The biggest obstacle to being perfectly compassionate is the intricate ways in which we allow ourselves to suffer. The roots of dukkha are the same in each of us, as the Four Noble truths points out, but the combinations, doses, degree to which we are susceptibility or vulnerable makes so many possibilities, even the Buddha wasn’t always entirely empathetic.
What comes to mind is when he returned to his home after his enlightenment. When his son, Rahula, approached and asked him for his inheritance, the Buddha thought to himself, “He desires his father’s inheritance, but it is wrought with troubles. I shall give him the benefit of my spiritual Enlightenment and make him an owner of a transcendental inheritance.”
This nearly broke the heart of King Suddhodana, the Buddha’s father, who was already crushed when his son left the palace. In the bigger picture, the Buddha was doing the correct thing, but could it have been done in a way less painful for his father?
Perhaps not, I’ve heard several monks speak of the difficulty their families had accepting their choice. Chong Go Sunim once told a story of a woman’s father and brother showing up at the temple in the night with machetes to haul her back to her home. When I mention the possibility of our daughter becoming a nun to my wife, she gets very upset, saying her parents would be heart-broken. When I was considering ordination, my dad threatened to come to Korea and take me back with him! Maybe I’m biased, but I really don’t see the big deal? Though I now have a family, I really don’t see that as success. Maybe it’s the great desire for one’s children to be normal, dukkha and all.