by one's occupation (commerce in weapons, living beings, meat, intoxicants & poison are forbidden).

Morality is a fence to protect the young, vulnerable shoots. It develops right attitudes and allows one to accumulate merit.

To more advanced meditators, Buddha teaches compassion, then emptiness. This to assure the mind is calm and supple enough before addressing the issue of reality. If enough merit is accumulated, outer & inner conditions to engage in insight meditation are met. To teach compassion in such a way emptiness will be easier to understand, the link between sympathetic care and impermanence is given. The Samyukta-āgama clearly states tranquillity and insight always need to be combined in order for awakening to take place, although depending on special personal inclination and predisposition it is possible for insight to be preceded by tranquillity. No monoculture is however envisaged. To mature the mind, both calmness (radiating the Four Immeasurables) and insight (into ultimate reality) are necessary and conjoined. In most cases, one begins to calm the mind down and then turns to insight.

Likewise, the logic of the "lam rim" found in Tibetan Buddhism first cultivates compassion to quiet the mind and generate the outer & inner conditions for practice. Only when this has been done may the study of reality be initiated. A confused, wild, dispersed, unsteady mind (liked to a candle flame in the wind) cannot penetrate ultimate reality and so insight meditiation is useless. Not only does compassion generate a supple mind and auspicious conditions for practice (liked to a candle flame no longer wavering), but it also deconstructs self-cherishing. Radiating the Four Immeasurables to all sentient beings and causing their suffering to end are the two basic tools to be wielded with grace before the insight meditiation has any use. Only when stability (concentration) is firm enough (by entering the "jh
ānas" and/or generating instances of meditative equipoise), is insight meditation into the nature of reality fruitbearing. When a success such insight yields the conceptual understanding of emptiness ("prajñā") and later its direct prehension ("jñāna"). Conceptual understanding ends intellectual self-grasping, direct prehension is the beginning of the end of innate self-grasping.

Because all things are impermanent, it is possible to change all conditions, and make everything better, which is the drive behind care & compassion. When the beginner finally realizes suffering is pervasive, the end of suffering becomes crucial. Cessation of suffering can only be caused if the constituents of suffering are not self-powered, in other words, if suffering itself is, as a phenomenon, defined by determinations & conditions outside itself, indeed impermanent. Because this is the case, suffering may end.

Awakening is the result of the Two Accumulations, namely compassion and the wisdom realizing emptiness. To study, reflect and meditate on emptiness before compassion may happen in a philosophical mind (studying N
āgārjuna or for that matter Ockham or Kant). Usually such strict nominalism (terminism), restricted to an area of activity, like epistemology, ethics or esthetics, is not carried through in metaphysics and ontology, where substantial, self-powered entities again appear. Because of Buddha's "anātman", emptiness or absence of self-power is what the practitioners of the Buddhadharma seek. But if in such a meditative mind emptiness is introduced before compassion, a mind confusing emptiness with a mind without an object, a "blank" mind may appear.

A priori
it is the case that without compassion no awakening is possible. The bird of awakening has two wings, not only one. When emptiness is realized, the fact all phenomena are other-powered is realized and only then is compassion fully effective (as "great compassion"). If compassion is accumulated, the interdependence between all phenomena is realized and this implies no phenomenon is self-powered, hence, all phenomena are empty. The change of view given by the wisdom of the Buddha is precisely the mind experiencing the universal interconnectedness between all phenomena. The mind witnessing the togetherness of all with all is a mind able to understand and then experience the absence of own-form ("nihsvabh

If we say someone is awakened but without compassion, then we are mistaken this person is awakened. Awakening is the simultaneous arising of the Solar (wisdom) and Lunar (compassion) characteristics of Bodhi-mind, the unity of emptiness & bliss. A mind posing to be awakened is either a mind suffering from the mental disorder of religious mania, a psychopathic mind or a mind suffering of both. Spiritual psychopaths are very dangerous, as contemporary terrorism testifies. The core factor lacking in such a mind is genuine care for others. If this absence can be identified, awakening is precluded.

May all people who are interested in awakening remember it cannot exist without compassion, and may all people who are attracted to a teacher they feel is awakened remember that awakening without compassion is not awakening.


© Wim van den Dungen, Brasschaat - 2017
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 30 VIII 2015 - last update : 25 VII 2016 - version n°1