On Compassion

Dear friends,

I have been reflecting on the power of compassion. Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is a fundamental path of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interaction.

The English noun compassion meaning ‘to suffer with’ comes from the Latin cum (with) and passion (suffer). It therefore means to suffer together with or co-suffering. Empathy is the capacity to recognize scenes that are experienced by others, but compassion gives rise to a deep desire to alleviate another’s suffering.  It is a deep concern for the needs of others. It is a recognition of and identification with the suffering and misery of others. The sharing is the sharing of the heart.

With an elderly residentThe biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child (Isaiah – Can a woman forget her child?).  The compassion invokes the feeling of a mother for her child. The idea of compassion is closely linked with forgiveness. In the second epistle with the Corinthians God is spoken of as the Father of compassion and God of all comfort. Second Corinthians 1:3-7. Praise be to the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. Jesus embodies the very essence of compassion. He tells his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. True compassion should extend to all even to the extent of loving one’s enemy. The central concepts of non-violence and active peacemaking are also closely linked with compassion.

Compassion has to be cultivated and practiced. Compassion also means sharing the interiority of others in a deep and total way. Before one can have compassion on others, it is necessary to have compassion for one’s own self.

The meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others then taken action to help. Fredrick Buechner describes the meaning of compassion in these words, ‘compassion is the capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin’.

Compassion is a virtue which uproots the wish to harm others. It makes people so sensitive to the sufferings of others and calls of them to make these sufferings so much their own that they do not want to further increase them. Compassion isn’t self-pity or pity for others. It’s really feeling once own pain and recognizing the pain of others. It is a pre-requisite for a just and harmonious society and an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom. Compassion flows both from sensitivity to our own hopes and fears and the ability to place ourselves in the shoes of others.

With Slum PeopleCompassion towards self and compassion towards others are inseparable.  A compassionate mind is purified of the taint of ill-will. Compassion has the power to weaken the defilement of lust and ill-will and bring the mind to a state of peace. Compassion is also connected with the knowledge and inside, and liberated action. Compassion can become our nature as we continue to cultivate it. We move from a desire of self promotion and self achievement towards the strength of compassion which is an outward moving energy.

We need to build communities that foster active, liberative compassion which seeks to relieve the suffering of others, establish greater justice, and a certain dignity and equality of human beings. It is a powerful and peace giving discipline of the mind and an important part of our spiritual path.

With best wishes.
Kiran Martin
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