Views on Compassion


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. – The Buddha

Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha’s teachings.  He was reputedly asked by his personal attendant, Ananda, “Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?”  To which the Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice.  It would be true to that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.”

The first of what in English are called the Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering or dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or stress).  Dukkha is identified as one of the three distinguishing characteristics of all conditioned existence.  It arises as a consequence of the failure to adapt to change or anicca (the second characteristic) and the insubstantiality, lack of fixed identity, the horrendous lack of certainty of anatta (the third characteristic) to which all this constant change in turns gives rise.  Compassion made possible by observation and accurate perception is the appropriate practical response.  The ultimate and earnest wish, manifest in the Buddha, both as archetype and as historical entity, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings everywhere.  The Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  The American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi states that compassion “supplies the complement to loving – kindness: whereas loving –kindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be  free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings.  Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way.  It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha.”

At the same time, it is emphasized that in order to manifest effective compassion for others it is first of all necessary to be able to experience and fully appreciate one’s own suffering and to have, as a consequence, compassion for oneself.  The Buddha is reported to have said, “It is possible to travel the whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself.  No such person can be found.”

Compassion is the antidote to the self-chosen poison of anger.

Source: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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