languages, love and compassion

th.jpgkuan yin

A statue of the chinese bodisattva of compassion Guanyin, the equivalent of Avalokitesvara in India. A bodisattva is an entity which works without ceasing for the good of all beings. Probably originating to some extent from the Hindu concept of Krishna, the creator, Buddhist doctrine subsequently disavowed the concept of a creator God. Initially male in India, by the time it reached China Guanyin had become female. Avalokitesvara literally means ‘one who looks down on the world and senses (by literally looking with sound) the sadness and lamentation.’ Note the ambiguous sexuality of this statue.

Love is a word with multiple meanings in English. which leads to great confusion. For example Greek has four words for love. In general terms:

agape sacrificial love, for country, family (appropriated by Christians as the love for God)
eros erotic,sexual love
philia dispassionate friendship, described by Aristotle
storge affection usually within the family. Rarely used in ancient times.

Trying to understand spiritual ideas can be very difficult and language can lead one astray. The Buddha spoke a dialect of what is now Pali. Many of his teachings were first written in Pali after his death. The text may then have been translated into Sanskrit, then Chinese, Tibetan before being translated into, say English in modern times.
There is plenty of room for error and confusion. Many of the original texts have been lost and now exist only in Chinese or Tibetan. Perhaps it is better to use the word compassion rather then love for the way a bodisattva behaves.

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