“Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed.”
Drew passed this one on to me the other day, saying he’d seen it in many places and was suspicious of it. And he’s right on both counts. It’s in several books, one of which ascribes it to the Dhammapada, which is ridiculous, since the Dhammapada is a pithy text that doesn’t go i for elaborate definitions.
My first thought was that this wasn’t canonical at all, but commentarial. Canonical texts are those that are ascribed to the Buddha or his close disciples. (That’s often patently false, for example in the case of the Pali Abhidhamma texts, which are part of the canon but which post-date the Buddha, probably in some cases by a few centuries.) Commentarial texts are writings about Buddhism. The most famous commentary is Buddhaghosa’s Path or Purification, or Visuddhimagga, which dates from the 5th century, a millennium after the Buddha.
The Visuddhamagga does include the kind of detailed and etymologically fanciful definition we see in this quote. I say “etymologically fanciful” because what’s presented as etymology is more a kind of word-association that helps to illustrate some of the qualities of the term being discussed.
And in fact, when I searched my copy of the Visuddhimagga I found the following:
When there is suffering in others it causes (karoti) good people’s hearts to be moved (kampana), thus it is compassion (karunā). Or alternatively, it combats (kināti) others’ suffering, attacks and demolishes it, thus it is compassion. Or alternatively, it is scattered (kiriyati) upon those who suffer, it is extended to them by pervasion, thus it is compassion (karunā).
Our Fake Buddha Quote is clearly a different translation of the same passage. At the moment I don’t know which translation it’s from. But we can be sure that this is not canonical, and that it’s a Fake Buddha Quote.