In Zen, and probably other traditions as well, yang compassion plays a role in how teachers relate to students.
Yin & yang compassion
Where yin compassion is receptive and nurturing, yang compassion is cutting and can be ruthless. It helps us cut through delusions, attachments and limited identities and views. And there is a place for both.
Unquestioned “yang compassion”
What I find I am concerned about is an unquestioning acceptance of what looks as yang compassion in the behavior of others, especially teachers. It appears brutal, and I tell myself and others that – well, it comes from wisdom and I can’t question it. I may not understand, but it must be from a far more awakened view.
This came up for me again when I heard a Zen teacher tell a yang compassion story about his teacher, and not allow any questioning of it from either himself (at least not in front of us) or anybody else. Was it really yang compassion? Couldn’t it have been done in another way? Did it come from his own unhealed wounds?
This was a story of a group of Zen students and their teacher going to look at a piece of land in the middle of nowhere – far from anybody. At some point, the other students were our of view and the teacher said to his senior student (who later became the teacher who told this story), let’s go. His student said I’ll get the others. His teacher said, no – I said, let’s go. They left, and the consequence was that the other students left the sangha. This story was told to show yang compassion at work. The teacher wanted his senior student to release a particular attachment, view and identity, and chose to do it this – rather harsh – way.
When the story was told, there was no opening for any questioning of whether this was really yang compassion (whether the motivation came from clarity, wisdom and compassion), nor whether this was the most skillful way of doing it – effective yet minimizing harm and pain.
For others: I don’t know
It seems that when it appears as yang compassion in others, the only thing I can say is I don’t know. It may come from clarity, wisdom and compassion – and it may not. It may even come from hangups, unhealed areas, lack of development and integration on a human level. We all have those. And it can always be done in a more skillful way, one that is effective yet minimizes harm and pain.
For myself: I can always improve
And when it comes from me, all I can say is I can always improve. There will always be a more clear view I can act from. There is always deeper wisdom and compassion. There is always increase in the development of how I deal with various situations, ways that does what appears needed while reducing the pain and suffering. There are always more skillful ways to do it. There is no need to defend or justify my own actions.